A June 6 rally by Sakal Hindu Samaj saw sloganeering against Muslims and reports of assault. Suresh Chavhanke gave a speech too.
At 9.15 am on June 6, Azhar Pathan was at his vada pav restaurant in Dilli Naka neighbourhood in the city of Sangamner in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. A handful of customers were having breakfast when a mob of around 100-150 people gathered outside the premises. According to Pathan, they began shouting slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” and “ya laandya naa maara”, beat those laandyas – a derogatory term for Muslims in Maharashtra.
Pathan, 34, was frightened. He said some people in the crowd then told him to close his establishment.
“I immediately responded in the affirmative,” he said. “I told my customers I was closing. But the mob began ransacking my shop. They overturned the counter, broke chairs, and destroyed food items. They toppled a cauldron of boiling oil on my employee’s leg. Fortunately, they didn’t beat us. They left after ransacking the shop.”
This violence was the by-product of a march in Sangamner organised by the Sakal Hindu Samaj, purportedly against a minor traffic issue that took place on May 28. Yet this march, called the Bhagwa Morcha, was accompanied by protesters allegedly pelting stones, entering people’s homes, and ransacking shops like Azhar’s.
The Samaj has a larger purpose – it’s been organising protest marches for various Hindutva causes across Maharashtra over the past year. But about the violence on June 6, one of its organisers insisted to Newslaundry that the Muslims “started it”.
Traffic issue, Suresh Chavhanke and violence
The traffic issue on May 28 took place at Jorve Naka. According to Abdul Aziz, a social worker in the city, members of the Muslim community ran stalls and eateries that had encroached upon a road there, leading to traffic congestion. No action was taken even after complaints were filed with authorities.
“On May 28, a tempo tried to pass through the area. It was repeatedly honking,” said Aziz. “A stall owner asked him not to honk. They argued and then the driver left. He returned after 15 minutes with six or seven people and the argument got heated. The stall owners then beat them up.”
Aziz alleged that the tempo driver filed a police complaint and then “gathered a crowd of 100-150 people”.
“They started hurling abuses against the Muslims, who then attacked them,” Aziz said. “The police intervened but stones were pelted at them too. The situation was then brought under control and an FIR was filed.”
That’s when the Samaj called for the march to protest what had happened. Its members mobilised crowds in nearby villages for over a week, urging them to participate. Village panchayats and community leaders even passed resolutions to support the morcha. Some of them can be seen below; Newslaundry has copies of 29 of these resolutions.
And so the Bhagwa Morcha began promptly at 9 am on June 6. Locals told Newslaundry that’s when the wave of violence began. Some participants raised slogans to “raise sticks and chase away laandye”.
One said, “Destroy all mosques! Only then the strength of Hindus will be demonstrated.”
Others in the crowd said, “Everything has shut down, this is the terror of Hindus . After some days, we will drag them out of their houses and beat them.”
But where was the police?
Pathan alleged his shop was ransacked “right in front of a policeman”.
“He tried to control them but they didn’t listen to him,” he said. “I incurred damages worth Rs 40,000. I went to the police station around 5 pm but had to wait until 10 pm to file the FIR. I am a businessman. I have nothing to do with politics. My employee who got injured is himself a Hindu.”
Importantly, the June 6 rally had a high-profile attendee – Sudarshan News editor-in-chief and hate speech connoisseur Suresh Chavhanke. At one point, he addressed the Morcha attendees, cautioning against “love jihad” and warning that Sangamner “could soon turn into Pakistan”. He also said Muslims girls “must marry Hindu men” to save themselves.
‘We didn’t do anything wrong’
The violence extended beyond city limits too to Samnapur village, about five km away, where participants of the rally passed through.
One Husain Fakirmohammad Shaikh, 70, was lying on a charpoy outside his home when he was allegedly attacked by participants. His 63-year-old wife Rashida, who was also allegedly attacked, told Newslaundry her husband had a beard and skullcap, which made him an easy target.
“My husband was just resting on the charpoy. The mob began calling us laandyas. We kept quiet and didn’t respond,” Rashida said. “They pelted stones and then entered the house and assaulted us. They hit my husband with a spade on the head. They kicked me and pushed me down. We didn’t do anything wrong – we were both quietly sitting in our home.”
Rashida said she wasn’t badly hurt, but her husband is presently in the ICU at Shatabdi hospital in Nashik. “They did all this right in front of the police,” she added.
Shaikh’s brother Chand Fakirmohammad, 55, confirmed this sequence of events. A resident of Samnapur too, he said the rally passed through their village and participants “hurled stones and raised slogans like ‘laande murdabad’”. “The police were there,” he added. “The police did not try to stop them.”
Waseem Inamdar, a resident of Samnapur, told Newslaundry his brother’s hand was fractured when a protester allegedly “hit him with a motorcycle”. “They hit him from behind. He fell, they hit his hand, and then they fled...They were pelting stones everywhere. They repeatedly used derogatory terms for Muslims.”
Waseem’s brother, 34-year-old Raees Bilal Shaikh, is presently at Kute hospital in Sangamner.
Hussain Shaikh, a resident of Samnapur, said the rural police “were standing idly by” and that the violence only ended when the city police arrived.
“We had complained to the collector and police three days before the march,” he added. “We said the sole aim of the Morcha was to create tension between two communities and we requested them to stop it. But no one paid heed to our request.” He said he also sent letters to guardian minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and Congress MLA Balasaheb Thorat.
But Kuldeep Thakur, the district coordinator of the Bajrang Dal and one of the Sakal Hindu Samaj’s organisers, told Newslaundry the violence at Samnapur took place only “after the rally” and that the Muslims forced them to “retaliate”.
“Participants were passing through Samnapur when Muslims there began abusing them and made religiously derogatory comments,” he claimed. “They started pelting stones at participants. So our people retaliated and that too only after the police reached.”
Anurag Tajane, who had participated in the rally, said, “Our boys were going back when some Muslims hurled abuses and started pelting stones in Samnapur. They dared to do it because our boys were fewer in number. But then many boys reached the spot. Slogans like ‘laande murdabad’ were raised only because our people were assaulted on May 28, our boys were angry.”
Thakur also accused the Muslim community of “escalating” the traffic issue on May 28. “Muslims over here are involved in cow slaughter despite there being a law against it in Maharashtra,” he said. “Every day they slaughter 200-250 cows. They also bring drugs and love jihad cases. Not a single hour goes by without love jihad cases happening in Sangamner. Hindus in Sangamner have been tolerating this for a long time, and the Morcha was our objection against such activities.”
Thakur did not provide data for these allegations.
Newslaundry contacted Rakesh Ola, the superintendent of police in Ahmednagar, to ask about the violence and police action. Ola said 17 people have been arrested so far and the investigation is “going on”.
Why was permission given for the Morcha? Ola insisted that “nothing happened during the rally”. “The attack at Samnapur happened after the rally got over.”
What about Chavhanke’s hate speech? “It may have happened,” Ola said. “We will get the transcript of his speech. If we find anything objectionable, we will conduct an inquiry.”