From April 11 until the lynching of two sadhus and their driver in Gadchinchle village on April 16, rumours of thieves and alleged organ-harvesters on the prowl were doing the rounds in 50 villages across Palghar, the district police have said in the chargesheet.
The findings are part of the 5,921-page chargesheet filed last month by the Maharashtra Criminal Investigation Department (CID) against 126 accused for allegedly murdering Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35), and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30). The police arrested 154 men and detained 11 juveniles for the fatal attack on the travellers who were returning to Mumbai after a failed attempt to go to Surat.
During the course of its investigation, the CID had sent a questionnaire to the Palghar police asking when and in which villages the rumours were reported, whether any applications were received or complaints registered by the police in that regard, and what measures were taken to check the spread of the rumours.
Vikrant Deshmukh, Additional Superintendent of Police, Palghar, wrote a three-page response, informing the CID that rumours had originated 4-5 days before the lynching and not in January. On April 11, rumours were reported in 16 villages that fall under the jurisdiction of Talasari police station. On April 12, the same rumours were reported at one village under Dahanu police station and at Nikane and Sarni Patilpada villages under Kasa police station.
The same night, villagers in Nikane went into panic after spotting an unidentified person at 9.30 pm. The gram panchayat wrote a letter to Kasa police station the next day, saying that the “thief” escaped while villagers chased him. The police had appealed to the villagers not to fall prey to rumours or to venture out of their homes after dark.
At Sarni Patilpada, however, a group of 250 villagers allegedly acted on those rumours on April 14 when they stopped a car transporting two doctors engaged in relief work back to Thane and pelted stones at the vehicle’s occupants and the policemen who had come to rescue them.
Meanwhile, rumours continued to be reported in four villages under Boisar police station on April 13 and at two villages under Saphale police station on April 14. Deshmukh also wrote that in the days leading to April 16, rumours were also reported at 25 villages under the jurisdiction of Vangaon police station.
In an attempt to quell fears among villagers, an hour-long meeting was convened at Kasa police station at 5 pm on April 15. This meeting was attended by the village sarpanches, village police patils, anti-superstition activists and members of the zilla parishad and panchayat samiti. The police appealed to people not to spread, believe in and act upon rumours being spread on WhatsApp groups, to not accost persons engaged in essential services, to not attack strangers, to stay indoors and to report suspicious activities and persons to the police. The police also reminded those present at the meeting that forwarding false and unverified messages online was a punishable offence.
Aside from booking 250 residents of Sarni Patilpada on April 14, the district police also registered two other offences in the following days. On May 1, the Dahanu police station had booked seven men for spreading misleading messages through WhatsApp about thieves being spotted at multiple villages. While the first rumour contained the names of the villages where the accused claimed to have spotted the thieves, the second specifically warned villagers to watch out for “a group of Covid-19 positive Muslim men who have been given a mission to visit villages dressed as sadhus and infect Hindus”. The police arrested three men for spreading those messages.
The police also linked the rumours to the attack on a Tamil Nadu native by 31 men in Zai Dubalpada village in Gholwad on April 18. A case of rioting, forming an unlawful assembly and committing assault was registered at Gholwad police station the same day. The Palghar police also informed the CID that as a part of measures to persuade citizens that they had nothing to fear, it made announcements on loudspeakers at 181 villages, roped in village elders and leaders to address locals at 29 meetings, held 4 meetings of its Dakshata Samiti across the district.
28 accused get bail
A court in Palghar on Monday granted bail to 28 farmers named as accused in the case of lynching of two sadhus and their driver and for attacking policemen at Gadchinchle village on April 16. “The men were granted default bail by the court as the police failed to file chargesheet against them within 90 days of their arrest,” said their lawyer Amrut Adhikari.
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