Three men from Mumbai, on their way to Surat to attend a funeral on Friday, 17 April, were dragged out of a car and beaten to death by villagers in Palghar district of Maharashtra on suspicion of theft, leading to a flare-up in the state’s politics, with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordering a high-level probe into the incident.
Two of the three victims were reportedly sadhus affiliated to a Varanasi akhara.
Rumours circulated that the gangs of bandits were roaming the area in the garb of sadhus and doctors and they wanted to lift children, harvest organs and rob the locals. The mob dragged the men out of their car and beat them to death. Six police personnel were also injured in the attack.
110 people have been arrested in the case so far including nine minors who have been sent to a juvenile home. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has taken over the investigation of three FIRs filed in the case. The accused have been booked under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
As a video of the gruesome incident went viral on social media on Sunday, several from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the largest Opposition party in the state, slammed the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
The mob attack took place at a time when a nationwide lockdown is in force, to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
WHO ARE THE DECEASED?
A police official, quoted by news agency PTI, identified the deceased as Chikne Maharaj Kalpavruksh Giri (70), Sushil Giri (35) and their car driver Nilesh Telgade (30), all three hailing from Kandivali in north Mumbai.
They were heading to Surat to attend a funeral.
Kalpavruksh Giri and Sushil Giri belonged to a Gosavi Nomadic Tribe and were affiliated to one ‘Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara’ in Varanasi, according to The Wire.
The gruesome incident took place between 9:30-10 pm on Thursday, 16 April. The car was stopped by the mob on the Dhabadi-Khanvel road near village Gadchinchale by local residents.
Rumours of a gang of bandits roaming in the district in the garb of sadhus and doctors were circulating in the area. The victims were pulled out of the car and attacked by villagers with stones and other objects on suspicion of being thieves.
An initial response team of the police (which typically has three or four personnel) reached the spot and tried to rescue the victims by placing them in the police vehicle.
But the mob attacked the victims even inside the police vehicle and the police personnel, who were heavily outnumbered, could not do anything. Six police personnel were injured in the attack. The police were forced to fire two rounds into the air to quell the mob.
After the incident, Palghar police arrested 110 people including nine minors. While 101 adults accused have been remanded in police custody till 30 April, the minors have been sent to a juvenile home. The CID has now taken over the probe into the three FIRs filed in the case.
An offence under IPC Section 302 (murder) along with other sections, including armed rioting and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), has been registered, inspector Kale told The Quint.
Two policemen were suspended on Monday, 20 April, for alleged dereliction of duty in the wake of the lynching, reported PTI. Three more police personnel, including an assistant sub-inspector and two constables were suspended on 29 April after a departmental inquiry.
Thirty-five personnel of Kasa police station, in whose limits the lynching took place, were transferred on 28 April in connection with the case.
Police are investigation into how the three men travelled from Mumbai despite the lockdown.
Police sources told The Quint that the car did not have a permit to travel and had taken internal roads that were at least 40 km from the highway.
IPC Section 188 has been invoked in the case due to the coronavirus-enforced lockdown under which sweeping curbs have been imposed on movement and assembly of people.
Combing operations were continuing in Gadchinchle village to nab members of the mob involved in the gruesome act.
The Maharashtra government has ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Sunday.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray regarding the incident and sought a report from the state government.
As soon as the victims were identified, several across social media questioned as to why ‘Hindu Sadhus’ are not safe in the state and alleged a communal conspiracy. BJP MP Baijayant Jay Panda also took to Twitter to allege that media suppressed the fact that “they were in Hindu religious robes.”
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, however, warned against giving any communal colour to the incident. Deshmukh even uploaded the names of the accused on social media in a bid to stop all coversation around the communal angle.
“None of the accused arrested in connection with the incident is a Muslim. It is unfortunate that communal politics is being played following the incident.”Anil Deshmukh in his address via Facebook
WHAT CM THACKERAY SAYS
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday night said that culprits involved in lynching will be brought to justice.
“The Palghar incident has been acted upon. The police has arrested all those accused who attacked the 2 sadhus, 1 driver and the police personnel, on the day of the crime itself,” he tweeted.
“Nobody guilty in this heinous crime and shameful act will be spared and they will be brought to justice in the strongest way possible,” the CM said in late night tweets posted from Twitter handle @CMOMaharashtra.
EX-CM FADNAVIS QUESTIONS POLICE ACTION
Senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday demanded a high-level probe into the incident. Attacking the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government, the former chief minister also raised questions over the role of local police in the context of the incident.
"Palghar 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 Leader of Opposition said.
“What can be more shameful than the way police handed over these people into the hands of a berserk mob and allowed them to take law into their hands,” he said.
He said that a high-level be ordered into the matter to bring out the truth. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too sought an inquiry into the matter.
The area has seen similar mob incidents in the past. Last week, some police personnel were attacked while probing the assault on a doctor.
In 2018, five persons of the Gosavi community were lynched in a village in Maharashtra’s Dhule, mistaking them to be child abductors.
(with inputs from PTI)