Palghar lynching: 'No involvement of Maoists, but the area is restive'

Updated: Apr 27, 2020, 07:12 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Two forest dept workers, witness to gory act on April 16, narrate how the mob defied them and the cops

Prakash Vaswat and (right) Sonudaji Borsa had told a forest officer about the situation. Pics/Hanif Patel
Prakash Vaswat and (right) Sonudaji Borsa had told a forest officer about the situation. Pics/Hanif Patel

We were so terrified that we cried for a while. How can people become so cruel?" asks a shell-shocked Prakash Laxman Vaswat, 50, one of the two crucial eyewitnesses to the barbaric lynching in Palghar district, who narrated to mid-day details of the incident on April 16. Sonudaji Borsa, 52, and Vaswat work as watchmen in the Jawhar division, at the forest chowkie where a trio from Mumbai were lynched by a frenzied mob.

Vaswat is an employee of the Forest Department and Borsa is on contract with it. They were on duty at the post in Gadchinchale village. Around 9 pm they saw a car — carrying Chikne Maharaj, 70, Sushil Giri, 35, and their driver Nilesh Tilghate, 30, — arrive from Kinhauli and a large number of villagers following it. "For three days before this there was a rumour that child lifters were on the prowl to kidnap children for their kidneys. The vehicle headed towards the state border area of Silvassa. But it was not allowed to cross and reached our forest chowkie at 9.30 pm. The villagers told us to stop the vehicle, threatening to kill us, and damage the forest post if we did not listen," said Borsa.

His colleague Vaswat apprised a forest officer, Abhijeet Anand Kadam, of the situation, where the wild mob was by then shouting 'chor aaya, chor aaya'. "There were three men inside the vehicle. The elderly priest was seated in the rear. The wild mob surrounded the vehicle and I told them to not go near the vehicle as those inside may be COVID-19 affected," said Borsa, who told Vaswat to find out who the travellers were, as the mob was calling them 'child lifters'.

The villagers allegedly told the watchmen to stop the vehicle and threatened to kill them and damage the forest post if they did not listen. Pic/Hanif Patel
The villagers allegedly told the watchmen to stop the vehicle and threatened to kill them and damage the forest post if they did not listen. Pic/Hanif Patel

"The trio said they were headed to Surat but the cops at Silvassa did not allow them to cross the border and hence, they were returning to Kandivli," Vaswat said.

'Mob toppled the vehicle'
"While Vaswat was talking to the men in the car, a youth from Gadchinchale village, Rajesh Soma Bhaver, punctured the rear right wheel and then smashed the driver's side window pane and windshield. A few minutes later a group of men toppled the vehicle with the trio inside," said Borsa, who told Vaswat to tell forest officer Kadam that the "mob was going berserk."

Kadam gave Vaswat's number to Kasa police station in-charge Anandrao Kale, who called him. "I told Kale that the mob was furious and baying for blood. Kale asked me if I could take the trio in the car to Kasa police station, but I told him that nearly 2,500 people of almost six villages had gathered on the spot and it would be impossible for me to do that. I requested him to reach the spot immediately. Kale immediately left with his team for Gadchinchale village," said Vaswat. The duo endorsed mid-day's reports which say the frenzied villagers had blocked the roads every 400 metres with large stones and tree branches, which caused the police team to reach the spot late. They said village sarpanch Chitra Choudhary reached the spot at 10 pm.

Prakash Laxman Vaswat, watchman
Prakash Laxman Vaswat, watchman

ZP chairperson threatened
"The police team was also accompanied by Zilla Parishad chairperson Kashinath Choudhary and reached the spot at 11:30 pm. Choudhary, with folded hands, requested the mob to leave the trio and allow police to do their work. But the wild mob asked him to stay away or else they would kill him," recalled Vaswat, who further added that the vehicles of Kashinath and Chitra were damaged by the mob.

