Child-kidnapping rumours are rampant in the country, with frenzied mobs taking the law in their own hands and thrashing people on the streets over unfounded suspicions of child-lifting. Mentally-challenged people, unable to defend themselves either by words or action, have become the most common victims of the violence. A majority of the mob attacks have been reported from the rural parts of the country. More than 15 people were lynched in the last three months across India. Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh are some of the states most affected.

Alt News has debunked several videos of mob attacks widespread on social media furthering untrue claims. In this report, we will be talking about the disturbing trend of staged videos fanning child-kidnapping rumours.

Videos staged for YouTube views

In the era of social media, where ‘likes’ and ‘views’ dictate the nature of content, several YouTube users have left no stones unturned to misinform people in the most convenient yet believable fashion. Multiple staged videos narrating the ‘modus operandi’ of ‘child-kidnappers on a prowl’ are drawing millions of views on the video-sharing platform. They’ve been created around the stereotypical characterisation of ‘child-kidnappers’ – unidentified people, many differently-abled, begging for alms.

In the course of this article, Alt News will list five of the most viral staged videos on YouTube adding fuel to false child-kidnapping rumours.

1. Two men dressed as sadhus

Video posted by – L K Films

Number of views – 27 million

A dramatic video shows two men dressed as sadhus recceing in a village. One of the men acts as a deaf and mute person, while the other middle-aged man is shown instructing this person. The duo are going door to doors begging for alms when the differently-abled man finds a little boy without a guardian roaming the streets. He offers the boy a snack then, seizes an opportunity to sedate and hide him under a shed. Subsequently, he informs his partner who brings a car, driven by a third man, to the spot. The two men are shown packing the boy in a sack and finally, kidnapping the child and hopping into the car.

At the time of writing this article, this video had amassed over 27 million views on YouTube. “बाच्‍चा चोराकर गाडी मै लेकर भाग रहै है ये लोग गाँव मै आकर (These people fled in a car after kidnapping a child from a village)”, reads the title of the video posted on July 31, 2019.

This video is categorized as ‘comedy’. On August 27, a 48-year-old pregnant and deaf-mute woman was reportedly beaten by a mob in Delhi over suspicions of child-lifting.

2. Woman begging for alms

Video posted by – Vijeta Films

Number of views – 16 million

In an 11-minute long video, a woman is seen going door to door in a village begging for alms. The woman is looking for children in the houses of those who give her alms. She finds two children leaving their home to play outside. Later, the woman joins the children and offers food to them. As soon as the elder brother leaves sight of the younger child, the woman grabs the child in her arms and runs away. The younger boy returns to find that the woman and his sibling are both missing and immediately informs his family. The woman is caught by locals, including the boy’s family. The video ends with visuals showing the family beating the woman.

The title of this video posted by Vijeta Films, a verified YouTube channel with over 6 lakh subscribers, reads, “#किडनी चोर औरत बच्चा लेकर भाग रही थी अचानक पकड़ी गई || vijeta films (Kidney thief, child-kidnapper woman was running away with a child and was caught || vijeta films)”. The video, published on August 8, 2019, has garnered more than 16 million views so far. Alt News had earlier reported cases where transgenders begging for alms and women merely talking to children on the streets were believed to be child-lifters and thrashed by mobs.

3. Video of a couple begging for alms

Video posted by – Anmol Bhojpuriya

Number of views – 15 million

A couple is shown roaming about in a forest where they change their clothes and dress up as religious mendicants. After failing to find a kid alone in a house, the couple manages to find a child sleeping on a cot. The woman lifts the child and puts him into a sack held by the man, after which they flee from the spot and into the forest. Villagers subsequently catch the duo red-handed, beats them up and rescues the boy.

“#किडनीचोर गेंग कि खौफनाक तसबिरें ऐसे देते है बारदात को अंजाम,सबक सिखाना जरूरी है (Dangerous photos of gangs that sell kidneys. This is how they perform their task. It is important that they are taught a lesson)”, reads the title of the video posted on August 10, 2019. With more than 15 million views on YouTube, the video builds a misleading perception about those dressed in religious garb. Last month, a sadhu and two of his disciples were thrashed by a mob in MP over false child-kidnapping rumours.

4. Sadhu begging for alms

Video posted by – Zee Jawan

Number of views – 12 million

One more video which narrates the story of a man, dressed as a Sadhu while begging for alms in a village, is viral on YouTube. The man roams around the village with no luck until he finds a house where a couple with a child is sleeping in a room. He manages to enter the house, pulls out a knife and takes the child away from the couple. While trying to escape, the sadhu is caught by locals who subsequently thrash him. The drama shows the mob beating the sadhu to death and the final message given by the actors is to keep a lookout for any sadhu/ beggar who might be a child-kidnapper.

