The nomadic Nath Gosavi community, whose five members were attacked by a mob on suspicion of child-lifting, is a peaceful tribe with no criminal record, according to a senior official of the Maharashtra Police.
The community members generally travel from place to place in search of work and food and make ends meet by begging and performing acrobatics.
"These people talk sweetly and respectfully to everyone as they need favours," Dhule's Superintendent of Police M Ramkumar said.
He is puzzled why the five community members were attacked and killed by a mob in Dhule's Rainpada village on July 1.
"They keep coming here and the local villagers know it. But why suddenly they came under attack from the mob is not clear, especially when these people (nomads) have never indulged in violence earlier and have no criminal record," Mr Ramkumar said.
The mob killing in Rainpada, about 100 km from the Dhule district headquarters, is believed to have been triggered by rumours that the nomads were child-lifters who sold kidneys of their captives.
In the videos which went viral, the victims, belonging to the Nath Gosavi community, were seen being thrashed with sticks and chappals and stoned after one of them apparently tried to speak to a six-year-old girl.
The nomads generally visit villages on weekly market days, festivals and fairs and set up make-shift houses outside villages.
Upon arrival in any village, they first inform the local police and that is what the Dhule lynching victims were about to do when they were attacked, according to the police and locals.
The police have arrested 24 people so far in connection with the incident and identified 22 more accused. Laxman Mane, a Marathi writer and social activist who has authored several books on nomadic and denotified tribes, said no formal survey has ever been conducted on the Nath Gosavi community.
These people have no documents required for voting, nor any facilities from the Centre and state governments, he said, adding that if incidents like the Dhule lynching increase, these communities will become extinct.
The nomadic tribes are mainly found in western Maharashtra, including Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur districts, said Mane, who was a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council from 1990 to 1996.
"There are 28 nomadic and 13 denotified tribes. Their total population in Maharashtra does not exceed 3.5 per cent and barely 0.6 per cent of these people gain any formal education," the Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi awardee said.
To provide stability to the lives of tribals, the government should allot them land in Baramati, Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Satara and Solapur to reside and for farming, he suggested.
"Giving land to these landless labourers is the only way to save them from getting extinct," said Mane, who himself belongs to 'Kaikadi', a denotified tribe.
Describing an interesting custom of the Nath Gosavi community members, Mane said they ask for food from people everyday and do not eat leftovers.
"Even when they have food left, they do not eat it the next day, but dig a hole in the ground and bury the food. When I asked them the reason for doing so, they said they do it as a tradition," he said.
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