India witnessed one of the most horrific incidents of mob lynching on April 16, 2020 in Gadchinchale village in Dahanu Taluka of Palghar district in Maharasthra. The tribal dominated village has 1,298 residents. A whopping majority of 93 percent residents are Scheduled Tribes.
What were the facts of this case? Why did it take place and what are the political and media fall outs?
Why Palghar lynching happened?
Two sadhus, Mahant Kalpavrukhsha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35) belonging to the Juna Akhada and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30) were traveling to Surat from Kandivali to attend the funeral of a senior functionary of the said akhada.
Their car was stopped at the Charoti toll Naka and was sent back owing to the travel restrictions during nationwide lockdown. The trio then changed their route and instead of the highway chose to travel through the village bypassing the toll security. In the detour they decided to enter Gujarat through the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagarhaveli after passing through Dahanu tehsil.
The dreaded incident started at 9pm and continued for the next two hours. A big mob of 400 people gathered and accused the two sadhus and their driver of being child lifters and goons. Though a small police team came at the spot but they soon realized that the situation is getting out of hand and therefore called for more police personnel who reached the spot around 10pm.
The angry mob attacked the car, overturned and broke the windows of both the sadhus’ and police car. The police escorted two two of the victims to the car. The third one was in the forest chowki. While he was escorted to the police car, the mob went out of control and all hell broke loose. All three of them were beaten and lynched mercilessly right in front of the police. Journalist Kavitha Iyer wrote in Indian Express on April 23, 2020 – “That is key to the tragedy – and the probe: the arrival of the police when the victims were unharmed and their subsequent murder in their presence.”
Why did the mob attack the Sadhus In Palghar?
A similar incident occurred two days back on April 14, 2020 in the nearby village of the same Palghar district where the villagers kept few doctors as hostages. They were set free by the Kasa police and six arrests have been made in the case.
The reason for both these cases is the careless and baseless rumour mongering. A ceaseless rumour of bandits and goons on the loose to attack the villagers and kidnap the children was running significantly high in many villages of the Palghar district. It was believed that since the lockdown goons were planning to strike the villagers.
It was reported that several fake and mischievous WhatsApp messages were being circulated not only in this village but in many other villages of Palghar district. The messages had an underlying threat of robbers set on loose and looking for an opportunity to not just rob but also spread coronavirus and indulge in child lifting and trafficking. The villagers were living under fear, anger as well as tension. The nationwide lockdown which resulted in problems like lack of livelihood and income added to their misery and stress, thereby believing in the fake messages. These rumours coupled with the pandemic situation were the base of fear amongst the villagers that led to mob lynching on that fateful night.
Police – action or inaction During Palghar Lynching?
Meanwhile the role of police was also under the scanner considering how the three men managed to travel from Mumbai during the lockdown. During the probe, several lapses were found including dereliction of duty. Palaghar Superintendent of Police Gaurav Singh had ordered the suspension of Kasa police station’s assistant police inspector Anandrao Kale and sub-inspector Sudhir Katare.
101 people have been arrested after the Kasa police filed an FIR in connection with the mob lynching incident. These people have been remanded in police custody. Nine people are found to be juvenile. They are sent to a remand home at Bhiwandi in Thane district.
Political fallout of the Palghar lynching
The sadhu mob lynching in Palghar has resulted in an ugly spat between the political parties. Maharastra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh warned against giving communal colour to the tragedy as there were reports of involvement of members from a minority community in the incident. Social media posts further aggravated the tension. Deshmukh tried to balance the situation as he had said that those who attacked and those who died in the Palghar sadhu mob lynching are not from different religions. He had tweeted, “I have ordered Maharashtra police and @MahaCyber1 to take action against anyone instigating communal hatred in the society or on social media.”
But by then the political blame game had started. What happened in Palghar became a hot debate in the living rooms of people with politicians and social media provoking people from both the sides. Former Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis demanded a high level probe into the Palghar mob lynching incident. He attacked the Shiv Sena led state government and also raised controversial questions over the role of local police in the sadhu lynching episode. In the same content he had said, “Palgarh mob lynching is very cruel and a serious matter. It is more shocking to us the way police did not take any action against people gathering in the area with sticks.” The word of wars did not stop as the State Congress general secretary Sachin Sawant alleged that BJP was playing ‘communal politics’. He tweeted, “The current village head is from BJP. Most of the people arrested in the lynching incident are from the BJP.”
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a video message that he had received a call from Home Minister Amit Shah who himself said that there is no communal angle to the lynching incident. Clarifying his stand, he said. “My government is definitely going to take action against the perpetrators.”
This dastardly incident has shook the conscience of the entire nation. At one side, all the political parties and media houses have condemned the Palghar mob lynching; their verbal spats have only given an ugly and communal turn to the unfortunate incident. Rather than showing sensitivity towards the event, politicians from the left wing and right wing started to play the blame game. Media added fuel to the communal fire and at a time when the nation is battling with COVID-19 and its staggering cases, a communal case only created disharmony amongst the citizens. It is extremely important that media as well as political parties understand their responsibility and infuse a sense of consonance thereby ensuring law and order in the country.🔥38