Why The Palghar Lynching Case Cannot Be Left With The Maharashtra CID
An over-enthusiastic drive to explain the Palghar lynching tells us why the investigation of the case must be handed to the CBI.
The brutal killings of three people including two sadhus in Palghar, Maharashtra, has shaken the conscience of the nation.
For India, which is uniquely characterised by its spiritual identity; for India, whose historical timeline is punctuated with the emergence of various rishis and munis and for an India where saadhuvaad, saintly conduct, has foremost importance in the philosophy of life, the killing of poor sadhus by a mob signifies social decay over time.
Many worrying aspects of this sad incident have come to light. After taking sadhus in custody and despite a large mob baying for their blood, not enough force was summoned to the forest outpost for about four hours.
The Maharashtra government was late in filing the report of the crime.
Adding insult to injury, the incident was initially reported as murders of three "thieves" by a vigilante mob. After the complete failure of law and order, right from a forest post in remote Gadchinchale to Mantralaya in Mumbai, the entire emphasis of the state government seemed to be on covering up possible social and political dimensions of the crime.
In the beginning, rumours of child theft were cited as reason for the crime. A news channel later added that the rumour was about kidnappings with the aim of kidney trafficking.
But after some time, reports started coming in that tribals in the area had been opposing the movement of all kind of government employees in their village. As a confirmation of this, reports of previous attacks on forest department employees, doctors and railway employees with the intention of preventing their entry into the village were cited.
This seemingly innocuous but terrifying fact is where the larger dimensions of Palghar killings lie.
Various kinds of illegal businesses were speculated to be behind the villagers' efforts to block the access for governmental machinery but that again is probably a fallout of the real problem to which we will come back in a while.
A report dated 21 April in The Print states that most of the tribal people of the area have converted to Christianity and they do not like outsiders to intervene in village affairs.
Along with this, an important news has come about the Kashtakari Sangathan. According to reports, Shiraz Balsara of this Christian NGO, Kashtakari Sangathan, is working behind the scenes to arrange bail for accused in the case.
Though Balsara has denied that the sangathan is representing the accused, it is obvious that an overt association will only expose their role for the reasons further cited in this article.
But before we discuss the sangathan’s role in radicalising the region, it will be important to note that Brian Lobo, another member of Kashtakari Sangathan, has been the foremost voice in being an apologist for the act of the mob.
Lobo's bizarre excuses such as rumours about gangs of roaming thieves, who were a part of a kidney racket are so ridiculous that in place of convincing a reader about the mob’s innocence, they further strengthen suspicions about the sangathan's backing to the accused.
Quoting Lobo, a report in The Free Press Journal says, "they (thieves) will come dressed like Doctor, Police and Sadhus. There was also a 'communal' twist to the rumours and in some instances it was said that the thieves will also spread Corona in the village".
The report further quotes him as saying, "in tribal villages, saffron robes are rare as nobody wears them. This also aggravated doubts in the minds of tribals".
It is also interesting to know that the lockdown in India's worst coronavirus affected state – Maharashtra, Lobo could secure three emergency passes for movement in the region on the pretext of educating tribals against rumours.
All this begs several questions.
If the Kashtakari Sangathan had no role in the whole episode why was Lobo so vocal in providing the villagers' point of view?
Why was Lobo so desperate to contact the villagers immediately after the crime?
Who floated all the rumours with such precise details which Lobo has mentioned?
Who had added the 'communal' twist to the rumour?
How come in an Indian village, people became so inimical to saffron robes?
How did Lobo read the minds of villagers as to having aggravated their doubts on seeing the sadhus’ saffron attire?
Did Lobo know everything including the 'fears' and 'anxieties' of these villagers because he was part of the force which had indoctrinated the poor villagers into that scheme?
What has been the Kashtakari Sangathan's role in the region?
Besides these pressing questions, it must also be noted that most media houses had been carrying the talking points first provided by Brian Lobo.
The most important figure in Kashtakari Sangathan is Shiraz's husband Pradeep Deshbhakt Prabhu.
Pradeep alias Peter De Mello, the founder of Kashtakari Sangathan and once a Catholic priest has been a member of several subcommittees of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's National Advisory Council.
According to a detailed field report prepared by the Vidya Prasar Mandal, Thane, under the guise of adult education, Prabhu has instigated tribals against government employees and their movement in the area for decades.
In the typical Naxal style, Prabhu and his Kashtakari Sangathan are said to have brainwashed tribals by describing the government employees as violators of tribal rights and their class enemies.
According to the same report, Prabhu and his NGO, Kashtakari Sangathan, have also worked to instil hatred among tribals towards Hindu religion.
The tribals have not only been assiduously isolated from the Hindu fold, they have also been told that Hindus consider them to be the descendants of the asuras.
Not limiting themselves to opposition of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organisations working in the region, Prabhu's supporters have physically attacked followers of a Vaishnava sect called 'Mahanubhav Panth' many a time.
Followers of this sect, who wear tulasi mala and are hence called ‘Malakaris’, have been specifically targeted by Prabhu and his supporters because they have strongly opposed conversions.
In 2005, Pradeep Prabhu also took part in the California textbook controversy.
He opposed the petition by a group of parents for rectification of errors pertaining to Hindu religion in the state curriculum in California.
Prabhu, who preaches that tribals are different from Hindus, had no compunctions in appropriating a tribal identity despite being a Christian. Declaring himself as convenor of the National Front for Tribal Self Rule, Prabhu wrote to California State Board of Education opposing the changes sought.
In his letter to the department, he termed the efforts of Hindus to assimilate tribals into the mainstream of Hinduism as ethnocide.
