At least 23 people were arrested on Monday, amid anger over the lynching of five people in Maharashtra's Dhule district over suspicion that they were part of a gang of 'child lifters'.

Special Correspondent

The incident took place at Rainpada, 25 kilometers from Pimpalner in Dhule district, at around 11.30 am on Sunday.

"23 people have been arrested. 'We have also identified some more accused in this case. Five teams have been formed to identify the accused," said M Ramkumar, SP Dhule.

The officer said that they have collected videos and photographs of the incident from people to identify more accused.

Ramkumar also expressed the confidence that they will crack the case as soon as possible.

According to police, rumours that a gang of child lifters was active in the area were doing the rounds for a few days.

The five, along with a few others, were seen getting down from a state transport bus in the tribal-dominated Rainpada hamlet. When one of them apparently tried to speak to a girl child, the villagers, who had gathered for the weekly Sunday market, pounced on them and five people died after being assaulted.

Police said that their identities have not been established yet.

Special Correspondent

Incidents of people lynching due to rumours circulating on social media were being reported from many parts of the country of late.

"We have been receiving WhatsApp messages for the past 15 days saying child-lifters are roaming in Dhule. Even fake photos of children were circulated with the message that the kids were killed after their kidneys were removed. It suddenly flared up on Sunday only because of such messages," said a local journalist Rajendra Khairnar.

Dada Bhuse, Shiv Sena legislator and guardian minister of Dhule, visited the spot and met the families of the deceased. Bhuse said the crime will be investigated and the guilty will be punished. He also requested the villagers not to believe in rumours.

Sharad Patil, a former Sena MLA from Dhule, termed the lynching a blot on Maharashtra. State Congress president Ashok Chavan said, “Earlier in Aurangabad, two people were killed over suspected child-lifting. The government has failed to control the rumours. We are slowly turning into a barbaric state.”

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