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Patna: Six months after his father was shot dead in broad daylight, Right to Information activist Vipin Agarwal’s 14-year-old son died by suicide on March 25, Friday.
Family members have said that the teenager – the RTI activist’s eldest son – had been deeply disturbed with the fact that police had not taken action to arrest the main culprits in the case.
After the incident, the teenager’s grandfather Vijay Agarwal released a video in which he said said, “My grandson had gone to the SP (superintendent of police) office in Motihari town to seek justice. From there he came agitated and ended his own life. We took him to the hospital, where he died.”
The deceased boy’s mother, Monika, had been active in protests against alleged police inaction in the case. In a road block effort taken up by Monika and her deceased son, in October last year, she had allegedly tried to die by suicide in front of police officials present.
A member of the family told The Wire that the deceased boy had been constantly engaged in efforts to have police pay more attention to the case.
Police had in January arrested the main shooter, Sachin Singh, in connection with Agarwal’s murder, but the Agarwals have held that “politically influential people” who hired Singh to commit the murder were given a wide berth to escape. Singh had reportedly told police that Agarwal was murdered for get encroachments on government land worth crores of rupees removed in the Harsiddhi market area.
The police have arrested seven so far in the RTI activist’s murder case and sent them to judicial custody.
The deceased teenager had on March 24 gone to the SP’s office at around 11 am to submit a memorandum requesting that police arrest the main culprits in the case, his family said. The SP allegedly asked him to come at 3 pm and the boy waited at the office itself. The stipulated time went by and he was asked to return at 4 pm. “He waited there till 5.30 pm but by then the SP had left office without meeting him,” Vijay told The Wire.
The boy returned home visibly upset, Vijay said. “When I asked him if he could meet the SP, he threw the copy of the memorandum at me and left home…I came to know that he had had a heated conversation with an employee at the SP office,” Vijay told The Wire.
Later, Vijay received a call from the boy. “He told me that we have only 15 minutes in our hands and asked me to call the administration as he needs justice. I told him that he should not take any untoward steps and that we will fight for justice together. But he didn’t listen.”
Vijay further said, “He again called and said that he had only four minutes left. I sent my other grandson to the Harsiddhi police station, which is close by, to bring the Bade Babu (literally ‘big sir’, the highest-ranking policeman), but he was not at the police station. After few minutes we got a call that he had ended his life by suicide.”
Vijay also accused the police of pressurising him to change his statement regarding his grandson’s death. “When I was at the hospital, a few policemen came to me and one of them took me to a room. He asked me to write in a statement how my grandson ended his own life and said I had to sign it.”
However, Vijay told the police that he would write the truth – “that even after visiting the SP’s office, the boy was not able to get justice for his father’s murder ” and about his heated exchange with staff at that office.
The Wire called SP Naveen Chandra Jha and the station house officer (SHO) of Harsiddhi police station for their comments on the incident. The SP did not pick up the phone. The SHO disconnected the phone when this reporter asked him about the progress in Vipin Agarwal’s murder case. Subsequent calls to the SHO went unanswered.
Shirsat Kapil Ashok, district magistrate of East Champaran, told mediapersons that circle officers have met the victim’s family regarding the incident. He said that the culprits will be punished after a thorough investigation of the matter.
Vipin Agarwal’s murder case
The 45-year-old RTI activist from East Champaran was murdered on September 24, 2021 in broad daylight.
He had gone to Harsiddhi block for work when unknown assailants shot him and fled. He was taken to a hospital in Motihari around 30 km away, where he was declared dead on arrival.
The Wire had earlier reported that Vipin had been continuously raising the issue of land encroachment. This is something his family members have repeatedly said as well. He also requested for police protection as his house had been attacked by unknown persons last year.
According to local sources, he had moved Patna high court against the encroachment of government land in Harsiddhi Bazar. Locals said that it was thanks to Vipin’s RTI activism that the petrol pump of an influential leader was sealed by the administration and many illegal structures were dismantled. This had irked land mafias, they said.
On the family’s demand to arrest those behind the murder, the police said that since the first information report does not name the accused, they are unable to take any action. Therefore, the people who had hired the shooters are still at large.
“Our house was severely attacked in February 2020 by encroachers. We were beaten up. We had lodged a police complaint naming the encroachers, but so far not a single arrest has been made. We had asked for police security but that too was not given,” Vipin’s father, Vijay, said.
“Encroachers are powerful people. If we lodge a complaint naming them, they will again attack us. This is why we had lodged the complaint against ‘unknown’ people. If the police put pressure on the arrested shooters, they will easily reveal the main culprits’ names,” he said.
Vidyakar Jha, an activist tracking the RTI activists’ murder cases across Bihar, said that the teenager’s death by suicide is an administration-supported murder.
“We are seeing the same modus operandi of police in every RTI activist’s murder case. They do not arrest the main culprits. They will delay the investigation and not any provide security to the family members, ” he said.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014, provides the framework for law enforcement to investigate corruption and misuse of power by public servants and protect persons who allege any wrongdoings. This act should ideally work as a shield for RTI activists and whistle blowers but after seven years it exists largely on paper.
Bhagalpur based RTI activist Ajit Singh told The Wire, “I have filed an RTI to know more about the status of this Act. The Union government had informed us that it had sent guidelines to the Bihar government and the Bihar government had, in turn, told us that it has ordered district police officials to form a task force. But where is the task force on the ground?”
“If government had implemented this act strictly, it would have helped RTI activists as well as the general public,” he said.
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 they can call to speak in confidence. Icall, a counselling service run by TISS, has maintained a crowdsourced list of therapists across the country. You could also take them to the nearest hospital.