Mumbai: Even as the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is investigating the role of three Hindu hardliners arrested in Maharashtra for their alleged roles in terror activities, over six thousand people gathered at a protest rally organised in Nallasopara, North Mumbai on August 17. The protest rally was an “emotional appeal” to the state police and was organised in the support of the prime accused Vaibhav Raut, said one of the organisers.
Raut, a resident of Nallasopara and who ran a ‘cow-protection outfit’ called the ‘Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti’ in the region since 2014 was arrested on August 10 along with Sharad Kalaskar of Aurangabad and Sudhanva Gondhalekar of Satara. According to the investigating agency, Kalaskar and Gondhalekar were allegedly working with Raut to make homemade bombs and to spread panic at public gatherings. The ATS has claimed that the trio were planning to place one of the bombs a few metres away from one of the upcoming Maratha rallies. This, accordingly to the investigations so far, was to make the state act upon the long pending Maratha community’s demand for reservation. The trio have been sent to ATS’s custody until August 28.
The gathering at Nallasopara on Friday mainly comprised of men and women from different areas like Dahanu, Wada, Thane, Raigad and Mumbai. Most of them belonged to the Bhandari caste, to which Raut belongs to. “Raut has been leading an active public life and his work of saving cows is known across this region. He has in fact influenced several other youths to get involved in the work of Gau Raksha. The Bhandari community came out in support of his work and wrongful criminalisation yesterday in the rally,” said Diptesh Patil, one of Raut’s close friends and also a co-founder of the cow-protection organisation that Raut floated a few years ago.
Patil, further alleged that Raut was wrongly implicated and he and his family was “ill-treated” by the ATS officials a night before his arrest. “The police locked his wife Lakshmi Raut and a toddler in one room and carried out their interrogation in the house. People in the locality witnessed this and it was clear from day one he was the victim of a larger conspiracy,” Patil added. According to the locals, Raut’s house was allegedly searched without a warrant and the police refused to carry out the mandatory Panchnama at the spot.
Dilip Raut, a resident of Nallasopara who had participated in the demonstration, also repeated Patil’s claim. “How can a man who promotes saving life (referring to cow protection), be involved in a violent act. The state has been targeting individuals and organisations that have been actively working for this cause,” Dilip claimed.
Although Raut floated his own organisation towards the end of 2014, he is known to be closely associated with the Hindi Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), one of the sister organisations of Sanathan Sanstha. Sources in the ATS claim that Raut got his initial training from HJS and decided to form his own unit to primarily focus on protecting cows in the state. Sanathan Sanstha has a chequered past with two of it’s karyakartas already convicted for their roles in planting bombs at a theatre in Thane and Panvel near Mumbai. In 2015, another member was arrested for his alleged role on the killing of the rationalist and leader of the Communist Party of India Govind Pansare. The trial in the case is yet to commence.
In 2014, Raut along with other members of his organisation went about registering a series of cases against owners of local slaughter houses for indulging in beef sales. Raut also was involved in a series of “raids” across the city against traders who allegedly we’re involved in transporting cows for slaughter. His organisation also registered cases against these individuals.