On Saturday morning, Yunus Shaikh, an assistant sub-inspector in Maharashtra’s Latur district, was allegedly beaten by a mob of villagers, putting him in the hospital. By Sunday morning, news of the incident spread as online portal TwoCircles.net reported that a Muslim policeman had been beaten and forced to parade with saffron flags.
Aurangabad legislator Imtiaz Jaleel brought more attention to the news with his tweet early on Sunday morning:
Local media in Latur, however, paid nearly no attention to it. The reason, according to local journalists and taluka-level police officials, is that such “attacks” on policemen are “common” in Latur’s Pangaon village and that this was not really a communal attack.
‘The youth incited the mob’
Pangaon, a village with around 12,000 residents, comprises a mixed demographic of Marathas, Dalits, Reddys and Muslims.
On the night of February 19, Shaikh and his colleague K Awaskar allegedly stopped a group of local youth from erecting a saffron flag in a “sensitive” area. “The group included Marathas and other Hindus who were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” said LV Rakh, a police inspector at Renapur taluka police station. “They were trying to erect the flag pole at Ambedkar Chowk, right outside a mosque.”
Awaskar and Shaikh, both on duty at the Pangaon police chowki, reached the spot and asked the youth to leave. “They told the boys that erecting the flag could lead to communal clashes,” said Rakh.
At 9 am on Saturday morning, the youth showed up at the police chowki with a mob of around 200-300 people from the village, says Rakh. “They had incited the mob by telling them that the two policemen had crushed their flags under their feet.”
The mob allegedly began to attack the duo with fists and lathis, but Awaskar managed to escape the crowd and “save himself”. “Both of them suffered head injuries and are now in a stable condition, but Shaikh was hit worse and had to be hospitalised,” said Rakh. On Sunday evening, Shaikh was still in the hospital.
The Renapur police station has registered a case of assault and arrested at least 15 people who Awaskar identified. Both junior and senior officials at the police station, however, denied that there was any communal aspect to the attack or that Shaikh was made to parade with saffron flags.
“Other parts of Latur are quite peaceful, but for some reason different groups in Pangaon keep fighting amongst themselves and then attack the police if they feel dissatisfied with the way their case has been represented,” said Rakh. “This is the fourth such incident in Pangaon in the past five years, and it is not religious.”
Atul Paulkar, a Latur-based journalist with a Marathi publication, was also at pains to explain the same. “Both Awaskar and Shaikh registered a joint complaint against the members of the mob. Both were beaten up, so this is not a communal incident,” said Paulkar. “This is why the local media has tried not to make a big deal out of it.”
But a video uploaded online on Sunday, on a YouTube channel called Gallinews, seems to suggest that there might have been a communal aspect to the incident.
The video shows Shaikh being made to hold a saffron flag and walk down a street with a mob of men shouting “Jai Bhavani”. At one point, Shaikh can be heard saying, “Arrey, jari mi Musalman tar Bharatiya aahe mi” (even if I am Muslim, I am an Indian).
Despite several attempts, Scroll.in could not reach Shaikh or Awaskar on their phones, which were switched off.
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