More than hundred people have been arrested after three men were beaten to death in Maharashtra’s Palghar, over rumours that they were kidnappers out to get children. The adult accused have been remanded in police custody till April 30 and the juveniles have been sent to a children’s home. The killing in Maharashtra follows a disturbing pattern of attacks triggered by rumours in many states. Those killed were from the Gosavi tribe, a nomadic community that goes from door to door begging for food. Or some of them remain in temples as priests. The men generally seen in saffron robes.
Most arrested accused belong to Gadchinchale village in Dahanu Taluka of Palghar district. According to the 2011 census, the village has around 248 households, all belonging to the Scheduled Tribe. The literacy rate of the village is only around 30% and most of them are marginal farmers or labourers working in industrial units nearby. This incident suddenly took a political and even communal colour when video footage of the incident emerged and BJP leaders highlighted the fact that the men who were lynched were wearing saffron robes. They might make this incidence look like injustice to Saints and Sadhus, they might depict it as threat to Hindu religion under Maha Vikas Aghadi government, but they cannot ignore the fact that this Gosavi community is under attack on several occasions, and none of the government ever thought of doing roughly for their stable living.
There are two major cases of “mistaken suspicion as robbers” & suppressed that they were in Hindu religious robes. But Several BJP and right-wing leaders expressed their shock and dismay over the incident. Many Hindutva oriented social media handles sought to insinuate a ‘Muslim’ angle, prompting Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh to tweet that the attackers and the attacked, in fact, did not belong to different religions. As of now, the Uddhav Thackeray government – a coalition comprising the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party – has given no assurance of a probe into the incident, notwithstanding the evident dereliction of duty of the local police.
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, the two of the deceased belonged to the nomadic tribal community called Gosavi. 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. Most persons among Gosavis wear saffron robes and lead a mobile life. Not much is known about these men but it is usual to find people from the community leading a wandering life. Public harassment is a common experience of most persons travelling from one village to another. They get looked at with suspicion. They are attacked, humiliated and most of the abused but the people due to their appearance and style of speaking. Some of them carry God’s on wheel, some of them beg, some of them sing devotional songs to collect living. Where ever they go they go with their whole world. They keep traveling one place to another that is the reason people don’t trust them. The Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi community is one of over 40 nomadic tribes in Maharashtra, with an estimated population of 6-7 lakh.
In Dhule, a group had arrived from Solapur in a state transport bus and set up their tents at Pimpalner. Seven of the men then walked to the Rainpada village, about 140 km from Dhule town, to beg for food. Mob thrashed these people over suspicion of them being thieves. Today they are scared to venture anywhere in Maharashtra. Panthi Davari Gosavi nomadic tribe whose members have been living in fear since the attack.
This fear is rooted in a history of living on the margins — community members say they have often been the first suspects when a crime occurs in their vicinity. If any offence takes place in a village where they have set up their palas, first police come to question them They come in the middle of the night or multiple times in the day. Police throw around their belongings or ask them to relocate. Most of the community members have no single criminal case against them. Biggest irony is that state government has never recognized them as artistes, leaving them out of any welfare schemes. Over 60 palas are set up in Dehu currently, with natives of Ahmednagar and Satara having settled for the time on land owned by a temple trust. Most members have not ventured out since July 1. Women, working in nearby fields or collecting scrap, are the only source of income currently, making barely enough only for two meals a day, or sometimes one.
The Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi community are also known by other names like Davari Jogi, Nath Jogi with multiple sub-groups. They are bound by their worship of the Kal Bhairavnath deity. Community members wandering ancestors kept alive an oral tradition of narration and singing of ballads, stories, songs, katha, bhajans, gondhals. Many gave up all worldly comforts and adopted a nomadic lifestyle, surviving on alms wherever they travelled. Members also have their contribution during the period of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, when their ancestors wore disguises to help collect information on enemies. The still-nomadic community has even today only a small percentage of homeowners, and those few usually have temporary huts on available land. Most continue to move from place to place throughout the year, returning to their villages once or twice a year. While on the go, the community sets up their palas, sewn together by women over a week. Before they set up their settlement, they seek the permission of the gram sabha or the land owner. Sometimes, after they have set up the pala, they are asked to leave, either by the village authorities or the police. If there is money to hire a tempo again, they do that if no money they are again subjected to humiliation. Many times, if there is no money left, they walk to the next village, walking long kilometers with their belongings till they find a place.
Palghar, is not the first time someone from the Gosavi community was attacked by a mob. The semi-nomadic Gosavi community has for long faced ostracization, discrimination and violence. The people of Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi community have been categorized as nomadic tribes since members of the community are constantly migrating. Independence hasn’t reached them, and they’ve been roaming around the country even after 70 years of Independence. Since, they travel continuously with no fixed place to stay, education always takes a back seat and this is how the vicious cycle of poverty continues.