English Media’s Disdain For Saffron Shows In Its Coverage Of Mob Lynching Of Sadhus In Palghar

Swati Goel Sharma

Apr 20, 2020, 03:05 PM | Updated 05:30 PM IST

  • English media has consistently ignored atrocities on sadhus
  • Three men, including two sadhus from the revered Juna Akhara of Varanasi, were lynched by a mob to their death in Maharashtra’s Palghar district on 16 April around 10 pm.

    The incident remained largely out of the public glare until 19 April, when videos of the lynching surfaced on the social media.

    The videos show an aged man clad in saffron being escorted by a cop out of a building. A crowd wielding sticks is waiting outside. As the aged man comes out, looking scared and bleeding on the head, the crowd takes him away, easily and right under the police’s nose, and begins to beat him mercilessly.

    The videos show no intervention by cops. Videos also show a group of people breaking the glass windows of a police vehicle.

    It’s not that the national English media did not cover the horrific crime. Prominent newspapers such as The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express carried reports in their Mumbai print editions on 18 April.

    What was missing from the headlines, however, was a glaring detail that two of the three victims were sadhus – members of the largest and oldest order of sadhus in India, no less.

    Chikane Maharaj Kalpavrikshgiri, 70, and Sushil Giri Maharaj, 35, belonged to the revered, Varanasi-based Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara, or ‘Juna Akhara’, as it is more commonly known. The third victim, identified as Nilesh Telgane, 35, was driver of the vehicle in which the sadhus were travelling from Maharashtra to Gujarat to attend the funeral of another priest.

    Here is a look at the newspapers’ headlines:

    (Note that reports by The Indian Express, The Times of India and Hindustan Times carried the names of the victims in the reports, along with the information that they were priests on their way to the funeral of another priest. The Hindu carried no names but mentioned that the victims were “local religious leaders”.

    The Times of India: Armed mob pelted stones at van and tipped it over, attacked men’

    Hindustan Times: ‘3 travel by internal road to reach Guj, lynched in Palghar’.

    The Indian Express: ‘Mob in Maharashtra lynches three from Mumbai headed to Surat’

    The Hindu: ‘3 lynched in Palghar after rumours over mistaken identity’

    Any casual observer of the English media knows that if the victims belonged to a priestly order or clergy of Islam or Christianity, this identity would have been displayed prominently in the headlines.

    The discerning reader also knows that it is the English media’s general disdain for saffron that is behind the careful omission of the victims’ identity as sadhus in the headlines or in feature images.

    It is this very disdain that makes the English media routinely turn its eyes away from the many murders of sadhus even as it plays up the slightest attack on a Muslim maulvi or a Christian priest.

    As a case study, let’s recall how the English media almost completely ignored the spate of murders of sadhus in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states two years ago.

    In 2018, scores of sadhus were killed in UP and Haryana in the months of August and September. The police in UP and Haryana later busted gangs that specifically targeted temples and sadhus.

    August (For source of all the cases mentioned below, click here):

    • Three sadhus were killed in sleep by cow-slaughterers in UP’s Auraiya district for tipping police of their illegal activities. Their throats and tongues were slit.
    • In the same week in Haryana, four sadhus were found brutally killed in a Karnal ashram.
    • Sadhus were found dead, with their throats slit, in UP’s Manglaura.
    • A temple mahant and another priest were beaten to death in UP’s Aligarh district in the night, within the temple premises.
    • Body of Rameshwar Dayal, 60, was found with throat slit and dumped in the fields in UP’s Pilibhit district. The police later arrested Abdul Sayeed and Babu Khan for the crime and said that the motive was robbery.
    • Pujari Shamsher Singh was found with throat slit in UP’s Bababanki.
    • Body of pujari Shyamlal Upadhyay was found in one Pehelwan Baba temple in Payagipur in UP’s Sultanpur district. The police later arrested one Sonu Yadav for the murder with the motive being robbery.
    • Devotees entered one Chhotunath temple in Haryana’s Fatehabad and discovered a pile of ash. It emerged that the ash was of the priest Dholia who had been killed and burnt.

    September (For source of all the cases mentioned below, click here):

    • In a Shiva temple in UP’s Mathura district, 70-year-old Shyam Giri was found dead with multiple stab wounds.
    • In the same month, a 65-year-old sadhu named Munna Lal was found murdered in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district.

    The list above is by no means exhaustive, but was curated by Swarajya from credible Hindi media reports that year. Accused in most cases were not arrested by the time this portal published the reports.

    Apart from the Auraiya triple-murder case, none of the above cases found any prominent mention in the English press. Most were ignored altogether.

    The same media that created high-pitched narratives of ‘Christians under attack’ using stray incidents of damage to Church buildings — in some cases because of children playing cricket — did not find the spate of brutal murders of sadhus worth any space, let alone report it as a pattern.

    The pattern of murders of sadhus, however, was not lost on the state governments and the police.

    In September, the Haryana police busted an inter-state gang operating in six states that targeted temples. Much to the Hindi press’s curiosity then, the police refused to reveal the identity of the gang members at the press conference.

    In the same month, the UP Police said that while cracking the murder of sadhus in Aligarh, they had busted a gang that indulged in indiscriminate killing of sadhus. The police said that the gang carried out murders at the behest of Sabir Ali, a former councillor, with the purpose of making UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath look bad.

    The revelations by the UP and Haryana police were by no means small, and were covered extensively by the Hindi media. They were, however, almost completely ignored in the English press (read the coverage of these murders by Swarajya here, here, here and here).

    At the same time, the same English press has been accused of demonising sadhus.

    Readers routinely point out on social media that the English press often uses illustrations of saffron-clad, tilak-sporting sadhus for crimes committed by Muslim men who pose as ‘tantriks’.

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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