The business in Chhattisgarh’s state assembly has been stalled for days now, with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanding an impartial probe into a horrifying mass suicide case reported from chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s home district of Durg.
Five members from a the family of Rambrij Gaikwad, a farmer, were found dead at his home in Bathena village five kilometres outside Durg on March 7, Saturday night. With every passing day, the investigation into the case has been taking several turns.
This is the second case of mass “suicide” in the region. A family of four had been found dead in Khudmuda village two months ago and it appears property dealers and land disputes had been behind it. The family of Balaram Sonkar had been found dead on December 24, 2020 in Khudmuda and people in Bathena see a similar pattern here.
At first, the police tried to build a simple story of death by suicide by the family. And, it goes like this: that Rambrij killed his two daughters and wife before performing their last rites in the backyard. Later, he and his son killed themselves by hanging. A suicide note was found on him but the police refused to share full details from the note. Divulging some details from the 10-page suicide note, the superintendent of police (SP) of Durg tried to portray it as a case of suicide resulting from the stress of loan repayment.
It appears Rambrij had been stressed about a loan of Rs 4.5 lakh that he had taken from private sources. At the same time, he himself had to recover a loan of Rs 7 lakh from others, making the theory of loan repayment as a potential reason for suicide appears doubtful. Another aspect that has emerged is that all three women had been found with their hands and legs tied with electrical wires, and questions remain if Rambrij and his son Sanju had poisoned them and then performed their last rites. If so, why were the women tied with wires?
The unofficial theory doing the rounds is that Rambrij had no outstanding loan, according to his brother Brijlal. Brijlal claims that Rambrij had sold his land and settled all his loans. This leads to another theory of a property-builder nexus, which the police are investigating.
There have also been several complaints in the Bathena thana about loan-related extortion, according to local newspaper reports. Many loan sharks have been operating in the region claiming proximity to the chief minister and have been levying huge interests on local farmers. This may not be entirely true, but Bathena police have also never investigated such cases seriously.
The second theory is that loan sharks had actually killed the women and burnt them and Rambrij and Sanju had lost their lives trying to save them from the fire. They were later hung in a noose to pass them off as suicides. What lends credence to such a theory is because Rambrij’s own legs had been found badly burnt.
For three days now, the Opposition BJP has been stalling the assembly proceedings demanding a fair probe into the deaths of the Gaikwad family. The BJP, for its part, has brought in another version of truth claiming that the women had been raped and burnt, and later the father and son had been hung to cover up the crime.
Although the assembly session was scheduled up to March 28, it has already been called off due to the commotion in the house, and chief minister Baghel blamed the BJP for not letting the house function.
Meanwhile, 14 MLAs of the BJP have called on the governor Ansuiya Uike and represented the matter to her, requesting an impartial probe. A group of BJP leaders, led by the BJP state unit chief, paid a visit to Bathena to meet family members and offered Rs 1 lakh to the kin. Surprisingly, the police have so far not revealed the names of money lenders or property buyers/builders. That may hold the key to unravel the case.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.