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The Palghar Lynching: The media’s portrayal of mob injustice

Updated: May 18, 2020

The night of April 16 witnessed a heinous crime on three travelers on their way from an Ashram in the Kandivali region of Mumbai to Surat in Gujarat. The three individuals consisted of two Sadhus(ascetics) and their driver. The incident took place in Gadchinchale village under the Palghar district in Maharashtra.

A mob consisting of over 200 people brutally attacked three individuals as they journey through Palghar to Gujarat, to attend the funeral of their preacher, amidst the national lockdown, and were stopped by the police. Previously, there were rumors about theirs who were kidnapping children and selling their kidneys in the black market in the Gadchinchale village. The mob attacked these saints under the suspicion that they were involved in the kidnappings mentioned above. The men were subsequently taken to the police station, yet the overpowering mob. In fact, according to recent reports, there were similar attacks on a doctor, who was supplying provisions to tribals during the lockdown, in the same area

However, several videos of the lynching were leaked onto the internet showing the police to be almost idle as the events unfolded. The videos showcased that the victims were pleading with the police as the mob surrounded them. While it is seen that the police tried to reason with the mob, video evidence also suggests that these individuals were handed over to the mob by the police. How was there an assembly of a crowd of almost 400 people during the lockdown? Why was there no use of group controlling methods? Why was there no police patrolling the area?

The peculiar thing about this incident, however, is the fact that the event only received media coverage on the 19th, three days after it had already taken place. Moreover, the Indian media decided to, and not so surprising either, make this into a communal issue, with the event receiving coverage from Arnab Goswami. The former accused Maharashtra Chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, and Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, of getting the sadhus killed and then allegedly sending the reports to Italy. He went on to make the issue an attack on Hindus. There was no debate on the inability of the police to act against the crowd, and none of the failure of the government to prevent a second such attack in the same area. The argument suddenly became an issue of religion and an issue between political parties.

Moreover, the duplicity of media reporting was brought to light by the unusual omitting of the word “sadhu” or “saints.” This shows that the media only favors victims of oppressed religions. Would the article have been titled the same way if the victims were of other faiths?

Only on April 20, four days after the crime, the Maharashtra government respond by saying that 110 individuals found guilty were arrested, and appropriate action would be taken against them. Many people began showing solidarity to the Maharashtra government and Sonia Gandhi via twitter in light of the accusations thrown at them by Arnab Goswami. Home ministers in Maharashtra threatened citizens with legal consequences in case they decided to demand justice for the victims. This became a PR matter rather than an inhumane crime.

The media played an essential role in turning this into an act of communal violence and led to the BJP and Congress, pointing fingers and accusing each other. Why was there no question on the delay in action? Why was there a dilution and dismissal of the event by the media and the government? Would the media coverage and government action be different in the case of an oppressed religious group being attacked? The aftermath of the Palghar lynching only questions the duplicity like the Indian media.

Author : Shruti Srikumar

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