Prabhu has had good relations with various leftist organisations ranging from mainstream political parties like the Lal Nishan Party to banned organisations like CPI(ML), CPI (ML) Janashakti and CPI (Maoists).
He also has had good relations with the militant Bhoomi Sena.
Since 1980, an alliance between the Kashtakari Sangathan and CPI-M has strengthened the latter as a major political force in Dahanu.
In the last four assembly elections, the Marxist candidate has been successful twice.
Even today, Marxist Vinod Nikole is the sitting MLA from Dahanu.
With a strong political alliance in place and years of radicalisation by Naxal-conversion mafia which involved fomenting anarchy, sedition and religious intolerance for years, the Javanu to Jawhar belt had slumped into wildness where Palghar lynching type of horror was waiting to happen.
In the light of the success of the anti-Hindu propaganda of the Kashtakari Sangathan, it is meaningless for the Maharashtra government to cite Hindu names of the accused and claim that the crime had no communal angle.
There are two reasons for it.
First, that many a time missionaries themselves advise converts to retain their old names and second, the radicalisation, alienation and enmity fostered among tribals for Hinduism is capable of fuelling the same communal vitriol.
The rumours of child theft appear to be an excuse created later to cover up the crime. It is worth noting here that the child theft rumours were also cited as an excuse in the Bijon Setu massacre of 17 Anand Margi sadhus by Marxists in Kolkata.
Similarly, it should also be noted that the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati 12 years ago in Kandhamal, Odisha, was also done by the Naxalite-conversion mafia.
But the most worrying aspect of the conspiratorial efforts of this nexus is the anarchy and malice inflicted among innocent tribals towards the Indian Union and government systems.
Obviously, both Naxalites and the missionaries have greater flexibility to run their respective agendas outside the governmental influence. Palghar murders are also the result of a milieu created by a separatist campaign of this alliance.
The attempt to keep governmental sphere away from the village boundaries, as has been seen in Palghar's Gadchinchale is not unique. Rather, the venture has been undertaken on a large scale in tribal dominated areas from Gujarat to Odisha.
Although the Maoists and Naxalites have always used arms and violence to keep security forces and all symbols of the Union government at bay, a new campaign under the guise of forest laws and gram sabha rights, in the name of 'Jal Jungle Jameen' has been started by an overground force of NGOs and activists.
In the districts of Khunti, Gumla, Chaibasa, Simdega and West Singhbhum in Jharkhand; Jashpur in Chhattisgarh; Dindori in Madhya Pradesh and Sundargarh in Odisha, it has taken a distinct shape in the form of the Pathalgadi movement.
Pathalgadi has been a centuries-old tradition among tribals in which an inscription outside the village used to mention the population, history, rules and traditions of the tribe.
Today, distorting the whole idea, a big stone is put outside the village declaring it an autonomous republic. The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, Forest Act 2006, Articles 244 (1) and 19 (5) of the Constitution and the SC ST Act 1989 are being used to mislead the adivasis.
A prominent slogan of the Pathalgadi movement is "Lok Sabha na Rajya Sabha, sab se oopar Gram Sabha" (neither Lok Sabha nor Rajya Sabha but Gram Sabha is at the top).
Adivasis are not allowed to send children to government schools. There is a provision of penalty for violation of the rule. In these autonomous villages, central and state laws do not work and criminal and civil cases are settled by Janata Adalat.
The tribals are forbidden to keep ration cards, Aadhaar and any other type of government certificates.
Significantly, in January, seven tribals, including a sarpanch, were killed by agitators in Paschim Singhbhum for opposing this provision.
Any attempts to enter the village declared autonomous are met with attacks on government employees and sometimes they are also taken hostage.
It is important to note here that Pathalgadi movement was started with the inspiration of Kunwar Kesari Singh, a converted tribal leader of Tapi district of Gujarat.
A mere 180 km distance from the site of crime in Palghar, Gadchinchale, to Kataswan, the centre of Kesari Singh, is enough to understand the breadth and sweep of this separatist movement.
At the same time, it becomes clear that illicit liquor trade cited as the mainstay of economy in Gadchinchale and Kasa is the exact replica of other illegal trades like poppy and marijuana cultivation in other 'autonomous' villages elsewhere.
Things become clearer if we look at the leadership of this separatist movement.
Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand is headed by Joseph Purti while retired Oil and Natural Gas Corporation employee Joseph Tigga and a former IAS officer Herman Kindo lead the movement in Chhattisgarh.
George Tirkey, MLA from Biramitrapur is adding fuel to separatist fire in Odisha. George, who began his political career with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and joined the Congress two years ago, has given the slogan "Na Hindustan, na Pakistan, hume chahiye Aadivistan" (neither Hindustan, nor Pakistan, we want Aadivistan).
The support of missionaries to the Naxals and Maoists is an open secret. Among the convicts in Khunti gang rape case, a priest, Father Aeind was also sentenced.
Similarly, Pastor Roshan was arrested from Jehanabad some time ago for having links with Maoists. Bishop Charles Soren of Hazaribagh has openly stated that the church and Maoists have the common social enemy.
In view of the high possibility of Naxal-missionary nexus as the radicalising agent in the region, strong local influence of the Kashtakari Sangathan and nationwide ramifications of the Naxal-missionary combine, it will be insufficient to have Maharashtra CID probe the incident.
The investigation should be handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with a much wider mandate.
Ideally a high-level judicial inquiry should also be instituted to look into the working of the nexus which is spreading anarchy and turning a large part of India into a conflict zone.
If, like the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his accomplices, these murders are also treated as ordinary crimes, we will be committing a huge mistake.
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