How True Is The Wire’s Claim That Sadhus Lynched In Palghar Were Tribals And Non-Hindus?

by Swati Goel Sharma - Apr 24, 2020 07:38 AM
How True Is The Wire’s Claim That Sadhus Lynched In Palghar Were Tribals And Non-Hindus?The Wire report and Sukanya Shantha’s tweet.
Snapshot
  • Multiple reports refute the claim by the portal Thewire.in that the sadhus lynched in Palghar were tribals and not Hindus.

    When Swarajya correspondent pointed this to the Wire reporter, she blocked the correspondent.

Three Men Lynched in Maharashtra, Two from Nomadic Tribe, BJP Leaders Push Communal Angle,’ says the headline of a report published on the news portal TheWire on 20 April.

The report is about the gruesome incident in Palghar district of Maharashtra where three people were lynched to death by a large mob of villagers outside Gandchinchle village — 125 kilometres from Mumbai.

Screenshot of the Wire report 
Screenshot of the Wire report 

Of the three victims, two were sadhus affiliated to the Varanasi-based much-revered Juna Akhara, which is the largest and the oldest order of sadhus in India. Chikane Maharaj Kalpavrikshgiri was 70 while Sushil Giri Maharaj was 35. The third victim Nilesh Telgane, 35, was a driver.

The report by The Wire says that the two victims belonged to a Gosavi nomadic tribe, and insinuates that they are not Hindus and not sadhus.

An excerpt from the Wire report
An excerpt from the Wire report

“Kalpavruksh Giri, the 70-year-old victim, had worn a saffron gamcha around his shoulders and Twitter was quick to identify him as a “Hindu” and “sadhu”. However, social activists and Gosavi community leaders say that two of the deceased belonged to the nomadic tribal community…,” the report says.

Curiously, the report attributes the claim of tribal identity of the sadhus to no one other than “social activists and Gosavi community leaders”. The report carries no comments by either the victims’ families or the Juna Akhara.

The only quote mentioned in the report to substantiate the claim is by “sociologist Kalidas Shinde” who has been quoted as saying, “There are at least 16 subsects among the Gosavi community. Giris are one of them. Most of them are associated with the akharas across different states.”

An excerpt from the Wire report
An excerpt from the Wire report

The report further says that “the semi-nomadic Gosavi community has for long faced ostracisation, discrimination and violence”.

About the public reaction to the incident, the report says that “…efforts were made to show that Hindu sadhus were attacked by the mob”.

If the report stopped at mere insinuation that the victims were not Hindus, the author of the report directly said on social media that they “have nothing to do with Hinduism”.

Sukanya Shantha said it in a reply to a Twitter user who shared her report with a comment saying “the sadhus were from Gosavi nomadic tribe, the attackers were tribals”.

Shantha replied, “Both communities actually have nothing to do with Hinduism. Abject poverty, ostracisation and marginalisation of the nomadic tribes have pushed them towards Hinduism. There is also systematic work done to erase their indigenous community history. It is criminal on so many levels! (sic).”

Screenshot of a tweet
Screenshot of a tweet

Several other reports however refute the claim made by Shantha in her report and on social media about the identity of the victims.

Ground reports by Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar and news channel Aaj Tak show that the two sadhus were born in Hindu families of Brahmin castes in Uttar Pradesh. Both left their families before their teenage to become Hindu ascetics.

The Bhaskar and Aaj Tak reports are based on interviews with the victims’ families and carry their video statements and photographs.

Here’s a look at these reports:

The report is based on an interview with the family of Kalpavruksh Giri in Vedpur village of Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi city. The report also features their video interview.

The report quotes his younger brother Rakeshchandra Tiwari as saying that Kalpavruksh Giri was 10 when he took sanyaas. Their father was Chintamani Tiwari and Kalpavruksh Giri was given the name of Krishnachandra Tiwari in childhood.

A screenshot of the <i>Bhaskar </i>report on Kalpavruksh Giri Maharaj’s family.
A screenshot of the Bhaskar report on Kalpavruksh Giri Maharaj’s family.

This report is based on an interview with the family of Sushil Giri Maharaj based in Chanda village of Sultanpur district in Uttar Pradesh.

The report says that Sushil Giri’s childhood name was Shivnarayan Dubey, he was the youngest among six siblings and he took sanyaas at the age of 12. The report carries photographs of a much younger Sushil Giri, in the attire of a sadhu, with parents.

A screenshot of the <i>Bhaskar </i>report.&nbsp;
A screenshot of the Bhaskar report. 

The Aaj Tak report is a video interview with Sushil Giri Maharaj’s family. It features his siblings and parents, and carries the same information as in the Bhaskar report.

A screengrab of the Aaj Tak report&nbsp;
A screengrab of the Aaj Tak report 

As it increasingly seemed that the Wire had got its report wrong, this correspondent reached out to its author Sukanya Shantha on Twitter.

As I pointed out to the disparity between her report and other reports, in an unexpected reaction, the author blocked me on Twitter.

How True Is The Wire’s Claim That Sadhus Lynched In Palghar Were Tribals And Non-Hindus?

The author went on to hide a reply by another user who had pointed out one of the Bhaskar reports to her. Shantha also protected her account immediately.

How True Is The Wire’s Claim That Sadhus Lynched In Palghar Were Tribals And Non-Hindus?

The report by TheWire however has not been modified since this Twitter activity, and continues to carry the disputed information. There has been no response by either Shantha or the publication.

The disputed information, meanwhile, has been picked up by other publications.

Reports by The Print, The Quint and Afternoonvoice.com too say the victims belong to Gosavi tribe, while attributing this information to no source.

An excerpt from a report by Theprint.in
An excerpt from a report by Theprint.in

It is also pertinent to mention here that I reached out to the author of The Print report in this regard, but there has been no reply.

Meanwhile, a Juna Akhara spokesperson, Narayan Giri Ji Maharaj of Ghaziabad-based Dudheshwar Peetadheshwar, told Swarajya over the phone that even if the sadhus belonged to a tribe, it was ridiculous to disassociate them from their Hindu identity.

“At Juna Akhara, the only identity of our sadhus is that they are Sanatanis. Who are Sanatanis if not Hindus? Whatever the background of the person may be, once the person has been taken into our fold, the person loses the birth identity including caste,” Narayan Giri Ji Maharaj said.

“We give deeksha to everyone, without any prejudice towards caste. The only condition is that the person cannot be Muslim or Christian while taking deeksha. We however welcome them if they convert to Santana,” he said.

Narayan Giri Ji Maharaj said that he personally did not know about the birthplace or families of the two sadhus.

“We won’t really bother. One can perhaps find out those details at Varanasi, but no one at the Akhara asks such questions to any sadhu,” he said.

Update:

The portal, Thewire.in, has accepted and corrected its misreporting that the two sadhus lynched in Palghar belonged to the Gosavi tribe.

A note below the portal’s original copy now says,

How True Is The Wire’s Claim That Sadhus Lynched In Palghar Were Tribals And Non-Hindus?

Here’s a timeline of the correction:

  • The lynching took place on 16 April
  • Wire’s report was published on 20 April
  • This correspondent pointed out the error to the Wire reporter Sukanya Shantha on 22 April. She blocked this correspondent within minutes
  • Swarajya published a report on the error on 24 April
  • Wire editor Siddarth Vardarajan repeated the misinformation in an interview to portal Newslaundry published on 26 April
  • Wire corrected the error on 6 May after this correspondent pointed out the misinformation on Twitter

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

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