Nikhil Walekar, a Shiv Sena corporator from Ambernath, and his uncle Raju Walekar, vice-president of the Ambernath Municipal Council, are among of group of men accused of holding captive and assaulting a college student and two of his women relatives on August 3.
Nikhil, Raju and the others were enraged after the student, 21-year-old Rahul Dhulekar, `liked’ a Facebook post that alleged the Walekars were involved in illegal construction.
This is the second time Shiv Sena members have turned violent or threatened violence over comments on social media. In 2012, a mob of Shiv Sena workers hounded and harassed two girls in Palghar after one of them criticised the party for calling a bandh after death of their leader Bal Thackeray and the other ‘liked’ the post.
In the latest case, the Ambernath police have not taken action against the attackers, saying the family has brought the issue to their notice but not filed a complaint as they fear further harassment from the Walekars and other local Shiv Sena leaders.
The row began when Rahul, a final-year bachelor of arts student, liked a comment posted by one Shivaji Kamble. According to his cousin Nayan Gige (22), corporator Nikhil Walekar told her, Rahul and his mother Meenakshi to visit his bungalow on August 3.
“We refused as we knew there would be several party workers around. On August 4, we met them in a marriage hall they own,” said Nayan, whose mother Prajakta is a constable with the juvenile protection unit of the Mumbai crime branch. At the hall, the Walekars confronted Rahul.
“An argument broke out when they then started abusing us. They assaulted Rahul and when his mother and I tried to intervene, they assaulted us too,” said Nayan. “When they threatened to put him in a car and kidnap him we got scared and fled the hall,” she added.
On August 6, Nayan sent a message to V V Lakshimanarayan, joint commissioner of police, Thane, seeking help. The same day they informed officers at Ambernath police station about the incident.
Constable Prajakta Gige, Nayan’s mother, said, “We have known the Walekars since childhood. Then why did they assault us? We are scared for our children, who go to college or work alone. [The Shiv Sena workers] could do anything for revenge. So for our safety we filed an application with the police.”
Nayan added, “After we filed the application, the police asked us to register a case but we have avoided doing so for safety reasons. We are now waiting for my father to decide whether to register a case or not. The Walekar family is sorry for their actions, but we don’t trust them at all. They could harm us at any time.”
Officials from the Mumbai police’s enforcement branch, which includes the juvenile protection unit in which Prajakta works, will meet Rahul and his family on Sunday and ensure they have adequate security.
Balaji Kinikar, a Shiv Sena MLA from Ambernath, said, “The assault was unfortunate and we do not endorse it. I have been asked by the party leadership to look into the matter.” As for the Facebook account from which the post was made, he said, “I have personally complained to the police about the account, which continuously posts offensive things about our leaders and party. Despite this, the threats and assault by our corporator are uncalled for,” he said.
Ambernath Shiv Sena president Arvind Walekar, Raju’s brother, said he has informed his party seniors, Thane guardian minister Eknath Shinde and Gopal Landge, and will take action against Raju and the others based on what they say. He added, “The Facebook account in the name of Shivaji Kamble is a fake account. Someone is using it to criticise us and post defamatory comments about us and our party.”
Opposition parties have meanwhile demanded action against the attackers. “Everybody in Ambernath is aware of the Walekars’ notorious background. The entire family was involved in corrupt practices in the Ambernath Municipal Council,” said NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase. He added, “They have no right to manhandle anyone but they have been doing this for ages in Ambernath.”
MA Bhakhare, assistant commissioner of police, Ambarnath division, said the police were aware of the issue but pointing out that they could not take any action as the family was not willing to register a case.
“After we received the application, I personally called the family to our office and asked them to give their statements so that we could register a case against the suspects. However, they refused to do so, claiming that they didn’t want to face more harassment from the Walekars.”
He added, “If they are scared we will send our officers to their home and bring them to the station in a police vehicle. We will take their statements and initiate action against their attackers.”