As a young girl in a blue school dress takes calm steps along yellow police barricades leading to a village in Nagaur, shouts go out and a few policemen rush towards her, asking her to stop. Other officers, keeping a watch from a distance under one of four tents, just outside Rajasthan’s Sanwrad village, are unhappy that the policemen “assumed” the girl is “harmless”.
Around them, a few dozen policemen tighten their grip on firearms. On Friday, a day after Rajasthan’s most notorious gangster Anand Pal was cremated amid violent protests, it is clear that trust doesn’t come easily at his native village. Not when Nagaur Superintendent of Police had his car set on fire and barely escaped an assault, a woman IPS officer sustained injuries and changed her guise with help from “a few good women”, and several other policemen barely escaped being lynched.
Pal had 37 police cases against him and 87 of his aides — his own Army column, as a policeman jokingly called them — had been arrested or detained in recent years. He was killed in a police encounter on June 24, following which the family demanded a CBI probe and kept his body in a freezer. Eventually, on Thursday, a cremation was arranged, following a push by the State Human Rights Commission.
The population of Sanwrad is just about 1,500, but about 800 personnel now keep a watch at every entry point, every person and every fellow policeman in the village. Gyanchandra Yadav, ADSP HQ, said, “Eight columns of armed forces as well as 200 policemen keep a constant watch around the village.” Media isn’t permitted; at most, police only allow them to meet a man who saved about 15 lives: Magga Ram, 68.
Ram has the contract for the ticketing counter at the mostly desolate Sanwrad railway station, which his 20-year-old son Pannalal was manning on Wednesday evening. Their home is on the other side of the railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the counter. “Some policemen came running and I asked my son to lock up the counter,” Ram recounted. “The policemen knew me since I’m a railway contractor and a few hid in the tin shed within my house. But a few men followed them and found them, so I helped them inside the house and five policemen locked themselves in two rooms.”
By now, the mob had entered the house and was trying to break open the two doors. They managed to open one, assaulted the men and poured kerosene on them. “Somehow, some within the mob saw reason and the men managed to escape, but with serious injuries,” said Ram. “Others hid behind a pranda (dung house) and under a tarpaulin sheet meant for cattle fodder.” However, as the mob grew and searched frantically, Ram helped the men jump over the thorny fence and escape in the dark. “There were at least six GRP personnel and eight RPF personnel who escaped via Ram’s house,” said a local intelligence official.
“Their only target was the police. They didn’t hurt us,” said Jagdish, one of Ram’s three remaining sons; the eldest passed away about 10 days ago. “We hid ourselves in a room. They banged on the door and asked if we had hidden the policemen, but we simply told them no,” said Ram’s daughter Suman. The mob also uprooted railway tracks and vandalised about 18 railways quarters — of which only two-three were occupied at the time.
Signs of the violence were visible almost everywhere: a crane went around the village slowly, moving cars — some of them vandalised — abandoned by those who came to Wednesday’s ‘shok sabha’ (grief meet). Outside the village, a new laptop and printer, and lots of papers, were being shuffled around by officers who had made the tent their makeshift ‘control room’.
A total of 32 security personnel were injured in the violence — 10 of them seriously. Seven people from the mob also sustained injuries, while one, identified as Lalchand Sharma, died. “The mob chased IPS officer Monika Sen and she sustained injuries. However, the worst-case scenario was avoided thanks to some local women, who helped her change into local attire,” said ADSP Yadav.
The SP’s vehicle rested in the barren fields by the main road, burnt to a rusty orange, its seats only a metallic frame. Many among the mob were “outsiders” and “they vandalised my vehicle too”, says Mohan Singh, one of the Sangharsh Samiti leaders. Asked how the crowd swelled to such an extent, IG, Ajmer Range, Malini Agarwal said, “It was supposed to be a shrandhjali sabha, hence we didn’t stop people from paying their respects.” Pal’s uncle Amar Singh said, “What happened was wrong. On Wednesday afternoon, the Sarva Samaj Sangharsh Samiti — a body of Rajput leaders from different organisations — was in discussions with police officials and they had agreed to five out of six demands, barring the CBI investigation. But someone on the stage gave a speech, which made the crowd go wild.”
Police claimed Pal’s daughter Yogita Singh, 18, was among those who spoke from the stage. “The encounter was faked. Why else would they hesitate so much in handing over the inquiry to the CBI,” Yogita alleged while speaking to The Indian Express over phone. “And they claim they cremated my father with our agreement, but neither did my grandmother Nirmal Kanwar, mother Raj Kanwar or brother Ranpal agreed. The police first locked up all the men of the family in a bus and then tried to pressure us, but we did not give in,” she alleged. Police, meanwhile, maintained they had reached an agreement with some of Pal’s “other relatives” such as Amar.
Yogita said her elder sister Charanjeet, 20, studies in Dubai “and hasn’t visited in about 20 months after police lodged false cases against her”. On the violence, she said her father had a “fan following”, which supported the family’s demand for an impartial CBI probe. “The pursuit of justice will continue,” she said. “A curfew has since been enforced in the village and internet services in the district will be suspended till the morning of July 20,” said district collector Kumar Pal Gautam.
“We have arrested 211 persons and are now screening each person using videos, drone footage and details of seized vehicles to determine their role,” said SP Paris Deshmukh. “We have identified 18 Rajput leaders,” said collector Gautam.