In a shocking first in Maharashtra's history, a mob attacked a police station last week, assaulted two policemen, dragged one of them out, paraded him with a saffrom flag and made him chant, 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji.'
In an exclusive interview, District Superintendent of Police Dr Dnyaneshwar Chavan tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com what really happened.
District Superintendent of Police Dr Dnyaneshwar Chavan, left, below, is in the eye of a storm.
Last Friday, February 19, two policemen under his charge, Assistant Sub Inspector Yunus Shaikh and Head Constable K Awaskar of the Pangaon police station were attacked by a mob inside the police station.
Shaikh was then forcibly taken to the spot, saffron flag in hand, and forced to chant 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji' where, the previous night (February 18), Awaskar and he had prevented a mob from erecting a saffron flag near a mosque in the communally sensitive Ambedkar Chowk.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted on Wednesday, February 24, that he has asked state Director General of Police Pravin Dixit and Minister of State for Home (Rural) Ram Shinde to travel to Latur and investigate the incident.
This is what DSP Chavan said when asked if the policemen in Pangaon felt insecure and unsafe: "This is, after all, a numbers game. When you are smaller in number compared to those who you face being larger in number... definitely (there is fear)..."
How many accused have you arrested in the attack on ASI Shaikh?
16 people have been arrested till now.
How many people have been registered as accused in the case according to the FIR (first information report)?
By when will you arrest the rest?
Definitely, we have been making efforts to arrest the rest. They are absconding. They are not in the village (Renapur) as well as at their relatives' houses.
They may have left the district. Their mobile phones are also switched off. We will arrest them 100 per cent.
Could you tell us what exactly happened on the day of the attack and the previous night when ASI Shaikh and Head Constable Awaskar stopped people from erecting a saffron flag near Ambedkar Chowk, close to a mosque?
The gathering had plans to dig up the road and erect a (saffron) flag at the spot about which our officers came to know.
On that night there were two officers on duty. Yunus Shaikh was not alone. Awaskar was also there. These two along with two other policemen went to the spot in a jeep and convinced them not to erect the flag there.
They (the gathering which wanted to erect a flag) then went away with their flag at around 1.30 am. Our jeep maintained a vigil at the spot till 3.30 am.
Later, at around 8.30 am, the next morning, some 8 to 10 people came to the police station and threatened the officers there with a bandh and other consequences.
In another 15, 20 minutes, a big mob gathered outside the police station and seeing these two policemen inside the police station (Shaikh and Awaskar) the mob attacked them.
Both suffered head injuries as well as swelling of their hands and legs in this attack.
In the melee, Awaskar managed to escape, but the mob caught hold of the other police officer (Shaikh) and took him to the spot where they had asked the mob the previous night not to erect the flag.
Were these two officers asked by by their superiors to stop anybody from erecting flags at Ambedkar Chowk?
Listen my dear friend; This is our job to stop this nonsense.
How can we allow people erecting flags at any place that they want?
Once they erect such flags they refuse to remove it, leading to tensions in the area.
Once a saffron flag gets erected during one jayanti (birth anniversaries of historic figures), some people come and erect a blue flag on some other jayanti, and then again you have some people erecting a green flag.
This is how our society is evolving right now. People think they have done a great job when they erect such flags.
Why have you not added Yunus Shaikh as a complainant when it was he who was attacked and paraded by the mob asking him to raise slogans? Why make Awaskar the complainant?
Because of the attack on him (Shaikh), he was very nervous. He was not in a condition to give a statement properly.
He was conscious, but he was under mental trauma. So, we registered a complaint from Awaskar.
Is Yunus Shaikh stable now?
Yes, Shaikh and Awaskar, both are stable now.
Will you then add Yunus Shaikh as a complainant now?
Sir, you have started to change the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) now. For one crime there is always one FIR registered and then investigations are done.
So you are saying that the CPC doesn't allow you to name two complainants for an attack like this.
No. Only one FIR is filed in one incident.
