The policemen in whose presence a mob in Palghar lynched two sadhus and their driver in April had chosen not to intervene for fear that they too would be killed, the most senior officer present at the spot has told investigators.
The 21-strong squad including Riot Control Police (RCP) personnel at Gadchinchle village on April 16 night, was carrying rifles, rubber bullets, tear gas shells, and stun grenades — but they did not use their considerable arsenal to prevent the murders.
After a four-month investigation into the killings, the Maharashtra Criminal Investigation Department (CID) filed two chargesheets against 126 people earlier this month at a magistrate’s court in Dahanu town — a 4,955-page chargesheet against villagers for attempting to murder the policemen, and a 5,291-page chargesheet against the the same men for murdering the sadhus and their driver.
The first chargesheet includes the statements of the 21 policemen, who were led by Assistant Police Inspector Anandrao Kale.
Several of these men, including Kale, had only 48 hours previously rescued two doctors and their driver from another mob in another village in the same area.
The two sadhus, Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35), and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30), were travelling to Surat from Mumbai, and had gone off the main highway to get past lockdown barricading. The area, in Dahanu taluka of Maharashtra’s tribal-dominated Palghar district, had been agog over the previous several days with rumours about childlifters and organ harvesters.
The sadhus and their driver were attacked, but were rescued by a police team – however, a 300-400-strong mob had then snatched the men off a police vehicle and lynched them. Videos on social media had appeared to show one policeman abandon the elderly sadhu and flee from the mob.
Explained| Palghar lynching: A recap of what happened
According to the chargesheet, the policemen had left Kasa police station at 10.18 pm in four vehicles after forest guards at a checkpost in Gadchinchle informed them that a car with three passengers was under attack.
Kale completed the 40-kilometre journey at 11.10 pm, reaching Gadchinchle 10 minutes ahead of his subordinate, Police Sub Inspector Sudhir Katare.
A van carrying 15 RCP personnel arrived at 11.15 pm. A platoon of 30 armed RCP personnel, working in 24-hour shifts of 15 men each, had been stationed at Kasa police station after rumours of thieves and alleged organ-harvesters in the area had led to incidents of villagers attacking travellers.
The chargesheet says that the villagers ignored three announcements by Kale on the public address system, ordering them to disperse. In their statements, the policemen have said that they were initially unable to reach the overturned Maruti Eeco in which the sadhus and their driver were lying injured.
Kashinath Chaudhary, a Panchayat Samiti member from the area who had accompanied the police to the village, told the CID that the arrival of the police had seemed to further enrage the villagers.
“When I asked the villagers to allow the police to remove the injured travellers and question them, some villagers accused us of working with the thieves. The villagers said that the police had arrived in such large numbers only to help the thieves. Other villagers said that they would kill all of us,” Chaudhary has said in his statement.
Kale told the CID that his colleagues were pelted with stones as they extricated the victims from their vehicle and put them in the police van.
“The mob also gathered around the RCP van and did not allow them to come out. It was when the mob pulled back that the RCP men were able to alight from their vehicles,” he said.
However, the police were unable to shield Sushilgiri and Yelgade, or to assist Assistant Sub Inspector R D Salunkhe, who was trying to help the elderly Kalpavruksha Giri, from the mob, both Kale and the members of the RCP squad have told the CID.
“The mob had pinned us near our vehicles and did not allow us to move ahead. We had pistols but did not have the nerve to fire in the midst of the crowd,” Kale said. His statement has been attached to the chargesheet filed by the CID in the attempt to murder offence.
The chargesheet says that the RCP van had two 12-bore rifles, 100 rounds of 12-bore ammunition, a gas gun, 10 rubber bullets, 10 tear smoke grenades, 10 tear smoke shells, five colour smoke grenades, five stun grenades, 10 stun grade shells, five hand spades, shields, batons, and pads to protect arms and legs, and helmets.
However, in his statement, Kale said, “I felt that had I fired my weapon or used tear gas at that time, the violent mob would have killed us. That is the reason I did not fire my weapon and did not order the RCP to use tear gas.”
The RCP told the CID that the mob prevented them from the shooting videos of the incident, assaulted them with stones and wooden sticks, and warned them against intervening.
An RCP constable who is cited as a witness in the chargesheet recalled that the mob was shouting: “Go back. Give us your uniforms. We will teach them (the victims) a lesson. If you do not go back, we will kill you.”
Despite being pelted with stones, hit with sticks, and having their shields and batons grabbed, the RCP personnel did not retaliate, says the chargesheet. “We did not use tear gas or any other force at that time. We did not receive orders from any official to use force,” the RCP constable has said.
Past midnight, as the three severely beaten victims lay motionless, the mob disappeared into the forests surrounding Gadchinchle. At 12.30 am, Gaurav Singh, then Palghar superintendent of police, arrived along with Additional Superintendent of Police Vikrant Deshmukh, Sub Divisional Police Officer (Jawhar) Bhagwat Sonawane, and nearly 300 personnel.
The SP was later sent on compulsory leave while API Kale, PSI Katare, ASI Salunkhe and two other constables were suspended. Thirty-five other personnel posted at Kasa police station were transferred.
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