New Delhi (CNN)A transgender woman was killed and three others seriously injured when they were attacked by a mob of angry locals acting on rumors that the women were child traffickers in the Indian city of Hyderabad.
Indian mob kills transgender woman over fake rumors spread on WhatsApp
V. Satyanarayana, a deputy commissioner of police (South Zone) in Hyderabad, told CNN Monday that the women were begging in the southern suburb of Chandrayanagutta on Saturday night when they were set upon.
"They were begging for money from some shopkeepers in Chandrayanagutta at 11 p.m. when some unruly youths started saying they had come to kidnap children," Satyanarayana told CNN.
Satyanarayana said up to 20 people took part in the attack, while a crowd of up to 200 people stood by egging them on.
The accusations stemmed from WhatsApp messages that have gone viral in the region, claiming that transgender women are behind a plot to kidnap young children. As of Monday, Satyanarayana said 12 people had been arrested.
"For the last 15 days in India, especially in the Telugu-speaking states, a lot of rumors on WhatsApp and other social media have been shared about gangs kidnapping children," Satyanarayana said.
He said images of dead children purportedly from India had been shared via text message, but they were found to originate from the war in Syria or alleged ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine State, Myanmar. There is no basis for rumors of kidnap gangs in Hyderabad, he added.
"These mischief mongers are intentionally circulating such messages to create panic in the minds of the public," Satyanarayana said.
Saturday's attack is not the first to have been triggered by false information circulated on WhatsApp. One day before the transgender attack, a man with mental health problems was beaten up in Pahadishareef, also in southern Hyderabad, over rumors that he was a member of a kidnap gang.
When police arrived, they found the man had been stripped and beaten with sticks and pipes.
Hyderabad police are trying to stop the violence with their own social media campaign using the hashtags #HyderabadKillsRumors and #LetThisGoViral.