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A rightful battle

A crusader for Dalit rights, he rattled Himachal Pradesh’s caste-ridden society

Sitting behind the polished wooden desk in his office, Sirmaur’s Superintendent of Police (SP) Rohit Malpani looked like a man who hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in days but wore a look of slight satisfaction.

“This is the biggest case I’ve touched so far,” said Malpani, who has been an SP in Sirmaur for the past 14 months. “But only masala gets covered in Crime Patrol, so you won’t see this on TV. It is a proper UP-Bihar style murder: first hit him with sticks, then throw his body on the road and run a car over him frontwards, then backwards, and then frontwards over his face again—all of it in broad daylight at around noon.”

The case Malpani is referring to is the murder of Dalit RTI activist Kedar Singh Jindan (43) that took place on September 7 at Bakrash village in Sirmaur District’s Shillai Block, Himachal Pradesh, around noon. A ‘one-man army,’ Jindan, who was also a practising advocate at the Shimla High Court, worked for the rights of Scheduled Castes and Tribes as well as for those who brought their cases of inter-caste marriages to him. He had also contested last year’s Assembly elections from Shillai on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket.

Jindan, who belonged to the Koli community, had held a press conference earlier in June in Shimla, wherein, using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he had claimed that Below Poverty Line (BPL) certificates were being tampered with in his native place of Shillai. He said certificates were being issued to people belonging to the upper castes, who have heavy incomes.

He alleged that Jai Prakash, the up-pradhan of Bakrash panchayat and a Rajput, had tampered with the BPL list and got a few of his family members’ names on it, thereby making them eligible to reap the benefits that should have rightfully gone to someone who was from SC/ST background. Following this, some members of Jai Prakash’s family lost their BPL privileges—something that they held Jindan solely responsible for. Also, to have a Dalit show you up in this manner, wasn’t something that sat well with the rest of the Rajputs in Bakras village.

In the June press conference, Jindan had also stated that his life was in danger. He had also lodged a complaint with the NHRC for an incident dating June 12, 2017.

Jindan’s wife said he was attacked last December as well. Hemalata lives in Shimla, along with their two daughters, Vanshika and Dikshika, who study in Standard X and VII, respectively.

“He was going to Shillai by bus and was dragged out of the front seat, where he was sitting when the bus reached Sataun village (in Kamrau Tehsil, Sirmaur) at around 4 pm. A mob of 50 men beat him up with sticks in the middle of the street, and no one came to his rescue. Sab tamasha dekh rahe the. Even the bus driver didn’t object or try to stop the act.” She further stated: “They hit him a lot…he was bleeding and very badly injured. The attackers then dropped six buckets of sand over him and left him to die.”

Jindan regained consciousness after 45 minutes, and in his bloody stupor, started shouting for water. “No one gave him a sip to drink,” said Hemalata. “He roamed the roads in his blood-stained clothes but no one gave him a lift. Maybe nobody recognised him. He was finally taken away in a police van to a hospital in Nahan.”

Hemalata also stated that Jindan had made a list of 35 names from whom he thought his life was in danger, and that this was submitted to police authorities. She also pointed out that Jai Prakash’s name was present in the list. “We used to be harassed when we lived in Shillai; people used to knock on our doors late at night and also give dhamkis over the phone. They said: ‘Sataun mein bach gaya, agli baar haddi bhi nahi milegi.’”

On September 7, Jindan was brutally beaten up with sticks and his face mutilated at the Block Primary Education Office (BPEO) in Bakrash village, Shillai, after which he was thrown onto the main road below and then crushed thrice by Jai Prakash’s Scorpio. Jai Prakash then himself called the Sirmaur police authorities and said he was involved in an accident. However, two people—who have now turned witness and are in police’s protective custody—saw the event unfold, or at least, are the only ones willing to come forward and say that they did. They are Raghuveer, son of Nain Singh, the local teacher at a school that is located right next to the BPEO in Bakrash where the incident took place. Nain Singh and his son are residents of Paab village—a remote and backward hilly village with no more than 10 houses—located above Kumrau tehsil in Shillai; the former, higher altitude area is where the Dalits live, while the latter lower-ground area is where the Rajputs reside.

Bakrash, where the murder took place, is only a few kilometres away down the curving mountain road, an area that can be seen from Paab. The other witness is Jindan’s nephew Suresh, who happened to be passing by the spot when Jindan was thrown onto the road.

According to Nain Singh, Jindan had arrived at his house in Paab the previous evening and had spent the night there. In the morning, while Nain Singh had gone to the fields, Jindan took off with Raghuveer on the motorbike for a ‘meeting’ at the BPEO office. Nain Singh puts on a brave front in the battering rainfall below his terrace roof in Paab village, but his fear is visible and justified. “If they can kill such a big leader in broad daylight, then what stops them from killing us?” he asked.

