“They had not set out on a picnic. Despite my concerns, I let my husband go because it was a good deed to help Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri attend his guru’s funeral. They didn’t have permission but it was the police’s duty to protect them. When the police keeps watching like helpless spectators amid a ghastly act, where does one go for justice?” asked Pooja, the wife of Nilesh Yelgade.
On Thursday night, Yelgade was at the wheel of the car when it was surrounded by villagers in Gadchinchale in Palghar district, and he and his two passengers — Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri and Sushilgiri Maharaj — were pulled out and beaten to death.
Read| Lawless in Palghar
Yelgade is survived by his mother, wife and two daughters. His two daughters, Sanika (7) and Shalini (5), are not aware of the painful death their father suffered.
Yelgade used to live close to the Pimpaleshwar Mahadev temple in Kandivali East’s Hanuman Nagar area, where Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) performed his duties. He was close to the ascetic. The Mahant’s home was a small room attached to the rear of the temple. Sushilgiri Maharaj (35) was a priest at a temple in Jogeshwari.
“Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri desperately wanted to attend the funeral of his guru Ramgiri Maharaj. Police refused permission, but he was adamant. He said ‘we will find a way’,” recounted Diwakar Gupta, a youth who helped the mahant in looking after the temple.
He had been staying with him for over nine years and considered the mahant “more than a friend”. “He asked me to look after the temple as was the norm whenever he had to travel,” Gupta said.
On Monday, the temple located on the main road remained shut with photographs of the three victims, and tributes written on a blackboard by local residents.
The management of the Varanasi-based Shri Panch Dushnam Juna Akhada, which runs the temple in Hanuman Nagar, has written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Signed by Mahant Premgiri Maharaj, the letter narrated the events asking Shah why the police remained mute spectator despite the trio being in their custody. “Many sadhus in the akhada are angered over the incident. We request you to constitute a high-level inquiry committee to take action against the guilty,” the letter stated.
Local residents said the three had left for Surat on Thursday afternoon. “We heard they were stopped by the police and asked to return at some point, but they tried to take another route through forests,” said Gupta.
“We spoke to the akhara pramukh, and told them that we didn’t have anyone to conduct their last rites. They collected the bodies of the sadhus from Palghar and took them to Trambakeshwar,” said local resident Raj Alma.
“Nilesh’s body was brought home on April 18… The police made us wait for two days and made us go to several places for the body. On Saturday night, we received the body. In this lockdown, no one is helping anybody. But Nilesh volunteered to help the mahant. We said we also would accompany him, but he didn’t allow us to join,” he added.
The temple is over 50 years old, residents said, and Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri had been looking after it for over 15 years.