THE DHULE Police is set to investigate whether Sunday’s lynching of five nomads on suspicion of being child abductors is connected to a recent rumour-mongering incident in neighbouring Nandurbar district.
Local villagers have told investigators that since last week, worried mothers had begun collecting their children from school after the midday meal, following rumours of child-lifters. Last week, villagers in Nandurbar, 60 km form Dhule, had tried to set a Toyota Innova on fire and attacked its occupants suspecting them to be child abductors.
“For the one last week, rumours were spreading far and wide. We are verifying the origins of these rumours and how it impacted the lives of the villagers,” said an officer with the Dhule police. “A team is probing the origin of the rumours. While a 40-second clip about children being allegedly kidnapped for the purpose of selling their kidneys did go viral in the area, we suspect that Sunday’s episode is a culmination of various rumours of child kidnappers, especially a recent incident that was reported in Nandurbar, where many members of the tribal community here have relatives,” the officer added.
In Rainpada village, Rojobai Raut, who teaches at the zilla parishad school, said that for the last week, Adivasi mothers, especially those from the Bhil tribe, were picking up their children after the midday meal. “When asked, they said a child kidnapper group is on the prowl and is kidnapping children to sell off their organs.” Dhule police has arrested 23 local residents in connection with Sunday’s incident, including two named in the FIR. Teams have now been despatched to the neighbouring districts to locate the remaining accused. A team has also been sent to tribal areas on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border. “Not just Rainpada, neighbouring hamlets have also emptied out for fear of arrests. On Tuesday, combing operations were carried out in Kakarpada hamlet, around 20 km from Rainpada,” said another officer. The police have formed around five teams, including a cyber-crime team. “Some teams are questioning the accused, some are looking for the accused and a cyber team is probing the various fake news and rumours that had surfaced,” the officer added.
Investigators have found that around 9.30 am on Sunday, the five victims had alighted from a state transport bus that they hailed from Pimpalner to a hamlet called Gotiamma. From there, they reached Lohardoode where they went door to door, asking for alms. It was here that they asked a woman for water and enquired if she had a girl child. The woman, suspecting them to be child lifters, panicked and informed the men in the village. A confrontation ensued and the victims were subsequently assaulted. “They assaulted and dragged them to Rainpada gram panchayat office, which is around 2 km from this village,” the officer said.
On Tuesday, Gotiamma and Lohardoode hamlets wore a deserted look, the men having fled fearing police action. Jhama Choure, deputy sarpanch of Lohardoode, said: “We have heard that the woman who raised an alarm belongs to Lohardoode, but we are yet to trace her. We suspect she too has fled.” Sakkaram Pawar, a panchayat member of Rainpada and an eyewitness, said the victims were carrying a ‘diary’ and a document showing that they were nomads from a drought-hit area. “While they were being dragged and taken inside the panchayat office, one of them, who was carrying a plastic bag, showed us a diary in which there were some letters attested by various police stations, allowing them to beg. They were also carrying their Aadhar cards, one even had a passport,” he said.
Raju Bhosale, one of the victims, had a passport issued by the Karnataka regional passport office in 2017. His family claimed he had traveled to Dubai three times. Some of the villagers managed to get the victims locked inside the panchayat office to save them from the mob. But the furious mob pulled out an iron rod from a cowshed and broke open the door and barged in. Chairs, tables, bricks and bamboos, anything that came their way, was used as a weapon to attack the victims. “I, along with two other panchayat members, tried to stop them but they questioned my intention and asked me if I wanted the children of the village to be kidnapped… I called the police but the mob threatened the police party with iron rods and didn’t allow them to enter the panchayat office,” Pawar said. Dr Rakesh Mohane, medical officer at Pimpalner rural hospital, said the victims died of blunt trauma and excessive bleeding.
“The victims sustained fracture on their necks and had grievous head injuries caused by being hit repeatedly with blunt objects… Their hair, skin and nail samples have been preserved to carry out chemical analysis,” he added.