The mob lynching of three men in Palghar district in Maharashtra on 16th April is horrifying. The video of the incident which took place in Gadchinchli village in the district is chilling. It is impossible to watch the chip fully. The two sadhus belonging to Kandivali ashram, Mumbai and attached to Juna Akhara in Utter Pradesh and their driver were stoned and beaten mercilessly with sticks and iron rods till they finally succumbed. No doubt, the inhuman must be condemned and the accused punished as per law.
T he unfortunate incident reportedly occurred because of rumour mongering and mistaken identity. Rumours were rife in the tribal dominated area on social media of the presence of thieves, child lifters and bandits targeting villages during the lockdown days. To counter the purported dacoits villagers formed vigilante groups to patrol the area at night. So when the three Nasik bound occupants of the SUV entered Gadchinchli village at odd hours after being told to return to Mumbai by the police at a place called Charoti toll Naka due to the lockdown, the vigilantes accused them of being ones of those rumoured dacoits. When their vehicle was stopped people swelled in quick time turning into an uncontrolled mob.
Earlier on April 14 two doctors who were on duty were detained and assaulted in the nearby Sasane village, A police contingent had to brave stone pelting to rescue the doctors and their team. It was also reported that ten days earlier a police team came under attack by local villagers in Dadra and Nagar Haveli District.
Communal forces were quick to communalise the barbaric act. Without verifying facts the BJP and the saffron brigade lost no time in alleging that the trio were murdered because they were Hindu seers. Anti-national elements out to create social disharmony saw the incident as an opportune moment to spread hatred. The state home minister, Anil Deshmukh had to publish the list of all 100 plus arrested accused stating that none of them are Muslims.
Allegations were shamelessly thrown around that the lynching took place because of the presence of Christian missionaries in the area. Even in national televisions allegations of a planned attack by Christians were made by spokespersons of Hindutva parivar without any basis. Others in the BJP blamed communists for the death of the ascetics.
F ake news with sinister intention of igniting communal hatred was spread on social media after the incident. Commendably a quick and prompt police action backed by state government foiled the malicious attempt. Maharashtra Chief Minister , Uddhav Thackeray carried the day by demanding the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah to take action against communal enthusiasts.
Loaded with politics, the UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath immediately took the phone to speak to his counterpart to demand action against the perpetrators. The hardliner CM of the most populous state in the country forgets about the numerous lynching cases in his back yard.
Between 2016 and 2019 hate crimes, including lynchings rose by 43% in UP and was considered the most unsafe state for minorities and Dalits . A report in 2018 says that since the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath came to power in 2017 the state recorded 69 per cent of its cases related to cow violence. Mob lynching cases sore sharply with Adityanath at the helm of affairs. This does not stop him from preaching what he does not practice.
Those who saw a communal angle in the Palghar killing suddenly forget the numerous cases of lynching of individuals on suspicion of carrying or eating beef and transporting cattle while chanting ‘ Jai Shri Ram’. They never condemned when the divisive slogan is misused as a certificate, a password and a licence to commit
Palghar lynching incident has also witnessed a in Maharashtra with the Congress and NCP on one hand and the BJP on the other hand pointing fingers at each other. For political parties, to have a go at each other for a man-made tragedy is expected, but a tirade from a journalist is despicable. The journalist in question is the BJP supporter and propagandist, Arnab Goswami. R ebuking everyone for being silent on the murder of Hindus, o n his Prime Time on 20th Goswami screams (taken from a news report): “Two saints have been murdered in broad daylight...in a country where 80 percent of the people are Hindu and follow the Sanatan Dharam, it has become a crime to be Hindu. I don’t accept this in my country and this is my country. Would there be silence if a Maulvi or Padri was murdered?”
Then he bizarrely launched an attack Sonia Gandhi, “Will Sonia Gandhi remain quiet? She is quiet today and she is happy that the saints have been killed where her government is ruling. She will send a report to Italy that she is getting saints killed in a place where her government is ruling and she will get praises for that.”
The diatribe is highly communal. More than 100 FIRs under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for promoting enmity between different communities have been filed against the Republic TV anchor. As for him and his fellow Sonia Gandhi haters, the lady has been in India for 52 years. She married an Indian. She is an Indian citizen. She has adopted to Indian culture. She has contributed towards two important legislations, The Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, ( NREGA) 2005. Political differences aside persistent personal attacks on her are unwarranted. Ironically and hypocritically, the same people who dislike her boast when persons of Indian origin oversees become Mayors, MPs and ministers in USA, Australia, UK and other foreign countries.
Back to lynching, a similar incident happened in Meghalaya in March. A youth was lynched on suspicion of being a child lifter at a village called Syntung, about 60 km from the state capital, Shillong. Nine youths had gone for a picnic to the scenic village. On their way back they took a wrong turn and drove to the opposite direct. After reaching a dead end they returned but were stopped at a spot by a mob and were assaulted killing one and seriously injuring two. Six others escaped to the forest nearby and were rescued by the police the next day.
Lynching is a national menace. However, there is no official data as the central government does not keep track of it. Lynching takes place over suspicion of ferrying beef, transportation of cows, child abduction accusations and of course witchcraft rumours. According to studies mob attacks occurred mainly in interior villages. In some cases mobs consist of illiterate or semi-illiterate crowds. Lynch mobs comprise of men, women and even children. In Palghar lynching those arrested include minors.
Perhaps, the lack of education or the low level of education in rural areas is responsible for many lynching cases. Education in rural India is still a far cry. India may boast of a literacy rate of 71% in rural areas but education has not transformed people’s thinking pattern. Superstitions still have control over people’ thought process. Taking law into one’s hands is still rampant. We have not got into the habit of enquiry. Education has not questioned ancient beliefs, old aged practices, customs and traditions. Education is supposed to be the biggest tool to change mind-sets. However, it has not taught scientific temper. Rumours and fake news still rule the roost.
Had the elders in Palghar made enquiries of the three travellers they would have found out that they were innocent. Their identity of being ‘saints’ of the ashram in Kandivali would have been easily established. They would have easily satisfied themselves with the explanation that seers were on their way to Nasik and were on their way home after being sent back by the police. That they were no thieves or dacoits or child lifters would have been known! There would have been no assault and no death. The 100 and more accused would not have been arrested. Palghar district would not have been defamed.
Another point to take note of is the role of WhatsApp as a medium to spread rumours and fake news. A spate of mob-related violence and killings have been witnessed throughout the country following spread of rumours via WhatsApp. The world's most popular messaging application has helped lynch mobs to commit detestable crimes. Features in the Facebook owned Application enabling users to send instant text and voice messages, make voice and video calls, share images, documents with several groups and individuals on mobile phones make it a lethal medium. The Palghar tragic incident too might have been aided by messages on the freeware and cross plat-form messaging platform . The task of the police investigating the case is also to identity those who spread the rumours and punish them along with the perpetrators of the barbaric crime.
It is unfortunate that in the 21st century mob lynching on mere suspicion keeps on happening unabated. Ugly it may be but instances of taking law into our own hand are still regular occurrences in this civilised age. A war footing and continuous effort has to be in place to eradicate this menace, a blot in the civilised world.(Published on 27th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 18)