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Dalit Man's Murder in Jammu Must Be Treated as a Caste Atrocity, Say Activists

At the moment, the police is probing the matter like a property dispute.

Jammu: A 25-year-old Dalit man, Rahul Bhagat, was brutally stabbed to death over a property dispute in Jammu’s Udhampur district on July 2. A resident of Dandyal, police said that the young man was killed over a disputed property, regarding which a court case is currently ongoing.

Police arrested the first accused, Manish Singh who confessed to the crime within 24 hours, and his ally Mohammad Aslam within a week’s time. Bhagat’s family and Dalit rights activists, however, allege that there is a deeper conspiracy at play and the police has been lackadaisical.

“Rahul was murdered around 11:25 am and the police didn’t come to the spot until 2 pm, when the family staged protests. Then also, the SHO was not present on the spot and the body was carried for post-mortem in an autorickshaw instead of an ambulance,” said Kunal, a Dalit rights activist.

The Wire tried contacting the Bhagat family, but they were unable to speak to the media in their moment of grief. Those who had stood by the family on the day of the murder and also staged protests and candle marches include locals from Udhampur, social activists and political leaders.

“The dispute has been on for the last four years. Just two days before the incident, Rahul’s father was threatened by one of the relatives of the accused in the case,” said BJP Yuva Morcha district president Udhampur, Sushant Gupta.

He added, “Rakesh Gudda is the main man involved in the dispute and the police detained and interrogated him but did not arrest him. Another person involved in the dispute is the patwari, Saima, but no action has been taken against her.”

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“The family was asked to come to the police station and Rahul was sent back to get some documents alone. It all seems pre-planned. The murderers knew where he was going to be at what time and the fact that police refused to take the threats faced by the family seriously shows that they might also be involved somewhere,” Kunal told The Wire.

Police refused to acknowledge that the family had approached them regarding a threat to their lives. SHO Udhampur Vijay Chowdhary denied allegations that the police had refused to file an FIR on behalf of the family but agreed to file an FIR against them by saying, “They never told us about any threats and we don’t intervene in matters of land dispute. In such cases, the tehsildar or court is the concerned authority.”

He also said, “Rahul never came to the police station that day. He had come a day before. That day, only his uncle and grandmother had come to complete some bail formalities. We have CCTV footage.”

A protest against Rahul Bhagat’s murder. Photo: Special arrangement

Chowdhary refuted allegations that the police arrived late to the spot, saying that the time of murder, as determined by the last call on Rahul’s phone, was 12:30 pm.

“Within 15-20 minutes, which is the time required to cover that much distance, our police officers reached the spot. So the allegations are unfounded,” added deputy SP Udhampur, Rakesh Chadgal.

According to him, both the accused who are under arrest have confessed to the crime. Since the family has not yet given their statements, the police has no evidence to proceed against Rakesh Gudda or Patwari Saima, said Chadgal.

“We tried contacting the family twice for a statement but they have said nothing till now,” he added.

While the police is treating the case like a land dispute, political activist Satish Vidrohi said it should be probed like a caste atrocity. “The brutal way in which he was murdered shows that the murders wanted to dehumanise the body. They wanted to set a precedent. Similar incidents of violence against Dalits have been seen in Akhnoor as well as Surinsar, within a span of this week,” he said.

He added, “With Article 370 and 35A gone, the land mafia has grown more active. Because of land reforms, Dalits in J&K had benefitted, but now attempts are being made to scare them into submission so they do not assert themselves.” He also questioned why the police had only added Section 302 (murder) and 109 (abetment) in the FIR, when a case of 120B (criminal conspiracy) was evident.

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On July 6, two days before the second accused Mohammad Aslam was arrested, Udhampur police constituted a special investigation team (SIT) for an in-depth probe.

The police issued a statement, saying, “While initial probe has hinted at a land dispute being the reason behind the crime, the team shall conduct in-depth probe into the incident to reveal further mystery related to the murder to provide justice to the deceased boy and his family.”

However, Vidrohi said that the family was demanding a thorough investigation by the Crime Branch or CBI. “They have included police officers from Udhampur and only one from Jammu in the SIT, so how can a fair investigation be conducted? We demand that the SIT should include officers who are not from Udhampur.”

R.S. Pathania, a BJP leader in Udhampur, had raised the demand for an SIT or transferring the case to the Crime Branch. However, he too said that the matter shouldn’t be seen from a “Dalit angle”.

Pallavi Sareen is a journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir. She is the editor-in-chief of Straight Line and can be contacted at pallavisareen99@gmail.com.