The recent death of a 17-year-old Hindu boy, who was allegedly set ablaze by three persons from Muslim community suspecting him to be a thief in Kasba Peth area on Wednesday afternoon, has snowballed into a controversy, following a video received by the Banjara community and the police probing if at all, there is a possible communal angle.
The deceased boy, identified as Savan Dharma Rathod, belongs to the Banjara community. An offence in this case was lodged at the Faraskhana police station. Police said Savan himself is complainant in the first information report (FIR), which mentions that he was set on fire by three persons who suspected that he was stealing batteries of vehicles on the street, between 3 pm and 4 pm on Wednesday. Police arrested the three persons — Ibrahim Mehboob Shaikh (35) of Kasba Peth, Imran Tamboli (28) and his brother Zuber Tamboli (26), both residents of Fatimanagar.
The one-minute and 19 seconds video, available with The Indian Express, shows Savan saying, “I was working with my family in Pandhapur. I had a dispute with them and came to Pune looking for work…While I was taking a leak, three persons objected and asked me my name. I said Savan Rathod. They asked me if I am Hindu? I said, yes. Then they poured something over me from a can and set me on fire.” The person, recording the video, asks Savan if he feels that he was burnt because he is a Hindu. To this, Savan is seen moving his head in affirmation in the video.
Police said that Ibrahim is a tempo driver and Tamboli brothers operate a shop of scrap material in Kasba Peth area. Police said Zuber Tamboli has a criminal history. He was booked in an attempt to murder case registered at the Swargate police station a few years ago. According to police, Zuber is the main assailant and told investigators that his vehicle battery was stolen from the same area some days ago and they thought Savan was the thief.
Police said that the trio set Savan on fire in a narrow lane behind the Kalika temple in Kasba Peth. They then put him in a tempo and left him at an isolated spot on the river bed, near Shaikh Salla Dargah. Three rag-pickers saw Savan at the spot. They got him to the police chowki around 5.30 pm.
Savan had received 75 per cent burns in the incident. Savan succumbed to his injuries on Friday morning. Following his death, Section 302 (murder) of IPC was invoked against the three assailants.
Meanwhile, on getting to know about the incident, members of the Banjara community rushed to his help at the Sassoon hospital on Thursday. They asked him about the incident and recorded a video of his reply.
Advocate Ramesh Rathod, leader of Banjara community in the city, who is among those who recorded this video said, “We recorded the video around 11.30 pm on Thursday and it is like a dying declaration. He died the next day morning. We have given the video to the police demanding proper investigation. Had the assailants believed he was a thief, they would not have asked his religion. They would have handed him over to the police. Instead, they set him on fire. They had not consumed liquor and were fully conscious. So, we suspect they had communal intention..After recording the video, we asked the police to record his statement. But police said that Savan himself is the complainant in the FIR,” said Rathod.
The Banjara community members along with Shivsena activists, led by party MLC Neelam Gorhe, had a meeting with DCP (zone I) Tushar Doshi demanding proper investigation. When contacted, DCP Doshi said, “Probe revealed that Ibrahim first spotted Savan. Later, the Tamboli brothers joined him. For over two hours, they questioned Savan regarding theft and took him to various spots. We have confirmed at least two spots where they took Savan. Then they forcibly made him drink petrol and set him on fire. It is confirmed they were suspecting theft. We have probed on possible extremist links. So far, we have found nothing of this sort. As of now, there is nothing to believe that assailants had communal intentions. But the probe is still on,” said DCP Doshi.
Nandakumar Rathod, a Banjara community leader said Savan’s father, who works in a brick kiln in Solapur and sister conducted his funeral in Pune.