Palghar Police said it has arrested 110 people belonging to a local tribal community as part of the investigation into the lynching of two Hindu sanyasis (monks) on their way to Gujarat.
Multiple videos of the incident have started circulating on social media.
The police also warned rumor mongers to desist from attempting to give a Hindu-Muslim color to the incident, with the Maharashtra home minister tweeting that both the attackers and the victims belong to the same religion, and any attempt to spread fake news will be dealt with sternly.
A section of social media users have tried to portray the incident as a Hindu-Muslim fight, and have forwarded many posts and messages, with some even asking people to seek revenge for the killing.
A total of 167,000 tweets have been sent out so far under the hashtag हिन्दूसंतोंकीहत्याक्यों (Why kill Hindu monks?) with most people seeing it as a Hindu-Muslim fight.
The communal angle of the social media messages around the incident has now forced Palghar Police to clarify that the 110 people arrested are from a local tribal community.
The two sanyasis who were killed are Sushil Giri Maharaj (35) and Chikane Maharaj Kalpavrikshgiri (70). Their drive Nilesh Telgane was also killed.
The incident took place in the night at Gadchinchale village, about 125 km north of Mumbai town when the sanyasis were travelling towards Surat to attend the funeral of their teacher.
The Varanasi-based Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara has since said the monks belong to their order, and were on their way to Surat from Mumbai after the sudden death of their guru Mahant Ramgiri.
“A group of around 200 people waiting stopped the car and threw stones at it. The police station in Kasa was informed of the incident by a forest department official at around 11:00 PM.”
The police came to the spot and put the three inside their car, but the mob then attacked the police car, took them out and beat them.
The Akhara said Rs 50,000 and gold ornaments are missing from the vehicle.
The incident was given a Hindu-Muslim color over the weekend.
In response, Anil Deshmukh, the home minister of Maharashtra, warned that anyone spreading fake news around the incident will be strictly proceeded against.
“The people who died, and the people who attacked — these were not from different religions. I have asked the police and Maharashtra Police Cyber Cell to take strong action against those who are spreading rumors around this incident,” he said.
“Police are keeping a keen eye on those who are trying to use this incident to create fissures in the society,” he added.