Taking mob violence to new heights, hundreds of people bludgeoned to death 10 suspected thieves and critically wounded another in Bihar's Vaishali district early on Thursday.
The mob in a savage retribution for frequent thefts in the area took the law into their own hands, mercilessly beating up a band of suspected thieves with sticks and iron rods and killing 10 of them at Dhelpurwa village around 4 am, Superintendent of Police Anupama Nilekar told PTI.
Another critically injured person Ranjit Kureri is being treated at a hospital in Rajapakar, she said.
The injured has identified those killed as Sanjay, Bara, Anjay, Gultain, Sultain, Srinath, Jugnu, Ashok, Nand Kishore and Mukesh of Tajpur Banjara village in neighbouring Samastipur district.
All of them were members of 'nats', a nomadic community, he said.
Inspector General (Tirhut zone) Krishna Chaudhary, who has begun an inquiry, said a first information report has been registered while admitting lapse on the part of the local police in preventing the incident, which occurred barely one-and-a-half km away from the police station.
"Police response was delayed, particularly when such a gruesome incident occurred at such a little distance from the police station," he told reporters adding, action would be taken against guilty policemen.
Chaudhary said Kureri's statement has been recorded by a magistrate at Hajipur, headquarters of Vaishali district.
In the wake of several thefts in Dhelpurwa, villagers had formed several teams to patrol the area, Nilekar said.
On Wednesday night a theft had occurred at the house of one Sitaram Singh at Chauripar village and 13 outsiders, including the victims, were sighted by a patrol party in neighbouring Dhelpurwa near the house of one Laldev Rai, which had been burgled about a fortnight ago.
When the patrol team inquired about the identity of the outsiders, who were reportedly looking for a vehicle, they began to flee. The team chased them after raising an alarm.
While two of them managed to escape, a large crowd managed to capture 11 and lynched 10 of them.
Some gold and silver jewellery, said to have been stolen from the house of Sitaram Singh and Rs 600 in cash were recovered from the dead persons, who were found to be unarmed, Nilekar said.
The police, according to villagers, reached the spot after about an hour around 5 am by when just one of the suspected thieves was alive.
The residents of the Yadav-dominated Dhelpurwa village while talking to PTI complained of police inaction in tracking down the culprits of a series of thefts in the area.
"At least four incidents of theft have occurred in this village alone over the past one month, but no arrests have been made," said Mithilesh Kumar.
Chaudhary said the SP has been asked to supervise the cases of theft and take swift action.
An FIR was lodged by Mithilesh, son of Sitaram Singh, saying there had been a theft of jewellery and cash of Rs 5 lakh.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed serious concern over the growing tendency of people to take law into their hands while dealing with criminal offenders.
"The cooperation of the public is solicited for tackling crime as police alone cannot do that. But people should desist from taking law into their hands," he told reporters.
Nitish said he had convened a meeting of top home department officials on Saturday where a strategy would be chalked out to check outburst of public anger against criminals.
"Occasional incidents like this can be understood, but if it is becoming a trend, we should sit up and think," he said.
Meanwhile, local legislator Achyutanand Singh of Lok Janshakti Party has demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident.
Bihar is not new to extra-judicial torture of criminals with scores of them blinded by police, in some instances with overt public support, in Bhagalpur district in the early 1980s.
In a grim reminder of it, a mob had gouged out and pierced the eyes of three young men in Nawada district on Monday for snatching a motorcycle.
A youth, who had snatched a gold chain from a woman was severely beaten up by a mob at Nathnagar in Bhagalpur on August 28.
The local police had tied the man to a motorcycle and dragged him on the road.