IN THE 14 cases of mob attacks in Maharashtra in the last 25 days, the 19 victims have either been visitors from neighbouring villages or other states, in possession of a vehicle or, in most cases, accused of lurking in the villages after dark. In the attacks since June 5, nine were killed and ten others escaped with injuries, including a deaf-and-mute man, a mentally challenged man and a labourer.
SPs in 11 districts, including Aurangabad Rural, Nandurbar and Gondia, said the men attacked by villagers in these cases were “outsiders” and villagers, influenced by rumours on WhatsApp, had confronted them to “protect their children”.
Consider some of these cases, which show how rumours and unfounded suspicion triggered sudden, brutal attacks in the state:
June 5: One of the first cases of “strangers” being attacked in Maharashtra took place when an auto driver from the Nilanga area of Latur, who was headed to Aurad, was attacked by local residents who suspected him of having kidnapped a child.
SP (Latur) Shivaji Rathod said, “The auto driver was not wearing the uniform that others in the area had. A crowd of 25-30 people suspected he was taking a child in his autorickshaw and attacked him. The local police team reached the spot and rescued him.” Rathod said an FIR on the charges of rioting was taken at the Aurad police station against the accused and 12 people were arrested.
June 5: In the jurisdiction of Nanded Rural police station, three men from Odisha bore the brunt of tensions sparked by the rumours. Diwakar Dudu, Majekumar Jaiswal and Badal Chauhan were walking past a ground outside a village at
4.30 pm when locals attacked them. The men were rescued after the police intervened.
June 5: In Chandrapur, a group of villagers did not spare a speech-and-hearing impaired boy of 20 who was passing by looking to buy fuel for his stalled motorcycle at 10 pm. “The villagers asked him where he was going at that time of the day. But he could not answer them, and they thought he was one of the men that the rumours had warned about, and hit him with slippers,” said Niyati Thaker, SP Chandrapur.
June 8: Two people from the Phase Pardhi community, a denotified tribe, were lynched by a mob of around 300 people at Chandgaon village in Vaijapur Taluka of Aurangabad. SP (Aurangabad Rural) Arti Singh said eight members of the community had come to hunt animals around 5:30 am when they were lynched on suspicion that they were in the area to steal children. “We registered a case of murder and arrested 12 people,” Singh said. The deceased were identified as Bharat Sonawane and Shivaji Shinde.
June 11: In Goregaon town in Gondia, a group of 25-30 people beat an unidentified mentally challenged man to death. Dilip Patil Bhujbal, SP Gondia, said the deceased had been spotted roaming in a village and was questioned by a cowherd. The man was soon surrounded by a mob that assaulted him, while others recorded the attack on their cellphones. By the time he was rushed to hospital by police, the man was declared dead. After verifying videos of the assault, the police has so far arrested 11 men and are looking for others.
June 15: Two men from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Mohan Sidha (38) and Vikram Bhati (26), were attacked by a crowd outside a dargah in the Chawani area of Aurangabad around 8.30 am, as they suspected them to be collecting alms in disguise. The two, who often come to the area during Ramzan, were dressed in “colourful clothes”, said police. DCP Vinayak Dhakne said, “Sidha passed away while Bhati survived with injuries. So far, we have arrested four people.”
June 19: At 2 am, a group of worshippers outside a popular Sufi shrine in Parbhani ganged up on a man from Latur. The group slapped 29-year-old Rajkumar Warshal repeatedly before police dispersed the mob and rescued the youth. Tension reigned for the next two nights, said Dilip Zalke, SP Parbhani, and the situation returned to normal after an FIR was lodged against the attackers.
Of the two men attacked in the space of three days in Beed District, one was mentally challenged while the other was a road construction labourer from a state several hundred kilometres away.
June 18: A group of villagers in Majalgaon attacked Tamil Nadu native Bittu Ishwar who had taken a break from working at a road construction site and was walking past the village. He was mistaken for a child kidnapper and beaten up.
June 20: In the same village, a group of villagers attacked a mentally challenged man under the same suspicion.
G Sreedhar, SP Beed, said that an FIR was lodged at Majalgaon police station in the case of the attack on the labourer while in the case of the mentally challenged man, a non-cognizable offence was registered.
June 29: Three labour contractors, who had come from Pandharpur to take labourers to work in sugarcane fields, were attacked in the Masalwat area of Nandurbar around 8:30 pm. “While one of the contractors was a former corporator, another is a relative of a Mumbai-based Deputy Commissioner of Police,” Sanjay Patil, SP Nandurbar, said.
“When the labourers sat in their car, others in the area got suspicious that they were kidnapping people. A crowd of nearly 1,000 people started beating them up. Since the spot was close to the police station, the trio could be saved,” Patil said.
Express Explained | Why rumours love WhatsApp
July 1: Around 8 pm, in the Takerkhede area of Jalgaon, a mentally challenged boy was attacked by 50-60 people who suspected him of being a thief. SP Jalgaon, Datta Karale, said the boy belonged to a neighbouring village.
July 1: In Malegaon, prompt action by police, which arrested seven people responsible for attacking a family from the nomadic Gosavi tribe, and the involvement of community leaders, prevented the situation from boiling over.
July 1: Five members of the Gosavi community were killed by a mob of over 3,500 men at Rainpada in Dhule. When the assault began, a deputy sarpanch locked the victims inside the gram panchayat office to protect them but the mob broke open the door and killed the five who were related. Police have arrested 23 so far.