Two saffron-clad sadhus from Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara, along with their car driver were travelling from Mumbai towards Nashik to attend the funeral of a senior sadhu. As they took a diversion to Dhabari-Kanvel Road, they were stopped near Gadchinchle village of Palghar by a frenzied mob of villagers who overturned their car and started attacking the trio. The trio took shelter in a nearby forest chowki. Meanwhile, the guard of the chowki called officials from Kasa Police Station under whose jurisdiction the village comes. Police came in about an hour but could not provide any security to the innocent trio -saint Kalpvriksh Giri Maharaj (70), saint Sushil Giri (35) and driver Nilesh Telgade (30). A bloodthirsty mob of around 200 villagers lynched all three to death with stones, rods and sticks. Videos of the elder saint holding on to the police personnel’s hand to protect himself from the onslaughts as his head bled profusely and police not doing enough for him, has sent shock waves in society. More so as a sadhu is revered as a symbol of spirituality and the timeless Hindu Rishi tradition of the country.


The Palghar bloodshed resonates with the Anand Margi brutal carnage 38 years ago in West Bengal’s capital, Calcutta. On April 30, 1982, 17 saffron-clad Ananda Margis, were going to attend an educational conference at Tiljila in East Calcutta. An angry mob came near Ballygunge and forcibly stopped their cars. They took out the Ananda Margis from taxis, mercilessly attacked them and bludgeoned them to the death at Bijon Setu. The images of their charred bodies lying on road sent waves of fear and disgust. The gruesome mass murder of 17 saints (monks) including one nun happened in broad day light in the heart of Calcutta. However, police did not arrive for two hours. The immediate reason of the carnage was attributed to unverified rumours that the sect was involved in child lifting.


However, as the smoke cleared it became evident that not even a single child was lifted. It became known that the massacre was a well-planned and executed conspiracy by Left goons in West Bengal. They had gathered sticks, rods, petrol and other paraphernalia of massacre beforehand.  


Similarly attacks on Hindu organisations and activists have been happening in the Dahanu-Palghar region of Maharashtra since the 1970s and 80s. An attempt on the life of Dama Anna Tokekar, the founder of Hindu Sewa Sangh was made in 1980. Vamanrao Sahastrabudhe and his wife were killed in the attack while Tokedar was luckily away elsewhere. Vishwa Hindu Parishad Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram Kendra in Talasari, Palghar was attacked by a violent mob of 700-800 and many other attempts have been made several times.


Some Hindu organisations and activists had to face wrath of the Left-Christian linkage as the war between missionaries and Hindu social and religious leaders over conversions has been continuing in tribal areas of Maharashtra and the neighbouring Odisha. On August 23, 2008 Swami Lakshmananand Sarswati along with his other associates was brutally murdered in his own Ashram in the tribal Kandhamal district of Odisha, where he had been staying for 40 years. Christian Maoists were blamed for the carnage. In 2013, the verdict was pronounced in the case in which seven persons - all Christian Maoists were sentenced to life imprisonment. Justice Panigrihi Commission submitted its report in 2015 in which it said that conversions were the reason behind the murders.


It has also come to light that a large amount of money has been pumped into the region by Christian organisations outside the country. As per the 2011 Census, the Christian population in Odisha has increased 478% in comparison to Hindu population which has increased 130% in the last 50 years. The number of churches in Kandhamal district is 1200, i.e. one church per 125 persons. It is also claimed that 300 church organisations from world-over are active in Kandhamal district. Not surprisingly that anti-Hindu poison has been injected into the tribal lands of India since long.


Tribals, Christian Organisations and Radical Left


The immediate trigger in the present Palghar case could be some unverified rumours related to child-lifting, theft or organ-trafficking. However, the modus operandi in Palghar indicates to a pattern of violence followed by communists in West Bengal and other Maoist-infested areas.  


Palghar as a district was carved out of the erstwhile Thane district on August 1, 2014.  Palghar Lok Sabha constituency and has a schedule tribe population of 35.42%. It has six legislative seats, out of which the single seat held by CPI-M in a total of 288 seats through the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections comes from Dahanu with 73.5% ST population, held by Vinod Nikole. Left and the radical left have a strong presence here, which can also be seen from the fact that Palghar and nearby hilly tribal area people have a strong presence in Left/civil society movements whether they are held in Mumbai or elsewhere in Maharashtra. 


Dahanu- Palghar tribal area, just like other tribal areas of the country in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand etc., has been prone to Left and Christian missionary activities and their activism in tandem. Some organisations pose as civil society groups working among tribal people but they form a part of the nexus between communists and church. Kashtakari Sangthana, a missionary organisation with its headquarters at Dahanu working under the garb of a civil society group, was initiated by two Jesuit priests (missionaries), Peter D’Mello and Niki Cordoso (Niki Bhau). Peter D’Mello later changed his name to Pradip ‘Deshbhakt’ Prabhu. Niki Cordoso is now running another organisation- Maharashtra Fishermen’s Forum and Fishermen’s Co-operative.


