In three days between May 8 and 10, separate mobs in Tamil Nadu killed two people over suspicion of child kidnapping, sending shockwaves through the state which has witnessed a rise in such crimes in less than a month.

On 8 May, a mob killed an elderly woman, identified as Rukmani, in Athimur in Tiruvannamalai district which is located 170km southwest of Chennai. The woman, who was around 55 or 65 and hailed from Chennai’s Old Pallavaram, became the target of a frenzied mob who suspected her to be a child kidnapper.

On 10 May, a man with psychiatric problems was lynched to death by another mob – this time in Chennai itself. The incident happened near Pulicat Lake, just 50 km north of Chennai.

According to reports, the mob then strung up the body from a newly-constructed bridge. The man was questioned by the mob. When he could not answer in Tamil, they attacked him suspecting that he was a child kidnapper from north India, as the rumours circulating on social media claim is the origin of the so-called abductors.

The killings reportedly took the number of deaths in mob violence to five in less than a month. On 14 April, a mob killed a man in Enathur in Kancheepuram on similar suspicion. On 22 April a teenager was stoned to death in Sumangali in Tiruvannamalai and on 29 April a 30-year-old man was killed in Parasuramapatti in Vellore.

Following the killing of the elderly woman, the police had issued a warning to those spreading rumours on social media.

“Believing and acting on rumours will spoil the life of attackers. Do not entangle yourselves in a legal mess by attacking innocents,” IG (North) C Sridhar was quoted as saying by the Deccan Chronicle.

“We have initiated an inquiry with the help of the cyber crime branch to nab persons who spread rumours on social media,” he said.

As per reports, the police had identified the culprits involved in the lynching of the elderly woman from videos which were captured by onlookers.