What exactly happened?
Two sadhus with their driver were going by car from Mumbai to Surat to attend a funeral. Their names were Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70), Sushilgiri Maharaj (35) and Naresh Yelgade. They apparently did not have a lockdown travel pass. To avoid the police who would have stopped them, they did not go by the Mumbai-Ahmedabad national highway and took a detour by a small road in the remote rural areas of Dahanu tehsil which goes to Gujarat via the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagarhaveli. The sadhus travelling without a lockdown pass through a remote area at night worsened matter.
It must be remembered that this is an extremely backward and entirely Adivasi (tribal) area. They passed Gadchinchle village, and briefly stopped by the forest guard, but when they reached the Maharashtra border 1 Km away, the guards at Dadra and Nagarhaveli refused them permission to go ahead and turned them back. They came back by the same route and were again stopped at the forest check post.
Then the trouble began….
It was around 9 pm and the episode that followed went on for two hours. A crowd of 400 people gathered and started accusing the sadhus of being robbers and child lifters. A small group of police came and realising the violence of mob called for more police forces, who reached after 10 pm. The mob overturned the sadhus’ car, broke the window glasses of the police car too. Police had apparently escorted two of the victims to the police car and the third who was injured was in the forest chowki. When he was being escorted to the police car, under the very nose of the police, all three were mercilessly lynched by the mob.
Immediately after this incident, the police in order to cover up their negligence went into overdrive and arbitrarily arrested many innocent people from several villages in the area.
Why did the incident occur?
For the last few weeks in the lockdown period, false and mischievous WhatsApp messages were being circulated not only in this area, but also in hundreds of tribal villages of Palghar district. They conveyed that robbers were on the prowl, they would not only rob but also spit in wells to spread the Coronavirus and would indulge in child-lifting so as to harvest their kidneys. As a result, regular night vigils were kept by the people in several villages to prevent any such intruders. Roadblocks were erected outside several villages. The entire area was gripped by fear, hate and tension. The lockdown and the resultant serious problems of livelihood like lack of income and food, aggravated the situation.
Some gram panchayats reportedly lodged complaints with the police against such rumours being spread through WhatsApp. Two days before the lynching incident, on the night of April 14, a tribal doctor Dr Vishwas Valvi and his team, who was returning after distributing food to some villages, was similarly attacked by a mob in Sarni village. The police were also attacked along with their vehicles, who came to his rescue. Other such incidents occurred in villages like Waki, Amboli, Zai and Saiwan. These incidents should actually have alerted the police and forced them to investigate and take action against the sources of such false WhatsApp messages, and reassure the villagers. But nothing was done.
The role of the police on the spot at Gadchinchle village before and when the lynching took place clearly amounted to dereliction of duty which needs a thorough investigation.
The political fall-out
With two sadhus being killed, immediately different political parties came out with their reactions, an attempt was made to give the unfortunate incident a communal colour on both mainstream and social media. Such an attempt is unfortunate and be condemned to whosoever party tries to do so, at this hour of communal tension already existing.
Both the Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the NCP leader and State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh immediately and effectively blunted the attack and gave the necessary clarifications of misunderstanding, rumours, no communal angle following the incident.
Over 100 people, including the five main accused, had already been arrested and strict action would be taken against those proved guilty. Two police persons had been summarily suspended. A serious CID enquiry had been instituted to thoroughly inquire into the episode.
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