The children of the Dalit couple that was Thursday hacked to death by a shopkeeper over a pending payment, were Friday seen collecting every waste article available at their house in Mainpuri’s Lakhnipur village. By putting them “on sale”, the three sons, aged 11, nine and eight, would hope to arrange enough money so that they can perform the last rites of their parents, Bharat (45) and Mamta (41), who are now dead because they couldn’t pay the outstanding Rs 15 for the biscuits they had bought for their children a few days ago.
On the other hand, the four children of the accused couple, Ashok Mishra and his wife Rajni who are now behind bars, were pleading to the police to release their “innocent” mother who had “no clue” about what their father had allegedly done. As the world of these two families comes crashing down around them by an act that some described as “done in a fit of rage” while others termed it a “result of village politics”, Lakhnipur finds itself surrounded by heavy security force once again — only the reason differs, and differs vastly, this time. The last time Lakhnipur witnessed the deployment of security force on this scale was when Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had visited his native Saifai, with which it shares the border.
According to village pradhan Jerman Singh, Lakhnipur has around 70 houses, mostly owned by Dalits and Muslims, and has a total of 350 voters. The villagers “hardly believe” in caste discrimination, he claims. ‘We organise a week-long Ramlila every year and people from all castes, especially Dalits and Muslims, play important roles. There has been no communal tension in our village ever. What happened on Thursday was done in a fit of rage,” the pradhan said. So believes Janved Kumar, a Dalit himself. ‘Yeh sab toh gusse me ho gaya. Aadmi pe jab gussa sawaar hota hai to use kuch dikhta kahan hai (All this happened out of anger. A person can’t see his acts when anger has overpowered him),” he said, and described accused Mishra as “a good man who never had a fight with anyone in the village”. Not everyone agrees with Janved, though.
Outside Mishra’s double-storey house, situated barely 150 meters away from the crime spot, people had gathered to express their own opinions of him, and to share what they believed happened on Thursday ‘Money had made him blind. He was economically weak until a few years ago and owned nothing else but a few bigha of barren land. In fact, he was forced to move to Firozabad in search for work. Then this expressway changed his life. He got a handsome amount as compensation from the government, which acquired his land, and constructed this double-storey house. He had even organised a function after the house got completed,” said Ram Prakash Jatav, a local.
Seeing the blood stains that cover the road where the Dalit couple was hacked to death with an axe, some claimed it was Rajni who “provoked” her husband into committing the act. According to pradhan Jerman Singh, Rajni had seen Mamta buy a packet of biscuit for her youngest son from another grocery shop by paying Rs 5 in cash. Mamta and Bharat owed Rs 15 to the Mishras’ for the three packets of biscuit that they had bought a few days ago.
“Rajni was standing near that grocery shop when Mamta bought that packet. She went to her husband and informed him about how the couple have not paid Rs 15 to them even after a couple of days but have made the purchase from another shop in cash. This made Mishra angry and he went after the couple asking for his money. An altercation took place which led to the killing,” he said.
Fearful of retaliation, the accused couple’s five daughters (all married into other villages), have refused to take custody of their four minor siblings, two boys and two girls, after what their father has allegedly done. Soon after the killings, villagers had gathered outside Mishra’s house and attempted to set it on fire but were stopped by the police.
“Our mother had no role in it. She was in the kitchen when father hacked the two,” said 9-year-old Omji. He was quickly interrupted by his elder brother, 10-year-old Kanhaiya. “Papa got very angry when Bharat and Mamta told him to sell off my sisters to get the money. No father could have listened to that. They dared him to kill them and he did,” he said.
He claimed that his father used to lend thousands of rupees to villagers and never asked them to return the money. The 10-year-old said it was “the abusive language” that resulted in the killings. Dolly, the children’s maternal aunt who has been given their temporary custody, alleged that “Hindus in the village were jealous of Mishra”. “All the Brahmins in the village had hatred for Ashok since he got into money after selling his land. He had organised a big pooja too. The brahmins kept provoking Dalits against him, and it ended up this way,” she said. The eldest of the four, Aashi (13), claimed that her mother has “done nothing” and should be released. “Woh log hamein jala denge agar him ghar gaye toh,” she said.
At the house of the Dalit couple, the three minors were joined by their two sisters, who are now married, in collecting things to put on sale. A bit of relief appeared on their faces upon learning that the CM had announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation but their faces soon took on a grim look when Thursday’s events came rushing back. “Mor maiya bapu ko kaat dara. Ab ka bacho jo dekhe (my mother, father were hacked to death, nothing is left with us),” said Milan, the eldest daughter who will take care of 3 brothers now.