"Jostling with the frenzied mob, PSI Sudhir Katare and his team somehow reached the toppled vehicle, and asked the trio to come out. Though driver Tilghate and Giri managed to come out and run towards to police vehicle to sit inside; when the elderly man, Chikne Maharaj, came out, the mob rained batons on him besides pelting stones. He fell down but mustered courage to get up and run inside the forest post," narrated Vaswat.

This further angered the mob, and a few youngsters armed with thick wooden sticks and iron rods entered the forest post. "Besides threatening us, the mob also beat up policemen inside the post," said Vaswat, who added that the mob began pelting stones at the post.

Borsa said, "Though the cops tried their best to safeguard the trio, the mob was not in a mood to listen to anyone. They killed the trio mistaking them as thieves."

Dodging the frenzied mob, the watchmen somehow left the forest post after the incident. They said they had never seen such aggressive people in their lives. "Recalling the incident gives me goosebumps," said Borsa, who paused while talking to mid-day, the fear returning to his face.

"It was a horrible, horrible scene. I had never seen mob lynching. We were so terrified that we cried for a while. How people can become so cruel? It was a disgusting incident. The wild mob had no fear of the law as they were not willing to listen to policemen," said Vaswat, recalling the incident.

Witness claims threats
After the barbaric incident, Palghar police managed to arrest 110 people including nine juveniles. Five of the adults are the prime accused in the incident. Rajesh Soma Bhaver, who punctured the vehicle, is one of the five accused in this case registered at Kasa police station. Borsa claimed Rajesh's mother Radhi has threatened him. "His mother Radhi told me to get her son freed, or else she will kill me. I have given a written complaint at Kasa police station and a non-cognisable (NC) offence has been registered against her," added Borsa. Both watchmen have not reported to work after the incident as they have been assisting investigating teams with the crucial details of the gruesome mob-lynching.

Influenced by Maoists?
There were nearly 2,500 people from different villages including Gadchinchale, Dabhadi, Diwashi, Kinhauli, Chalni, etc at the spot. Borsa hinted that some locals are influenced by the Maoist mindset.

"There is no direct involvement of Maoists, but the mindset of people living in Patil Pada is to create ruckus with the government establishments and they strive to create unrest. The way the trio were killed is a burning example of unrest. None of the people in the mob was ready to listen to the cops, instead they mistook the trio as thieves and killed them as per the quick decisions taken by Maoists in a kangaroo court," said Borsa.

The police said they have cornered around 2,300 people who have taken refuge in the hills near Gadchinchale village. They said the mob rushed back to their houses after the incident, grabbed whatever food they could, and family members, and rushed with them to the hills. Police said they every time they try to get close to them, they are pelted with stones from the hills.

'External forces' influence'
The Deputy Conservator of Forest, Jawhar division, Amitkumar Mishra said, "There are several external forces acting to contaminate the minds of tribals to rebel against government establishments. They have kept tribals in the front row to give them support to raise voices against development work of the state government."

"Wildlife habitats are being damaged, several pockets in the forest have been burnt and trees are being lopped by tribals. But whenever we register offences against tribals for damaging forest areas, several NGOs like Kashtakari Sangathana instigate them and gherao our office with nearly 5,000 people to force us to withdraw the offences registered," said Mishra, who claimed that the 'tribals have been asked to oppose the Indian Forest Act, Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure'.

Surrendered Maoist spoke of Palghar

After surrendering before Chhattisgarh police in mid-2018, Maoist Pahad Singh — a leading member of Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone — with a R47 lakh bounty on him, had told police that Maoists are active in Palghar and Dahanu areas.

"I had interrogated Pahad Singh and he had told me that there is stress of Maoists in the western ghats of Maharashtra ie Konkan range," GP Singh, a senior IPS officer from Chhattisgarh police told mid-day.

"Pahad Singh used to be part of top level meetings of Maoists. He was also the right hand man of Deepak Teltumde, the brother of Anand Teltumde. Singh is a tremendous motivational speaker," said a police officer.

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