This video posted on August 5, 2019, by a channel named Zee Jawan with more than 2 lakh subscribers, has amassed over 12 million views so far. “भीख मांगने वाले ही किडनी चोर है ईस गाँव में पकडा गया !! Bhajpuri comedy video zee jawaan!!”, reads the title of the video.

5. Child-kidnapping racket

Vidoe posted by –Jio Bihar

Number of views – 13 million

In this video, a story about a child-kidnapping gang led by a couple and two others is narrated. The leader demands that the gang members get more children so that that he can sell their kidneys. The two male gang members roam around the village, lift children found alone and give them to the gang leader. While escaping after abducting a child, the men are caught red-handed by villagers. Meanwhile, the couple is shown slicing the abdomen of a little child and blood oozes out of the child’s body. The gang members are taken hostage by the locals who are later guided to the leader. When the locals see the couple slicing the body, they thrash the gang members. Eventually, the mob slashes of the gang members and kills them.

The above video, posted by a YouTube channel called Jio Bihar, has garnered more than 13 million views at the time of writing this article. A screengrab of the video is also viral on WhatsApp with the child-kidnapping rumours. This theatrical video shows the mob taking the law in their own hands and serving justice to the culprits by murdering them.

A communal and ‘Pakistani’ angle

In a five-minute-long staged video, a man who is portrayed as a child-kidnapper contacts his boss Suleman in Pakistan and informs him about child-lifting rumours circulating in India. The boss asks him to get three children by any means necessary. The man starts looking for children while asking people if they want to sharpen their grinding stones. He discovers a child playing alone, lifts and places him in a sack and tries to run away when a group of people catch the man.

The video has been titled – “kidney chor #kidney || पाकिस्तान से आया ये बच्चा चोर || Pakistan se aya ye bachha chor” and has over 2.24 lakh views. Alt News has debunked child-kidnapping rumours circulating with a communal narrative, for instance – Rohingya Muslims are on a prowl – and furthered using gory videos.

Multiple other videos with millions of views viral

Alt News found at least 11 more videos with over a million views, the highest being over 11 million. YouTube channel Arvind Singh Gopalganj posted a staged video titled, “किडनी निकालने वाले भिखारी को गांव वालो ने मार दिया (The beggar who extracts kidney was beaten up by villagers)”. The video, with more than 11 million views so far, depicts a man dressed as a beggar who kidnaps a child and tries to extract his kidney. Out of these 11 videos, five portray sadhus as child-kidnappers prowling rural areas in search for children to abduct.

Other YouTube channels which have uploaded theatrical child-kidnapping videos drawing over a million views are – KSR Rajasthani (4 million), NRS Rajasthani Music (4 miillion, 8 million), JMMB Films (2 million), L K Films (5 million), Shankar Patel (2 million), MR Bhojpuriya (9 million), Menka Films (5 million), Bhojpuri Heros (2 million), and Kripa Shankar111 (7 million). Four of these ten channels are verified YouTube accounts. Out of these four, three have more than 2 million subscribers.

YouTube algorithm suggests more such videos

Using the incognito mode on Google Chrome, Alt News searched for videos on YouTube with the keyword, “बच्चा चोर (Child Kidnapper -translated)”. We observed that if one of the staged videos in the top three search results is selected, at least 20 more such videos turn up in the suggested videos list.

While the video in the screenshot below informs people about a mob mistaking beggars and sadhus for child-lifters, the clips listed in the suggestions are staged videos that portray the same groups as kidnappers.

Numerous staged videos are widespread on YouTube, portraying a select section of the society i.e beggars, sadhus, mendicants, labourers and differently-abled persons as the most probable suspects of child-lifting. Not only do these videos further the child-kidnapping rumours but dehumanise people from underprivileged backgrounds who beg for a living. The accumulated view count of all the videos mentioned in this report exceeds over 140 million.

We have observed over the last few months that a large number of people have fallen for false rumours floating online and become a part of unruly mobs. A majority of the staged videos presented in this article are in Bhojpuri, a language commonly spoken in the UP-Bihar region. All the videos depict and justify extrajudicial mob justice. It is noteworthy that in the past three months, at least seven people have been lynched in Bihar over false child-kidnapping rumours. There is an urgent need for authorities in the states affected by child-kidnapping rumours to take note of these staged videos which have the potential to incite mob violence and take necessary action against it. Alt News has been relentlessly covering the issue and our stories can be accessed here and here.

About the Author

Jignesh is a writer and researcher at Alt News. He has a knack for visual investigation with a major interest in fact-checking videos and images. He has completed his Masters in Journalism from Gujarat University.