16th April 2020. It was a day when the first wave of Covid hit India and people were forced to stay at their homes following the lockdown proclaimed by the government. Everything was slow and calm until the Palghar news came. Palghar is a district in Maharashtra with a good tribal population. The news which came from Palghar was very shocking. Two Sadhus along with their driver were lynched to death by a mob. The next day, WhatsApp was flooded with videos of the act of forcing National Media to show the news. This news was further terrific due to the fact that Sadhus were lynched to death in the presence of Police. The media tried getting further information, however not much to their benefit.
A week later, I thought of digging the truth and bringing justice to the Sadhus after being part of several online campaigns. I thought of approaching Supreme Court with a request to have a CBI inquiry in this case. I thought CBI is the best since the state is trying to downplay the event. Also, the state police won’t do justice with the Sadhus as the Sadhus were lynched in their custody. Supreme Court bench led by Ashok Bhushan, J issued a notice to Maharashtra Government on May 1 seeking their response.
When the matter was next listed, three months had already passed. Maharashtra government filed an affidavit stating that they have sent notice to all the police officials of the particular police station while informing the court that the matter is with state CID and demanded the case to be dismissed. I was shocked by the response. After three months, the Maharashtra government came with a response that was not only unsatisfactory but was wrong on so many levels. State CID is under state government only and the head of State CID is a police official of the state. If the doubt is on state police, how could the state police investigate the case? At my request, Supreme Court asked Maharashtra Government to share the charge sheet with us. Supreme Court also asked them to bring on record the actions taken against the Police officials. The advocate representing Central Government made a remark at this point in time that there could be a CBI inquiry if police involvement gets proven. Justice is so close, I thought.
The next date came and so did Maharashtra’s Chargesheet in the case. Chargesheet suggested that a big mob with an intention to safeguard themselves killed the Sadhus. However, Chargesheet didn’t give any reason for such a big mob during the Covid-19 peak. Chargesheet mentioned nothing about the ones who were leading the mob as suggested by media reports. Chargesheet didn’t even mention anything about machinery active in Palghar for conversion. What it did mention is how they took action against police officials. In a separate affidavit filed by the Maharashtra government, it was informed that one Police Official was dismissed, two were sent to compulsory retirement while others were demoted for three years from their current positions. This action was taken after their internal investigation which suggested that Police Officials were negligent in their duties and that lynching and murder of innocent sadhus could have been avoided. The worst part in the reply filed by Maharashtra Government was despite of them admitting the negligent act of their police officials, they requested for the dismissal of the petition. They didn’t for once think of filing an FIR against the police officials who couldn’t save the Sadhus but were seen running away and pushing them towards the mob on 16th April.
Today is 16th April 2021. My fight in Supreme Court continues. I don’t think, there could be any justice to Sadhus if the Maharashtra Police investigates the matter. Even the former Mumbai Commissioner went for CBI inquiry (and got one), when there was an issue with the state politics. May Sadhus get justice. Till then, I’ll keep fighting.
Author: Adv. Shashank Shekhar Jha
Legal Editor, GoaChronicle.com