Palghar lynching: Suspended cop defends action, says 'there were 2,500 people, we could not do anything'
A police sub-inspector in the middle of the action narrates to mid-day how the police could not push back the baying mob that lynched three on Thursday, says the viral video clips are misleading
One of the two cops suspended in connection with the lynching of two priests and their driver said he has been made a scapegoat even though he tried his best to protect the trio from the armed locals. It was a 2,500-strong mob against 35 policemen, Kashinath Choudhary, a local leader in Palghar district, who accompanied the officers on Thursday night, told mid-day. The police, however, said there were 450 people.
During his service in the Maharashtra Police department, sub-inspector Sudhir Katare was posted at Maoist-affected Gadchiroli district, but he never faced a situation like this there. The mob was armed with sickles, stones, catapults, iron and bamboo rods and axes, said Katare, who along with Assistant Police Inspector Anandrao Kale were suspended on Monday.
"The crowd from six villages had gathered on the Dhabadi-Khanvel road near Gadchinchale village. We had received information from the control room that locals had stopped three men travelling in a car, mistaking them for thieves," Katare told mid-day. Katare said he immediately called local leader Kashinath Choudhary, who is the chairman of the Zilla Parishad working committee and a known face among the villagers. Choudhary said after receiving the call for help in rescuing the three men — Shushil Giri, 35, Chikne Maharaj, 70, and Nilesh Tilghate, 30, — he rushed to the Kasa police station around 10.15 pm.
"We immediately left for the site of the attack in three police vehicles and my car. The roads leading to the spot were blocked with stones and tree branches at every 400 metres. I convinced the tribals to let us pass. Katare was with me in my car and Kale was in the police van behind us," Choudhary added. He said that after reaching the site, Katare somehow managed to rescue the three men and brought them safely to the forest department chowkie.
Sources told mid-day that the frenzied mob rained lathis on Katare's back as he rescued the men, but he didn't give up. "Katare's uniform got torn as many from the mob pulled his shirt," said a source who witnessed the incident. Meanwhile, Kale and Choudhary were trying to pacify the mob, but they accused the duo of protecting the "thieves".
Child lifters in facemasks
Additional Superintendent of Police, Palghar district, Vikrant Deshmukh said some miscreants had spread rumours among the tribals of Dahanu that 'child lifting gangs had become active during the lockdown and were seen travelling in ambulances at night posing as doctors in facemasks'. "They were misled into believing the gangs were kidnapping children from the villages to sell their kidneys," he added. The mob argued with the police, pointing to their vehicle's registration number [MH02], asking how the trio were allowed to travel all the way from Mumbai.
Deceased priests Sushil Giri and Chikne Maharaj
"The mob said, 'We aren't allowed to even go to the market during the lockdown, police cane us. How can this vehicle from Mumbai travel then? They are members of a child lifting gang as they were wearing facemasks. You [the police] are trying to safeguard thieves who have come here to kidnap our children'," Choudhary said. Some from the mob even claimed to have seen this vehicle over the past two-three nights.
Mob barged into chowkie
Choudhary and Kale's effort to pacify the mob failed and hundreds of them barged into the chowkie where Katare had taken the trio and was waiting for reinforcement. Sources told mid-day that the aggressive tribals beat up the cops inside the chowkie.
"It was simply not possible to control the mob at that time. They threatened to harm me," said Choudhary.
When asked why the police did not open fire, said, "The mob was spread all over. The situation at the time was extremely chaotic. Had I opened fire, all the policemen would have been killed by the mob."
The investigating team has saved the footage of CCTV cameras installed inside the chowkie for further investigation. The Maharashtra DGP has transferred the case to state CID for a thorough investigation.
Mob blocked reinforcement
The reinforcement teams that had left Kasa police station, about 45 km from the attack site, were immediately dispatched but were blocked by the locals on the way, said Deshmukh.
"The reinforcements got off track and reached Chinchga village in Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The police vans were stopped by another mob of 250 people who had blocked the roads with tree branches and stones," Deshmukh added.
"I tried to convince the locals but they called us thieves even though we were in uniform. Then the local cops came and while we were getting the roads cleared, someone hit me thrice on my head with a stick, thankfully, I was wearing a helmet," recalled Deshmukh.
Katare has cautioned the people "making erroneous comments after seeing the videos of the incident should understand that despite all odds, we tried our best to save the men. My uniform was torn by the mob, I was caned, but I still tried my best to rescue the trio. The situation was extremely horrible. In one video, the elderly man is seen coming out of the chowkie with a policeman and the mob started raining lathis on him." The police have so far arrested 110 people, including nine juveniles who have been sent to remand home in Bhiwandi.
Palghar police told mid-day that all the villages near the lynching spot are empty as most of residents are hiding in the dense forest with their families and children. A woman officer, Assistant Inspector Siddhava Jaibhaye, who was fired upon while probing a R200-crore bank fraud case some weeks ago has been appointed temporary in charge of Kasa police station.
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