“This is a murder case—even the post-mortem report has found that,” said SP Malpani. “Three people have been arrested so far—Jai Prakash, Gopal Singh, and Karm Singh.” SP Malpani also pointed out that Jai Prakash was an accused in another SC/ST atrocities case in Shillai earlier in March this year. He added: “Raghuveer’s 164 statement has been conducted on September 12; this is the testimony a witness gives in front of the court, as the statement given before police does not count in a court of law. We got his 164 done before a judicial magistrate in Paonta Sahib on Tuesday and his testimony is that it was a murder and that all three people who have been arrested, were involved.”

Malpani also confirmed that the prime accused, Jai Prakash, had initially tried to pass off the murder as an accident, but did not succeed. “The story that was recited by the accused was that it was an accident and that Jindal came under his vehicle, but after seeing the body, we knew this wasn’t an accident. The body was brutally murdered and face was crushed by the Scorpio. We have seen accidents: we investigate them daily. This was not a routine run-over by a vehicle.” He also said: “Jai Prakash has accepted that he has committed the murder—we didn’t disclose this before because we wanted to corroborate information with our witnesses. He (Jai Prakash) did deny it, but later, when he was confronted and questioned, he admitted to doing it.”

Jindan’s older brothers’—Bahadur Singh and Hira Singh—who live in Paab, said that after Jindan had moved to Shimla more than eight years back, they had specifically warned him not to come back to the village.

“We felt there was some conspiracy being plotted against him that posed a threat to his life,” said Bahadur Singh. “When he came to the village on September 6, he didn’t stay here—he spent the night at Nain Singh’s house and went to the BPEO from there itself next morning,” said Hira Singh. “I was in the fields at the time when I got a call saying that Jindan had been killed and run over by a vehicle. I called the police authorities to provide me with protection so that I could go near the dead body, but the police had already taken the body away, that too without informing the family.”

While the gruesome details of this murder have shaken the state of Himachal Pradesh, no politicians from national parties have commented on this atrocity. Out of the 68 MLAs present in the state, only Rakesh Singha of the CPI(M) has stood in solidarity with the deceased Jindan’s family—an act for which his effigies have been burnt across the state of Himachal. “I need the government’s help, but all I have been given till now are promises,” said Hemalata.

She wants the compensation provided to be Rs 20 lakh and not Rs 8.5 lakh as the SC/ST Act makes provisions for. “I want a job (she has an MA B.Ed) and a full education for both my daughters. We don’t have any money in our banks and are paying Rs 5,000 as rent for this house (in Shimla)—we need a house too.” A CBI probe too, is one of her demands, although a five-member SIT has already been assigned to the case, headed by ASP Virender Thakur.

Even in the case of Jindan’s murder, the Sirmaur police had first registered an FIR under Section 302 (Punishment for Murder) and not under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. It was only after an all-night protest march along with Jindan’s body on The Ridge in Shimla on the night of September 8 that the following morning the SC/ST Act was included.

Hemalata too doesn’t seem to trust the Sirmaur Police. “I wanted the post-mortem to be conducted in IGMC in Shimla because earlier when he (Jindan) was attacked in Sataun (in Shillai), the police had not taken any action. After his post-mortem was conducted in IGMC, I didn’t even get a receipt intimating me of his release, and they (police) tried to take his body away back to Sirmaur.” That is when the protest broke out.

Three days after the death of Jindan, on September 10, a Rajput Sabha gathering was held in Shillai. SP Malpani was present in Shillai along with other police personnel at the time, to maintain law and order. “Nearly 500 people had assembled; their demands were varied,” he said. “They wanted the SC/ST Atrocities Act should be removed from the case, said that the death was due to an accident, that there was too much heavy a police force deployed in the village which was not required, and lastly, that MLA Rakesh Singha (CPIM) should not have come along with Jindan’s post-mortem body to Shillai to attend the cremation. I personally interacted with them (Rajput Sabha) and invited them to have a dialogue with me; I suggested they come and meet me, in as many numbers as they please, and have a dialogue with me.”

SP Malpani explained his reason for suggesting so: “If anger comes out in phases, it helps in maintaining the peace. I wanted to dissipate their anger in pieces so that it wouldn’t all come down at one time—like in a typical mob mentality.”

A seven-member independent fact-finding team of Human Rights Defenders and Activists published an interim statement and expressed some concerns: “…the police had not responded adequately to the repeated threats received by Jindan from different members of the community who were irked by his work. Last year too there was an attack on Jindan at Sattaun where he was pulled out of a bus and beaten up badly by people who were enraged that he supported an inter-caste marriage in the area. Jindan’s family informed us that he was left buried in a heap of sand and left there to die. While he survived that attack, he had exposed that a large number of people from the area who were out to get him and they are all complicit in the murder according to the kin of Jindan. This needs to be investigated.”

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