Social media was rife with rumours and fake news about alleged midnight attacks and thefts in villages of Vaijapur taluka, about 70 km west of Aurangabad town, even in the weeks leading up to the lynching of two people from tribal communities in Chandgaon village of the taluka on the morning of June 8, according to the police and local residents.
Such was the level of tension that residents of Chandgaon and nearby villages have been patrolling at night for weeks — in groups — according to Mohanrao Salunkhe, former sarpanch of Chandgaon.
Deputy SP (Aurangabad Rural) Somay Munde said, “In the week before June 8, three people were arrested for spreading rumours on social media about alleged attacks at night. We came across (multiple) fake messages, with gruesome images, circulated on WhatsApp about attacks by Pardhi groups. It created unrest against the community.”
But barring a few minor incidents, no major attack or robbery has taken place in the region recently, he added.
The eight people from Pardhi and Bhil tribes ostensibly walked into this tense atmosphere on Friday morning.
Found moving “suspiciously” — they were there for “hunting”, according to one victim — the residents attacked them, and were soon joined by people from nearby villages.
“We kept shouting that we are not thieves and have come for hunting, but they did not listen to us,” Gangaram Bhosale, one of the six injured, said. “The mob relented when a police officer took out his gun.”
Vaijapur police have booked 400 villagers under different IPC sections, including 302 (murder). The police have so far identified 13 people from Chandgaon and other villages on the basis of videos and photographs. Nine people have been arrested and sent to police custody by a local court.
The deceased are Shivaji Shinde (45), from Mukundwadi in Aurangabad district, and Bharat Sonawane (30) of Mitmita, Aurangabad. Officials said Shinde belonged to the Pardhi tribe and Sonawane was a Bhil.
Rajesh Bhosale, discharged from hospital on Sunday evening, said they spent Thursday night at a relative’s house in Rotegaon, Vaijapur, and left early the following morning for hunting. “But villagers nabbed us, taking us to be thieves,” he said. “At their questioning, we said we are Pardhis, and they attacked us.”
Former sarpanch Salunkhe said, “The deaths are unfortunate. We are not against Pardhis, or any other tribe. The incident was a fallout of a constant tension due to fear of attacks and robberies.”
Rejecting the victims’ claim that they had come for hunting, Salunkhe said, “No hunting has ever been seen in Chandgaon. So the villagers felt they were thieves and attacked them.”