In a year since the Palghar lynching incident, in which two sadhus and their driver were lynched by a mob on the suspicion that they were child-lifters, the state CID has filed seven chargesheets in three FIRs registered into the matter.
In all, 251 adults were arrested and 15 juveniles held in the case. Among those arrested, 75 who allegedly played a major role in the incident are still behind bars.
The CID, which is on the lookout for 52 more people named as wanted accused in the case, did not find any communal angle to the incident as it was insinuated on social media platforms soon after the incident.
Soon after the incident, Maharashtra Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government had alleged that BJP was playing “communal politics” over the incident during lockdown owing to rising Covid-19 cases last year.
On April 16, last year, sadhus Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35), and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30), who were travelling to Surat from Mumbai, 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 child-lifters and organ harvesters.
The sadhus and their driver were attacked, but rescued by a police team. However, a 300 to 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 an elderly sadhu and flee.
Eventually, Palghar SP Gaurav Singh was sent on compulsory leave and five police personnel were suspended. Also, 35 officers from the local Kasa police station were transferred.
Four days after the incident, the case was handed over to the state CID headed by ADG Atulchandra Kulkarni. Under his supervision, three FIRs were registered. The first two FIRs were linked to the lynching of the sadhus, the third was linked to stone pelting on the police team that had reached the spot.
Last July, the CID had filed two chargesheets in the first two FIRs against 126 accused. With 75 more people being arrested last October, two more chargesheets were filed, which was followed by a third supplementary chargesheet filed against 22 people arrested last December.
Apart from these six chargesheets linked to the murder case, another chargesheet was filed last August against those attacking police personnel on charges of obstructing a public servant from performing his duty and attempt to murder.
SP (CID) Maruti Jagtap said, “We have filed chargesheets in the investigation that we have conducted so far. We are now on the lookout for 52 wanted accused. Once they are arrested, a chargesheet will be filed against them.” The officer, however, added that the wanted accused did not have a major role to play in the attack and were only present at the stop at the time of the incident.
“Some of the arrests were made by the Palghar police initially. Eventually, we found no evidence against 28 people, who were not charged,” said Jagtap.
The CID, in its chargesheet, has stated that the attack was as a result of messages regarding child-lifters being spread on WhatsApp groups that led to paranoia. “When the accused saw the sadhus, they believed the sadhus had come to the isolated spot late at night to steal children,” Jagtap said.
Soon after the incident, insinuations were made, especially on social media platforms, that the incident was linked to communal violence. The BJP had alleged that the incident was not being investigated properly and demanded a probe by the central agencies. However, the allegations had turned out to be false. Then state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had also released the names of the arrested accused to show that the deceased and accused belonged to the same religion.