The dastardly, gory and blood-chilling lynching of two saffron-clad Hindu Sadhus (monks) of Juna Akhara and their driver right in front of half a dozen policemen in Gadchinchale Village of Palghar District in Maharashtra, India, should rattle the sensibilities of every human being cutting across national boundaries and the barriers of religion, caste and creed.
Videos doing the rounds show audio-visually how the Maharashtra Police personnel, who were supposed to be the protectors and were responsible for the maintenance of law and order, had acted not only in the most cowardly manner but were seen as if they were acting in cahoots with the mob when the sadhus and their driver were bludgened to death with sticks and stones while the cops looked the other way.
A prominent section of mainstream media chose to project this incident as “lynching of three men in Palghar, Maharashtra” knowing that two Hindu sadhus of the famous Juni Akhara, were killed by a mob when they were driving from Kandivali near Mumbai to Surat to attend a funeral. It was also projected most prominently by the media, and also the district collector that the mob had gone berserk following rumors that child lifters were active in the area.
When reporting about the lynching of anyone belonging to the minority religious communities like the Muslims and Christians, the same section of the media has been in the forefront giving a communal twist to the crime through their screaming headlines.
The NDTV news on the Palghar lynching was headlined: “3 Men Brutally Killed By Mob in Maharashtra”
On 27 May 2019, reporting another incident NDTV went ahead with a news with the heading: “They Tore My Kurta, Told Me To Say “Jai Shri Ram”: Muslim Man In Gurgaon”
Then there was a news by India Today on 24 June 2019 with the headline: “Muslim man lynched by mob over suspicion of stealing”
The Indian Express reported another incident with the heading: “Muslim man brutally thrashed on suspicion of spreading coronavirus on 9 April 2020”
“On the Night Before Holi, a Muslim Man Was Lynched in UP”. This was the heading of a news report by The Wire on 25 March 2019.
The area surrounding Gadchinchale, the village of the killers, is dominated by tribals. A large number of them have converted to Christianity. Gadchinchale falls in the Dahanu constituency represented in the Maharashta Assembly by a CPI(M) MLA. The Member of Parliament from the Palghar parliamentary constituency, which is reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, is from the Shiv Sena. Over the years, the Dahanu Assembly constituency has been represented in the Maharashtra Assembly either by Congress or CPI(M) MLAs. Chitra Choudhary of the BJP, who is the sarpanch of the village where the Sadhus were beaten to death, told media that the villages near the scene of the crime have NCP-CPI(M) elected members.
In the past, left-wing extremism, the CPI (Maoist) have come under attack for resorting to violence against Hindu religious leaders and saints. CPI (Maoist) was targeted when VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda was assassinated along with four of his disciples in Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008. Seven persons convicted in this case in 2013 by an Additional District and Sessions court belong to the minority Christian community.
Odisha has had a history communal tension linked with conversions. In January 1999, Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, along with his two sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), was burnt alive by gang of fundamentalist Hindus.
CPI(M) has accused the BJP of communalising the Palghar incident. The Maharashtra State unit of CPI(M) has condemned the lynching of three persons, including two Sadhus and demanded a fair and objective probe. CPI(M) has also accused the police of arresting innocent people from surrounding villages.
In the midst of charges and counter charges, that section of the media is in the eye of a storm which has always given a communal twist to news reporting when the victims of violence have been dalits, Muslims or those belonging to other minority religious groups.
Questions arise: Why any section of media should be selectively communalising mob lynching? Also why some, including the Maharashtra Home Minister, are trying to fudge the motive behind the Palghar killings, before anything is proved conclusively through investigation, by implying that violence has to be communal only when Hindus and Muslims are involved and not otherwise?
Now the task at hand is to punish the killers of Palghar. It also needs to be investigated whether or not there was a conspiracy behind this incident. Only a neutral agency can be entrusted with the responsibility of a free and fair investigation since the Maharashtra police is in the dock in this case.