Yunus Shaikh's son claims this will weaken the case against the rioters...
He must have said this to you. When I met him, when the IG (Inspector General of Police) met him, nothing of this sort has come to light.
If there are 10 people injured in a crime, we don't take complaints from all 10 people.
But here there were just two people who were attacked. And that too two policemen, who were attacked by the mob who entered a police station and dragged them out, paraded them in full public view.
Yunus Shaikh has claimed that the police did not help him when he had asked for reinforcements, informing them that a mob of over 100 people had attacked the police station.
The attack took place around 8.30 am and the reinforcements came only at 10.30 by when the assault was over and rioters had fled.
It is correct that the incident (the attack on the police station and the police officers; not once did Chavan refer to it as an 'attack'; he stuck to 'incident') started at 8.30 and he (Shaikh) informed about it (for additional police force) and three of our employees (policemen) were on their way at around 9 am to the police station, but the injured constable (Awaskar) met them on the way and informed them that just three policemen were not enough because it was a huge crowd and asked them to come back with a bigger force so that they (policemen in strength) could control them.
The distance between our police station (from where the reinforcements took off in a jeep) and the chowki (the police station where the attack occurred) is about 16 km. Because of bad roads any vehicle easily takes about 25 minutes to cover this distance.
Did Yunus Shaikh, when he called for help, not say that it was a huge mob?
When told that (informed by Yunus) it was a 100-plus mob and given that it was morning time and policemen were amid their shift (night to morning when they change their duties) change and also there were about 8 such processions organised that day (February 19, Shiv Jayanti) our force was distributed for duty at these places too.
Another rally was supposed to cross its way from around a mosque at 9 or 9.15 am. For that too we had to requisition policemen. There were about 105 processions across Latur district that day.
Isn't this the first time in Maharashtra that a policeman was dragged out by a mob from inside a police station and then attacked?
A policeman was paraded in full public view, forced to carry a saffron flag and chant 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji'.
Isn't this a huge failure on the part of the Latur police?
Also, such instances were not happening at all the 105 places you mentioned. Only Yunus Shaikh sent you a SoS, but still the police couldn't reach the spot in time with adequate force.
It is the duty of every policemen to inform when such incidents happen.
You say there were processions happening at 105 places and so you were short on manpower, but across the district only one police station was attacked. Yet you couldn't send adequate timely help.
Do you think you failed to give priority to this attack and send immediate help?
Shouldn't you have dispatched a larger police force when Yunus Shaikh informed at around 8.30 am that the police station was attacked by a 100-plus strong mob?
Our total strength was about 46 that day. Out of which 10 to 12 policemen do the night rounds at different place. Of the remaining 36, we had sent 16 policemen across eight different areas and 10 policemen were stationed at the village.
Of the remaining five policemen we sent three of them to his (Yunus Shaikh's) assistance.
Our PI (police inspector, Shaikh's senior), who came in later when these policemen who had gone to help him (Shaikh), had come back and then he along with eight policemen went again.
You had just 46 policemen at your command?
Yes. At these rural police stations the strength is always between 30 and 35. And for a little bigger area the strength at rural police stations is maximum 45 to 50.
You may have seeing 200 policemen at a police station in a city like Mumbai. Every police station has a jurisdiction of at least 60 to 70 villages.
In the entire Latur district we have 980 villages and our entire police strength (for the district) is 2,100.
When Yunus Shaikh called for help, what was the available police strength you had?
Only seven to eight reserve policemen were available then, out of which three policemen left immediately.
To which organisation are these people, who paraded Yunus Shaikh and attacked a police station, affiliated to?
These so-called people wanted to celebrate Shiv Jayanti. There are all kinds of organisations here (in Latur) affiliated to different political parties. These villagers have become extremely politicised.
Comparatively, in the cities, since people have jobs, politics is not a big craze. But here in villages, people have only farming that earns them a livelihood and after doing that, they have all the free time to indulge in politics and groupism.
