A Story of Saffron: What happened in Palghar?
Over a lynching case that took the lives of three people, the far right is up in arms. But why would they, when neither the attackers nor the victims had any organised religion? It's simple - it's a story of saffron.
This week, India saw a mob lynching unfold in two phases - one on its soil, when three men were killed. And then once again, on social media, when communal trust was eroded and lost.
Here’s what you need to know about what happened.
On April 16, three men were attacked and killed by a mob in the small Palghar, Maharashtra. The mob consisted of around 70 - 80 people, as per police reports.
The police, as per initial investigations, have found that the mob was made up of villagers who believed the three travelling deceased people to be thieves.
Here’s what has emerged since then.
The accused are all local adivasi people, according to the police.
Two of the three deceased are also tribal people, belonging to a different tribe than the locals who attacked them. They belonged to a semi-nomadic tribe called the Gosavi, and were affiliated to one ‘Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhaara’ in Varanasi.
They were travelling to attend a funeral, and had to take by-lanes, because all the main roads were sealed off due to the lockdown.
Three days later, on Sunday April 19, video footage of the attack surfaced on social media.
As per the footage, the men who were attacked and killed were wearing saffron robes.
Almost instantly, an uproar was seen on social media, led by BJP members, claiming that the media had downplayed the case, and wilfully suppressed the information that the deceased were in Hindu religious robes.
Many on Twitter believed the men to have been Hindu Sadhus, and as the buzz around the incident increased, as always, misinformation spread.
Hindutva and BJP oriented handles across social media platforms took up the issue and ran with it, citing a “Muslim bias” of the media.
So many questions arise when we see #PalgharMobLynching incident.— ABVP (@ABVPVoice) April 20, 2020
When whole country is under lockdown, how did more than a hundred people come to the streets in Palghar? This raises serious concerns about Law and Order situation under the Govt of Maharashtra.#JusticeForSadhus
— Shefali Vaidya. (@ShefVaidya) April 20, 2020
No adivasi in India can attack a saffron clad person unless brainwashed over years.— Sunil Deodhar (@Sunil_Deodhar) April 20, 2020
The #palgharlynching area is a communists’ bastion, even the Local (Dahanu) MLA belongs to @cpimspeak.
Horrific #moblynching of 2 pious seers by Marxist goons in anarchy rule of @OfficeofUT pic.twitter.com/LMJ0SXCKuP
Who are we really fooling? State of sadhus in today's India is such that they don't evoke the kind of respect from Hindus as, say, a maulvi from his community, nor the police treat sadhus the way they treat, say, a priest— Swati Goel Sharma (@swati_gs) April 19, 2020
So many sadhus killed in UP in 2018, hardly anyone cared pic.twitter.com/YXcex59BdA
The furore got so bad that the state home minister, Anil Deshmukh, sent out the following tweet, which says that members of both sides were not of different religions, and there was no religious dispute at hand.
मुंबईसे सूरत जानेवाले ३ लोगों की पालघर में हुई हत्या के बाद मेरे आदेश से इस हत्याकांड में शामिल १०१ लोगों को पुलिस हिरासत में लिया गया है। साथ ही उच्च स्तरीय जांच के आदेश भी दिए गए हैं। इस घटना को विवादास्पद बनाकर समाज में दरार बनाने वालों पर भी पुलिस नज़र रखेगी।#LawAndOrder— ANIL DESHMUKH (@AnilDeshmukhNCP) April 19, 2020
He also asked the police to take firm action against those who were unnecessarily communalising the issue.
Now Press Pause.
What’s happening here? Why is the far right so upset?
The perpetrators were tribals, the victims also belonged to a nomadic tribe.
Hinduism doesn’t even come into the picture!
Ah but you see, visuals matter.
The victims were wearing saffron.
In Hindustan, saffron is sacrosanct, remember? For as long as the victims (irrespective of their true religious affiliation) wore saffron, they were (excuse the pun) untouchable.
And in that narrative, it makes sense doesn’t it? The only people who would think to attack a saffron-wearing sadhu, would have to be Muslim.
Now let’s think - what if they weren’t sadhus? What if there was no saffron in sight? Would the right-wing still have cared?
The victims were a part of the Gosavi community - a tribe that has historically faced discrimination in Maharashtra. In 2018, five members of the Gosavi community were lynched, following rumours of them being child abductors.
What happened then? Where were the Hindutva masses then?
They were silent.
Because there was no saffron in sight.
Here’s the terribly funny part: Members of the Gosavi tribe traditionally wear saffron.
But then, cultural misappropriation - just like communal hatred and silence, when our voices should be the loudest - has always come naturally, hasn’t it?