'Naked men' spark panic in Assam, 3 lynched

GUWAHATI: Three youths were lynched on Tuesday night in Assam's Sonitpur district by villagers, driven by rumours of " dark and nude men" reportedly molesting women at night.

Members of village defence committee lynched the youths who were found loitering near Tezpur without even bothering to ascertain their identity. Later, it turned out that they were miscreants involved in stealing crude oil from underground pipelines. Several others have been injured in similar attacks.

"Such a rumour is doing the rounds but no one has actually seen any nude men. We are visiting every village to tell people to exercise restraint," said deputy commissioner Tapan Sarma. Local officials held a meeting following a spurt in rumour-driven attacks in the district. "We have decided to send our people to every nook and corner to tell villagers that the story about nude men is a rumour and people should not believe it," Sarma said.

Police said the rumour had spread across the district. "We have been told that male members of villages have been forced to patrol the villages at night by women. There are some stories about dark nude men knocking on doors at night and attacking women of the house. Some say the attackers have even bit off parts of the victims' bodies but no one has reported any such incident to police or gone to hospital," a source said.

Sarma said Tuesday's incident was unfortunate. The three youths were travelling in a vehicle when they were attacked with sharp weapons. Later, police recovered several empty cans meant for carrying stolen crude oil from the vehicle.

The district bordering Arunachal Pradesh is considered the cultural hub of the state. It also witnessed several incidents of witch-hunting deaths in the past.