Dalit-Rights Activist and Lawyer Murdered for Allegedly Sharing 'Posts Critical of Brahminism'

Devji Maheswari was also a senior activist of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation and frequently wrote about atrocities against Dalits.

New Delhi: A lawyer from the Dalit community who is also a Dalit-rights activist, was allegedly killed in Gujarat because of his Facebook posts that criticised Brahminism, even as his family and local Dalit groups have claimed that the police was shielding the real accused, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Devji Maheswari was murdered in his office in Kutch district’s Rapar town on Friday evening. His family has refused to take his body and perform the last rites, till all the nine accused named in the first information report are arrested.

One of the accused, identified as Bharat Raval, a Brahmin, was arrested by Crime Branch police.

Maheswari, who was also a senior activist of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation, used to post frequently on Facebook, where he wrote about atrocities against Dalits and shared posts critical of Brahminism.

“Maheshwari wrote and shared posts critical of Brahminism on his Facebook page. Raval disagreed with those views and warned Maheshwari on several occasions to refrain from writing such posts publicly,” an unnamed state Crime Branch police officer told the Indian Express.

The last post on Maheswari’s page was a video of BAMCEF National President Waman Meshram saying that Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes were not Hindus.

Both Raval and Maheswari are from the same town, but the former had been working in a stationary shop in Malad, Mumbai.

As per the crime branch police officer, the two had quarrelled repeatedly over the last month over Maheswari’s Facebook posts.

“Raval, who is Brahmin, had asked Maheshwari not to create trouble since both of them are from the same village. He also threatened him at his office once. But Maheshwari told him that he would not back down and challenged him to do what he liked,” said the official.

Also read: Tamil Nadu: Blanket of Silence Over Caste-Based Atrocities During COVID-19 Lockdown

CCTV footage near Maheswari’s building at around 6 pm showed a man in a red t-shirt following Maheswari inside to his office. Seconds later, the man ran out of the building. Maheswari then staggered out of the office with his white shirt soaked in blood, reported the Ahmedabad Mirror.

Bharat Raval was arrested on Saturday night from Mumbai and booked under charges of murder, criminal conspiracy and sections of the SC/ST Act.

While the Indian Express report stated that Crime Branch was claiming that Raval acted on his own, the FIR filed by police named eight other person.

The national president of Bahujan Mukti Party, VL Matang wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a CBI probe, claiming that authorities were shielding the accused. He pointed out that the district police registered an FIR eight hours after the murder took place.

As per the FIR registered by victim’s wife, Minaxiben Maheshwari, her husband had been working on a legal matter in connection with a property dispute over a hall for the Luhar community.

“No lawyer was ready to take the case of the community hall, and my husband did, and he kept the files related to the case with him and had tried in vain several times to lodge an FIR (related to the dispute) in the police station. Because he had the files, the rival party used to threaten to kill my husband, and it is my suspicion that they hired Bharat Jayantilal Raval to kill him,” she wrote in the FIR according to the report.

The family and local Dalit groups have refused to accept Maheswari’s body till all the accused were arrested.

“The victim belonged to a Scheduled Caste… It is their demand that they will accept the body and perform the last rites only after all nine are arrested,” said Inspector General of Police (Border Range), J.R. Mothaliya.

Along with Raval, five others accused were arrested on Saturday night after members of the Dalit community took out a street protest, Express reported.