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Ramnagar Gadhai (Madhya Pradesh): The Karera-Bhitarwar road, passing through Ramnagar Gadhai, a remote village in Madhya Pradesh’s Narwar Tehsil, 60 kilometres from Shivpuri district, is under construction.
Along the main road of the village, the families of three brothers – Dayaram Jatav, Kallaram Jatav and Haruaram Jatav – live in three adjacent kutcha–pucca houses.
Across three generations, the families have 45 members in total, all of whom are dependent on agriculture for a living. Their farm lands are located 100 metres away.
The tiny hamlet had remained largely unheard of until November 9 this year when it first got media attention after a scuffle broke out between the Jatav family and the police, in which the family’s youngest member, 10-month-old Shiva, died, allegedly as a result of police lathicharge.
“We have faced a lot of injustice. There is no one to help us,” 70-year-old Dayaram Jatav, Shiva’s grandfather, told this reporter.
“A culvert has been constructed right in front of our farm land, which would divert the water flow from the village to our land,” Shiva’s father, Ashok, told The Wire.
“This was not in the original construction plan. A few days ago, the contractor in charge of the road construction also informed us that no such culvert was in the drawing approved by authorities. He said that a few villagers had demanded it, and that if we had a problem, it would not be constructed,” he added.
Ashok said the family was assured that it would not affect them and thus did not file any written complaint. “On November 9, the patwari called me on the site and asked me what objection we had. I told him that according to the contractor the approved drawing had no culvert. I asked him to find a solution so that our land is not harmed because once the locality becomes more populated, the culvert is bound to turn into a drain,” said Ashok.
According to Ashok, the patwari informed him that the culvert was being constructed on the request of Malkhan Nai, a neighbour who had a long-standing feud with the Jatav family – a particular matter is even being heard in court.
“While we were talking to the patwari, Malkhan and his relatives arrived on the spot with lathis and rods and began hurling abuses,” said Ashok.
He said that the patwari stopped the Jatavs from retaliating and told them to wait for the tehsildar who was arriving to resolve the issue. Once the tehsildar was there, Ashok said, the Jatavs explained the situation to her as well. “We suggested that the culvert be constructed a little way off in front of the government land which is lying vacant. That way it would not create a problem for anyone,” he said.
“I even suggested that instead of constructing a culvert, a drain should be dug on each side of the road so that dirty water does not flow into our land. But she told me to file a written complaint,” Ashok added.
While he was writing the complaint, Ashok said, three police vehicles arrived and the authorities immediately ordered for the land to be dug. Hearing the commotion, women members of Ashok’s family who were harvesting paddy in their nearby field – including Ashok’s wife – gathered on the spot.
“I once again requested the tehsildar to confirm whether the culvert was approved or not in the drawing. But she ignored it and ordered for the construction to go on. Female family members also began resisting the construction along with us. The police retaliated by lathicharging them while the tehsildar went back to her car and watched the drama unfold,” Ashok said.
How did the infant die?
The deceased child’s mother, Ashok’s wife Vandana, has been inconsolable and ill.
“I was cutting paddy in our field and was carrying my boy. From the field, I saw the police beating my husband and other family members. I thought of intervening to save my husband…,” said Vandana.
Then, things escalated suddenly, she said. “They hit my leg with a baton and hit my child on the head. My husband snatched the baby from my hands as I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I heard everyone screaming, ‘Take the baby away, take the baby away’,” she said.
While speaking to this reporter, her voice choked several times.
Meanwhile, Ashok did not realise that their child was hurt. “I kept arguing with the police while holding the baby in my arms. But when I felt that my shirt was getting wet, I realised that my son was bleeding and was unconscious. His breathing was very slow. We rushed him to the Karera hospital in the tehsildar’s vehicle but he lost his life on the way,” he said.
Case registered against victim’s family
Angered by the incident, the victim’s relatives and Bhim Army members carried out a chakka jam at the spot with the infant’s dead body. As the incident snowballed, Shivpuri collector Akshay Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar Chandel and local Congress legislator Pragilal Jatav also reached the spot and assured the family of appropriate action.
A case was registered against two sub-inspectors, Ajay Mishra and Jagdish Rawat, as well as Malkhan Nai under three sections, including Section 302 for murder and sections under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities).
“The collector assured us that we would have government support, that the tehsildar would be suspended and that no action would be taken against any of us. But later, a case was registered against 15 members of our family under Section 307 for ‘attempt to murder’,” Ashok said.
Police have claimed that Sub-Inspector Raghavendra Singh Yadav, posted at the Karera police station, also suffered a grievous head injury. Two days after the incident, on the complaint of the sub-inspector, 15 members of the Jatav family including four women and 20-25 unknown persons were booked under Sections 307, 353, 186, 332, 147, 148, 149 and 336 of the IPC. This has terrorised the whole family.
Suresh Jatav, who is also named in the case, told The Wire that fighting for one’s own property was not a crime.