Every individual has loyalties to a number of groups here. There is nobody who can be pinpointed as belonging to one (political) party.
Which political parties do these rioters belong to then?
Do they belong to the Shiv Sena, BJP, Samajwadi Party, Congress?
People belonging to all political parties are here. We are doing individual verification.
Here, you don't have official lists that can throw light on political affiliations of the rioters. So, nobody can point towards one political party. There are people who keep shifting (changing their political affiliations).
To which political party do the majority of the 16 people you have arrested so far belong to?
It (those arrested) is a mix of all political parties. You cannot point fingers at any one political party.
Are they Samajwadi Party workers, Congress workers, Shiv Sainiks or BJP workers?
Whichever way you ask me, the answer will remain the same.
Yunus Shaikh said he did not receive timely help. What do you have to say about this?
See the PI (Police Inspector L V Rakh of the Renapur taluka police station) who was there should have reached in time or should have sent reinforcements, but since he could not do it, we have transferred him.
So action has been taken against a PI and not his superiors?
The PI knew about the incident that had taken place the previous night, but still he did not take any action against it.
He did not send extra manpower to the police station nor did he reach the police station in time which was expected of him as he knew about the tension the previous night.
Also, he did not inform any of his superiors about this incident... neither the DySP (Deputy Superintendent of Police), nor additional SP (Superintendent of Police), nor SP.
No one knew about this until we got a call the next morning at around 8.45 or so. Then we immediately sent a team of 25 officers along with the DySP. They reached there at 9.55.
What are the charges under which these 16 accused rioters have been arrested?
The Renapur Police station has registered an FIR under Section 307 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 427 (committing mischief and damage above Rs 50), 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and other Sections of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act against 150 offenders out of which 65 have been arrested.
Who was the mastermind of this attack? Has your investigation thrown up any names?
There are two people who led the mob. One of them is Dhananjay Chavan, who is absconding; the second is Chandrakant Chavan, who is under arrest.
There are five to six masterminds, but most people are naming Dhananjay as the mastermind. We will arrest the rest of them soon.
Has this attack on a police station led to a feeling of fear and insecurity among your officers?
This is, after all, a numbers game. When you are smaller in number compared to those who you face being larger in number... definitely (there is fear)... but we are trained to handle such situations. Sometimes we do not anticipate what the mob has in mind.
Was Yunus Shaikh singled out because his outward appearance indicated that he was a Muslim?
As far as we are concerned, we do not think that this is a communal attack. Both policemen were attacked.
But the crowd paraded Yunus Shaikh in public, made him carry the flag and chant 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji'.
Have you taken an oath to not listen to what I am saying? Are you a lawyer cross questioning me or what?
I am just asking a question.
So, let me tell you: Both the policemen were attacked. Both received head injuries. Both tried to escape, but only Awaskar succeeded. It is not that Awaskar was let off by the mob. You should not draw your own conclusions.
We have made sure that this was not a communal attack and Yunus Shaikh was not singled out. Both were attacked, both suffered injuries.
The incident was unfortunate. When the police is on duty they do not have a caste or religion. We keep our caste and religious affiliations aside when we adorn the Khaki and do our duty.
How citizens or other elements view us is what I cannot comment on. Neither do we look at the caste or religion of those who we face.
You are not looking at this attack as a police failure?
We should have taken precautionary measures after the incident that took place the previous night, (but we did not). If we had had enough strength (police force) then we could have done much more.
Can you anticipate an attack like this at 8.30 in the morning when a similar situation had taken place the previous night at 2.30, 3 am?
The police are not mind-reading machines. Why don't you take this into consideration? You think of us as super robots who can read people's thoughts and actions.
We do take precautionary measures based on a situation and our experience. The time between the two incidents were just about six hours.
Had this happened three, four days after the previous night's incident one can understand that we could not anticipate or read the situation correctly.
But here we just had six hours and taking this into consideration you decide if this was a failure or not.
Will you arrest the other accused within a week?
We are doing our best.