AS a probe commences into lapses surrounding the lynching of two sadhus and their driver on April 16 at Gadchinchle village in Palghar district, it has emerged that despite the rapidly worsening situation at the site where the mob had gathered, no call was made to the local sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) who could have given an order for the police to fire warning shots in the air to disperse the crowd.
Either on account of patchy cellphone network at the site, located 150 km from Mumbai and on the border of Dahanu taluka and the adjoining Union Territory of Dadra-Nagar Haveli, or due to a lapse amid the chaos, local officials at Gadchinchle failed to inform the SDM.
Eyewitness accounts, including those of BJP sarpanch Chitra Choudhari and NCP Zilla Parishad member Kashinath Choudhari, said the mob attack on the victims’ Maruti Eeco lasted well over two hours. Despite Section 144 being in place against the gathering of more than five persons, a mob of nearly 400 men rained stones and wooden sticks on the Eeco, upturning it by the time the police arrived.
“They didn’t call the SDM or me,” Palghar Collector Kailash Shinde told The Indian Express. A watchman at the forest department’s chowki outside which the lynching took place made the phone call to the police, but neither local residents nor the policemen informed the SDM, a deputy collector-level officer.
“The police could have resorted to lathicharge if they felt it was necessary, but normally the order to fire a shot in the air is given by the SDM,” the collector said. Meanwhile, to curb the spate of rumours about gangs that kidnap children for their organs, the district administration has swung into action with various stakeholders at the village level roped in to spread awareness about the fake messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
Shinde said hoardings countering the rumours will soon be erected along highways.
“We have also requested several people to assist us in reaching out to the people of the region and telling them that the rumours are false. The local administration, teachers, anganwadi sevikas, accredited social health activists (ASHAs), police patils and gram sevaks will undertake this work. Simultaneously, social organisations working in the area and elected representatives will also tell people not to believe these rumours,” he added.
For about a month now, local residents have received and shared messages about thieves roaming the region at night, leading to nightly vigils.
“It got so bad that we began to conduct awareness campaigns regarding fake rumours alongside the social distancing awareness campaigns,” said Zilla Parishad member Satish Karbad, a resident of nearby village Ghadne Patilpada. “Everybody was receiving these messages via WhatsApp since the start of the lockdown.” The Kasa police station said no kidnappings or complaints of organ theft have been recorded in recent months, and that messages about gangs, including some listing villages where thieves were purported to have attacked, were completely fake. Night patrolling has been intensified across Dahanu.
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