“Now, only God will protect us. Even our children are being thrown behind bars. We were only fighting for our property. It is not a crime. But now we are in a face-off with the administration. They dragged and beat us, including the women of our family. They killed our child. But no one heard us. Instead, they registered a case against us,” said Suresh.
The family said that member who were not present at the time of the incident and only arrived later on receiving news of the child’s death have also been booked.
“I was in Datia at the time. I fear that they will add my name as one of the ‘unknown persons’,” Geeta, Shiva’s paternal aunt, said.
Women and elderly members of the family showed this reporter wounds they received, allegedly from police’s lathicharge.
“Thirty-five persons have been charged for attempt to murder. Would the SI only get a single injury on the head if such a mob truly attacked him?” asked Ashok. “They are framing us. People are afraid that if they come out in our support, they too will be named to replace the 20-25 unknown persons.”
Bhim Army’s Karera Assembly president, Mahendra Boudh said Ashok’s argument had value. “If according to the policeman, 30-35 persons attacked him, wouldn’t he have 10-20 injuries? There were fewer policemen and administrative officials than Jatav family members. If there were a confrontation, more officials would have been injured. But it is the women in the family who were savagely beaten up. Have a look at their injuries. The SI only had a minor cut on his head, nothing serious.”
Three days after the incident, a few villagers, believed to be the supporters of Malkhan Nai and fellow members of his community, submitted a memorandum to the Shivpuri SP claiming that the child had a chronic heart condition and the Jatav family could not afford his medical treatment. Therefore, they murdered him and falsely implicated the police and Malkhan Nai in the case, the memorandum claimed.
Speaking to The Wire, Karera Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Gurudutt Sharma backed these claims and said that the child was not been seen in any of the videos that have surfaced of the incident. This, he said, supports the villagers’ claims.
The matter was strangely forwarded to Kolaras Sub-Divisional Police Officer Amarnath Verma, instead of local police, for investigation. “So far, we have not found evidence in the investigation that the child was present at the scene,” Verma said, echoing Sharma.
Gurudutt further said, “The whole village is miffed with this family. They file false cases under the SC/ST Act and take huge sums in exchange for settling those cases.”
Notably, if the viral videos that police are citing to claim that the child was not present at the site are to be considered, then one of the facts in the FIR registered by the police against the Jatav family itself is brought into question.
This FIR states that SI Raghavendra was attacked with an axe in an attempt to kill him. But none of the videos show any axe being wielded or even present at the scene.
Ashok found the allegations incredible. “Does anyone kill their own child whether he is deaf, blind, or handicapped? If we had to kill him, why would we wait for 10 months? They are levelling such allegations to weaken our case. He did have a hole in his heart at the time of his birth, but we got him treated and he was absolutely normal. His medical treatment was had been completed,” said Ashok.
“That we filed seven false cases is also a baseless allegation,” he added, noting that the family has filed only two cases, one of which is against Malkhan Nai, who is also an accused in the present case.
‘No personal enmity’
Shivpuri SP Rajesh Chandel told The Wire, “We are exploring all the angles. The court will look into the matter and the findings will be brought forth. We have registered FIRs against our own policemen. As for filing a false FIR against the family, the fact remains that a policeman was injured and had to be admitted to the hospital. It is a free country and the court wants evidence. We do not have personal enmity with the family, neither are we their neighbours nor do we have a property dispute with them. Why would we do any wrong to them?”
Shivpuri collector Akshay Kumar Singh brushed away administration’s role in the case. “At present, we have nothing to do with it. It is a police case and the investigation is underway accordingly,” he said.
On the allegations of the family that he did not honour his promise, he said, “Anyone found guilty in the investigation won’t be spared. Action will be taken against them. As for compensation, let the investigation proceed a little further…”
Meanwhile, the Jatav family has accused the local Congress MLA Pragilal Jatav of not cooperating with them despite being their neighbour and belonging to the same community. They alleged that he was backing the accused.
Malkhan, on the other hand, alleged that the false case against the policemen and him were filed under the legislator’s pressure.
When asked to comment, Pragilal Jatav told The Wire, “It is true that the family has lost their child. They must get justice. The FIR against the policemen was registered after I urged them to file it. Yet the victim’s family is upset with me because they were trying to wrongly implicate some people in the village, to which I objected.”
Bhim Army’s Mahendra Boudh, who is supporting the victim’s family, denies the role of caste hatred or discrimination in the case. “It is a matter of mutual enmity and should not be viewed from the caste angle. There has always been a cordial atmosphere in the village.”
Initially, Ashok Jatav had also claimed that this was not a matter of caste discrimination. Later, however, he said, “It is possible for them to have had caste on their mind. All the accused belong to the ‘upper’ caste. Perhaps, if we belonged to some other community, we would not have been targeted. There was caste hatred and we became its victims.”
Deepak Goswami is an independent journalist.