In the village of Gadchinchle of Palghar district, Maharashtra, there had been recent rumours about certain kidnappers and organ harvesters roaming in the area and abducting children at night. On the night of April 16th 2020, three men i.e. Chikne Maharaj Kalpavrukshagiri (70) a Mahant (Head Priest/Guru) in a temple in Nashik, Sushilgiri Maharaj (35) a Sadhu in Kalibari temple, Mumbai and their car driver Nilesh Telgarhe (30), were crossing the area and going to attend a funeral of their Guru in Surat.
Because of the rumours, the villagers had been on an alert and were patrolling every night and checking up on every passing vehicle. They stopped the car that the Sadhus were travelling in and attacked them with stones, sticks, axes, etc. This, unfortunately, resulted in the death of the two Sadhus and their driver. It is a heart-wrenching incident which took place because of the rumors that flew across the village.
An inquiry regarding the same is still going on, so far around 100 villagers have been arrested and 9 minors have been detained regarding the attack. The victims were believed to be religious leaders from the Kandivali area. The brutal killing of these men has brought a lot of attention to this case amid the time of this pandemic. The deceased had tried to take the National highway to Silvassa. Unfortunately, they were stopped by the police officials because of the lockdown. As a result of which they were forced to take the longer route through the Palghar district.
Just after the incident, the videos of the same went viral all over the internet. Social media was filled with hashtags in support of the victims. The view on social media took a religious turn, portraying the incident to be an attack on the Hindus living in Maharashtra under the Shiv Sena’s watch. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was directly targeted by the online public as they held him liable for the unfortunate mob lynching.
The police officers that were trying to save these victims were outnumbered by the villagers. However, it is alleged that they did not try to save the victims and the same can be seen in the videos that went viral. Two policemen were also suspended because of failure to perform their duties. The nearest police station from the area of incident was close to the border of Dadra and Nagar Haveli which was approximately an hour away from the village.
Place and Time of Incident
The incident occurred on the night of 16th April, 2020 in the village of Gadchinchale located in Dahanu Taluka, Palghar district which is north to Mumbai, Maharashtra. Around 90% of the village consists of the Scheduled Tribes. The village is located on the border of Maharashtra and shares a border with Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The three men while passing through the village were stopped by the sentry of forest department. While they were having a conversation, the villagers approached them and started assaulting them in a way that led to their death.
Over the last few days, there were rumours spreading across the village regarding organ harvesters and thieves which were operating in the same areas during night time and were abducting children. These rumours had led to the assault of a local activist and his team by the tribal community. Along with the two sadhus and their driver, police authorities that were sent to rescue them were also attacked by the villagers. It was also alleged that the Additional Superintendent of Police of the Kasa Police Station was also attacked along with his team.
Role of the Government
The administration needs to step up and take the responsibility for this incident as they let a crowd of nearly two 100 people gather and beat 3 people to death in front of them. The government needs to stand up for their people in this time of need. The citizens cannot feel safe if such killings take place on a normal basis in front of police officials. It is necessary that the government reaches out to the tribal communities and these organisations which take an active role in such activities and try to understand who is behind these activities. And, why the mob went out of control and how did such fake rumours spread so rapidly which led to these killings.
Regarding this, a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court praying for a free and fair investigation into the matter under the monitoring of the court which may be led by an independent authority. It is disheartening and traumatising that these killings took place in the presence of the police authorities. It is high time that we as a nation rise up to this event and help in stopping the spread of fake news and rumours which lead to such events.
In any society if there is a wrong done, the government is the first to be blamed. Indeed, after this incident as well the government was blamed. It is their duty to maintain the law and order within every district as well. The Supreme Court in the case of Nandini Sundar & Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh, held that the State is responsible to curb the crime and violence and should also prevent any mishappenings or unlawful events which are taking place within the state. It should also be noted that when such violence takes place and the mob is not arrested immediately, then it adversely affects the confidence of the general public in the Rule of Law. However, in this case, the government took great initiatives by arresting around 100 villagers and 9 minors as soon as possible. A prompt outburst like this is needed from the government as well as the citizens to take control over the challenging acts of mob lynching.
Role of the Police
A group of 4 policemen from the Kasa police station reached the village at the time of the incident because of multiple phone calls that they received. By the time these officials reached, the mob had already gone violent and had attacked the 3 victims. The mob also threatened the police officials when they tried to save the victims. By that time another police car reached the destination and a total of 12 officials were there. Finally, they managed to rescue the victims and place them in different police vehicles. However, the mob of around 400 people attacked the police vehicles as well, injuring some of the policemen. They pulled out the victims from the vehicles and started to beat them non-stop.
On the other hand, from the viral clips, it is apparent that the police were just standing at the incident while the crowd was attacking the deceased men. In one particular video, it is also visible that one of the victims is trying to hold onto the police officer asking him for help while the officer is trying to push him away because the mob is approaching the officer with lathis. After this incident around 50 policemen were transferred to the Kasa police station. The very next day after the incident took place, the mob attacked the police officials that reached the spot to apprehend the accused. Along with this, a police vehicle was toppled by the mob at the spot.
Apart from this incident, another similar incident took place in which a doctor and some constables were attacked by the villagers. Despite such attacks, the police officials did not take the proper steps to prevent such incidents from happening. The illegal patrolling or the fake rumours have also not stopped. The police had arrested around 100 people and around 9 minors. The adults were in 12 days of police custody whereas the minors were sent to children’s home. An inquiry has been set up to look into the functioning of the policemen.
There is a saying that the police approaches when everything is done and dusted. This has been linked to the case at hand as well. It is concerning that the incidence of brutality took place in the presence of the officials. It is the need of the hour to increase the police surveillance so that an adequate response to these situations could be established. One factor of this failure is that the officials were outnumbered by the mob and the pressure by them – be it physical or psychological – was too much to handle. Reports also suggest that generally these instances of mob lynching have some political interference as well which may be why the government or the police stay silent. But as far as this case is concerned no such factor has been established.
The district of Palghar consists of a predominantly tribal population but the incident doesn’t have a communal or a religious angle to it. The same has just been given to it through the spread of fake news on the internet. Days later, two Sadhus were killed in Uttar Pradesh and the entire nation came upon on social media to express their concern regarding the same. But, there was no coverage from media or anyone from politics which resulted in the news being twisted from different angles. Reporting genuine news and incidents has become a challenge in this country where everyone wants a cooked up narrative with some religious or political standpoint. People are not concerned with facts; they are just drawn to narratives.
The lesson to learn by this incident is that these informal killings are not related to any religion or community. They do not target a particular group of people. These incidents take place because of the false rumours that spread across the nation like wild fire. They happen because the police and the government authorities fail to protect their citizens. The citizens on the other hand feel that they have the authority to take the law and order in their hands and can do whatever their heart desires without any repercussions. It should be noted that misjudging the situation and giving it a religious view for political benefit may worsen the situation and hence, should be avoided.
The Supreme Court in the case of Krishnamoorthy v. Sivakumar and Ors, held that, “The majesty of law cannot be sullied simply because an individual or a group generate the attitude that they have been empowered by the principles set out in law to take its enforcement into their own hands and gradually become law unto themselves and punish the violator on their own assumption and in the manner in which they deem fit.” Respecting this, we as individuals should refrain from taking the matters into our own hands. We should instead cooperate with the authorities and should believe in the system of justice.
 Nandini Sundar & Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh, AIR 2011 SC 2839.
Krishnamoorthy v. Sivakumar and Ors, AIR 2015 SC 1921.