As an example of the amalgamation of red and cross, Kashtakari Sanghatana was established in 1978 under the philosophy of radical Liberation Theology movement started in Latin American countries after the 2nd Vatican Council, 1965 decision. The organisation has been teaching tribals of their different ethnic identity and culture than Hindus and urging them to maintain the same. It adopted a militant approach as it used to organise ‘People’s Courts’ on the lines of Janthana Sarkars (the kangaroo courts) of Maoists where they deliver immediate justice. (The Palghar mob-lynching is an instance of instant justice on similar lines- gruesomely killing ‘child-lifters’). In other words, the organisation has been using a combination of Catholic and Marxist techniques. 


As per media reports Shiraz Balsara, Peter D’Mello’s wife and the person responsible for running Kashtakari Sanghatana along with Brian Lobo, has been arranging bail of the accused CPI-M activists arrested in the Palghar killings.


A mere look at the Vasai-Dahanu demography suggests what has changed in the area during the decades as funds have been pumped by international church organisations. Frequent incidents of conversion and its resistance have been reported from this area in the past. One year ago, on April 30, 2019 a report from Palghar about stated the resistance from tribal people when Hindu gods Hanuman and Ganesh were ridiculed as a monkey and elephant respectively in one of the events organised by Christian missionaries. A few days before the incident, there was news of attack on a primary school run by a Christian community on Chandnasar Road in Virar (East) as charges of conversion were levelled against the school by some Hindu organisations.


Choice of location of Palghar, Dahanu and nearby areas by missionaries has been because of high tribal population. Jesus for all Nations, Church of North India, Blessing Church, The Voice of Holy Spirit and New Life are some of the prominent churches working in the area which have been regularly conducting prayer meetings in tribal villages and conversions leading to frequent confrontations with Hindu tribals and organisations.


Considering the background of radical Left and Christian missionaries in the area, it seems to be a radical Left pattern of violence. Whatever the immediate trigger for gruesome murder of sadhus must be unearthed but it is the deep-rooted poison which has been injected in the tribal people by missionaries and radical left that forms the crux of the matter.


Questionable Role of Administration, Police and Mainstream Media


The looting of the Hindu saints of Rs. 50,000 and some gold they were carrying for decoration of temple idols followed by mob-lynching of the trio is heartrending. The people who mercilessly killed innocent sadhus and their aide have committed a crime, but questions must be raised on the dereliction of duty by police. Even if the police personnel at the scene were outnumbered by violent mob, the viral videos make it very clear that police did not make efforts to use pellet guns or other means to disperse the crowd. The state government should also be held responsible on how 200 persons gathered at a place during complete COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the country. A similar attack took place in the same area against a doctor from Thane, Vishwas Thanvi, and his associates four days ago. Then why did the state government take no preventive measures? Maintaining law and order and implementation of Epidemic Law is the state’s duty, however, there seems to be a major lapse.

More than that, a section of mainstream media of the country too is under criticism. For two days since the incident, mainstream media, which had published editions after editions on Mohammed Akhlaq’s murder, tried to hush-up the issue by publishing this news as a small inside report. Not surprisingly that the same mainstream journalists, who made every effort to create the suicide of a Hyderabad University student’s suicide as an attack on Dalits in India, did not even think it essential to share the identity of victims in the Palghar mob-lynching case. For The Outlook, The Telegraph, The Hindu, New Indian Express, The Hindustan Times and some others, the mob-lynched sadhus became ‘three men without a name. If the videos of sadhus being mob-lynched had not gone viral on social media on April 19, 2020, the mainstream media might have successfully suppressed the incident by just mentioning it as killing of ‘three men’.


Further, the Maoist symphathiser journalists have twisted of the narrative in such a way to prove Hindu organisations wrong. Beginning from the chief minister of the state to the sections of mainstream media, they kept repeating that it was not a ‘communal’ case and the mob-lynching was not orchestrated by Muslims. One wonders at the skewed definition of ‘communal’ as something between Hindus and Muslims only for the chief minister and the Left-liberal dominated media houses. However, except for a few random individuals, from the beginning of the case, no Hindu organisation had termed it as an assault by Muslim mob.


One is appalled at how the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackrey can say so surely without any investigation that there was no Mazhab angle to the incidence. Justice in the April 16, 2020 Palghar case must come through a high-level investigation by CBI. However, Palghar-Dhananu region remains the epicentre of red and cross, not only posing a long-term threat to saffron but to many national and state development projects under the garb of tribal rights.


About the Author: 

Prerna Malhotra teaches at Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi.