Protectors of Law are even afraid of mob: Palghar still haunts

Protectors of Law are even afraid of mob: Palghar still haunts

The cops in whose presence a mob in Palghar lynched two sadhus and their driver in April opted not to intervene for fear that they too would be killed, the most senior officer present at the spot has told investigators.

The 21-strong squad including Riot Control Police (RCP) personnel at Gadchinchle village on April 16 night, were carrying rifles, rubber bullets, tear gas shells, and stun grenades — but they did not use their considerable arsenal to prevent the murders. The question here arises on the functioning of the local police efficiency and their credibility whose duty was to save the sadhus from the mob and refrain them from taking law in their hands.

After a four-month investigation into the killings, the Maharashtra Criminal Investigation Department (CID) filed two charge-sheets against 126 people earlier the month at a magistrate’s court in Dahanu town — a 4,955-page charge sheet against villagers for attempting to murder the policemen and a 5,291-page charge sheet against the same men for murdering the sadhus and their driver.

The first charge sheet includes the statements of the 21 policemen, who were led by Assistant Police Inspector Anandrao Kale.

Several of these men, including Kale, had only 48 hours previously rescued two doctors and their driver from another mob in another village in the same area.

The two sadhus, Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35), and their driver Nilesh Belgrade (30), we're travelling to Surat from Mumbai and had gone off the main highway to get past lockdown barricading. The area, in Dahanu taluka of Maharashtra’s tribal-dominated Palghar district, had been agog over the previous several days with rumours about child-lifters and organ harvesters.

The sadhus and their driver were attacked, but were rescued by a police team – however, a 300-400-strong mob had then snatched the men off a police vehicle and lynched them. Videos on social media had appeared to show one policeman abandon the elderly sadhu and flee from the mob. The sadhus begged for mercy but neither police nor the mob gives theirs hid to their pleading.

According to the charge sheet, the policemen had left Kasa police station at 10.18 pm in four vehicles after forest guards at a checkpoint in Gadchinchle informed them that a car with three passengers was under attack.

Kale completed the 40-kilometre journey at 11.10 pm, reaching Gadchinchle 10 minutes ahead of his subordinate, Police Sub Inspector Sudhir Katare.

A van carrying 15 RCP personnel arrived at 11.15 pm. A platoon of 30 armed RCP personnel, working in 24-hour shifts of 15 men each, had been stationed at Kasa police station after rumours of thieves and alleged organ-harvesters in the area had led to incidents of villagers attacking travellers.

The charge sheet says that the villagers ignored three announcements by Kale on the public address system, ordering them to disperse. In their statements, the policemen have said that they were initially unable to reach the overturned Maruti Eeco in which the sadhus and their driver were lying injured.

Kashinath Chaudhary, a Panchayat Samiti member from the area who had accompanied the police to the village, told the CID that the arrival of the police had seemed to further enrage the villagers.

“When I asked the villagers to allow the police to remove the injured travellers and question them, some villagers accused us of working with the thieves. The villagers said that the police had arrived in such large numbers only to help the thieves. Other villagers said that they would kill all of us,” Chaudhary has said in his statement. Kale told the CID that his colleagues were pelted with stones as they extricated the victims from their vehicle and put them in the police van and were left with no other options to leave the crime scene.

The charge sheet says that the RCP van had two 12-bore rifles, 100 rounds of 12-bore ammunition, a gas gun, 10 rubber bullets, 10 tear smoke grenades, 10 tear smoke shells, five colour smoke grenades, five stun grenades, 10 stun grade shells, five hand spades, shields, batons, and pads to protect arms and legs, and helmets.

However, in his statement, Kale said, “I felt that had I fired my weapon or used tear gas at that time, the violent mob would have killed us. That is the reason I did not fire my weapon and did not order the RCP to use tear gas.”

The RCP told the CID that the mob prevented them from the shooting videos of the incident, assaulted them with stones and wooden sticks, and warned them against intervening.

An RCP constable who is cited as a witness in the charge sheet recalled that the mob was shouting: “Go back. Give us your uniforms. We will teach them (the victims) a lesson. If you do not go back, we will kill you.”

Despite being pelted with stones, hit with sticks, and having their shields and batons grabbed, the RCP personnel did not retaliate, says the charge sheet. “We did not use tear gas or any other force at that time. We did not receive orders from any official to use force,” the RCP constable has said.

Past midnight, as the three severely beaten victims lay motionless, the mob disappeared into the forests surrounding Gadchinchle. At 12.30 am, Gaurav Singh, then Palghar superintendent of police, arrived along with Additional Superintendent of Police Vikrant Deshmukh, Sub Divisional Police Officer (Jawhar) Bhagwat Sonawane, and nearly 300 personnel.

The SP was later sent on compulsory leave while API Kale, PSI Katare, ASI Salunkhe and two other constables were suspended. Thirty-five other personnel posted at Kasa police station were transferred.

A recent development has taken place in this case, as Govt. of Maharashtra in an official statement dismissed the need for an investigation by CBI in this case and also demanded to impose fine on the main petitioner i.e: Advocate Ashutosh Dubey, who single-handedly since day one is fighting this battle alone for the justice of sadhus who paid the price because of cowardness of police machinery.

It is an undeclared emergency being imposed by the ruling party in the state and it reminds us of the emergency era of 1975 when Indira Gandhi curtailed the fundamental rights of the citizens.

The departed souls are waiting for the justice, what is stopping you to raise voice for them?