After the Bharat Bandh on April 2, a purported list titled “Dalit vandals and arsonists from Shobhapur” began doing the rounds on social media in the village located on the Meerut bypass road. Among the 83 names on that list, the first was that of Gopi Pariya, 28, a BSP worker. Three days later, Gopi was dead, shot five times.
Police have registered an FIR against four men based on a complaint from Gopi’s father, Tarachand, a BSP leader. The FIR identified the accused as Shobhapur residents, Manoj Gujjar, Ashish Gujjar, Kapil Rana and Giridhari, who have been charged under IPC sections 302 (murder), 504 (intent to provoke breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation), and sections of the SC/ST Act.
Two of the accused — Manoj, who is Gopi’s neighbour, and Kapil — have been arrested, said police.
On Thursday, the road leading to Gopi’s home was lined with policemen. Inside the compound, the wail of women rang out from a shamiana. Seated nearby, Tarachand and his second son Prashant said Gopi paid the price for remaining in the village when “all the other Dalit youth” had fled after seeing the “list”.
Prashant, 24, is fifth on the “list”. “No one knows who prepared that list but most of the names on it are of youths like me. Initially, we thought it was a police list. But the police denied it, saying they take action only on the basis of video footage,” said Prashant.
Four days ago, the highway outside Dalit-dominated Shobhapur witnessed some of the worst violence in Meerut district during the bandh, with the police outpost set on fire.
“By Wednesday, most of the Dalit men had left. But my son was not scared and remained here. Around 4 pm, Sunil told Gopi that Manoj had called him to the local temple. Gopi went there with his friends, Vijay and Rohit, on a motorbike,” said Tarachand.
In his police complaint, Tarachand alleged that Manoj, Ashish and Kapil were present at the spot, along with two others he identified as “Sunil and Anil”. “Gopi was first shot in the chest by Manoj, and then Kapil and Ashish opened fire. One bullet hit his chest, three hit his back, and fifth hit his hand,” claimed Prashant. Vijay and Rohit escaped unhurt, he said.
“Before succumbing to his injuries in hospital about six hours later, my son told me that they used caste slurs and said, ‘Tu bada neta banta hai’ (You are trying to become a big leader), before shooting him,” claimed the father, a long-time BSP member who unsuccessfully contested twice for the post of councillor in the Meerut Nagar Nigam.
“Gopi joined the BSP and helped his father during the campaigning,” said Prashant.
According to residents in Shobhapur, there has been tension between Dalits and other communities here for the last three decades. “But it was never so bad. The first incident was in 1990, when an altercation during a cricket match led to Gyan Singh, a Dalit, being shot at,” said Prashant.
Gyan Singh is No.56 on the “list”. “He is not at home,” said Singh’s brother Kishan Pal. Asked about the incident of 28 years ago, Pal said, “I was in Class IX when that happened. Youths from both sides had clashed before the elders intervened to restore peace.”
“Since then, Shobhapur has witnessed clashes every few years. Some have been stabbed, but it was never this bad,” said Prashant.
“About four years ago, Gopi intervened in an altercation during Holi and was attacked by Manoj. The matter reached police but Manoj apologised. He is our neighbour, so things gradually returned to normal,” he said.
According to Tarachand, Gopi dropped out of his BA course after clearing Class XII in 2010 and earned a living making badminton racquets. “Gopi and his wife Kaushal have two sons, aged 3 and 2, and a six-month-old daughter. Apart from his brother Prashant, he has three sisters, Nisha, Jyoti and Pinki,” said Tarachand.
When contacted, P K Singh, Circle Officer, Daurala, under whose jurisdiction Shobhapur falls, confirmed that police had “not sent out any list”. “We are investigating the arson during the bandh and will proceed according to the evidence we collect,” he said.
SP (City) Maan Singh Chauhan said some residents of Shobhapur had alleged that Gopi was among the arsonists. “We are verifying the allegations,” he said.
The Bharat Bandh was called by various Dalit groups to protest what they claimed was the “dilution” of the SC/ST Act following a Supreme Court ruling the previous week that laid down stringent safeguards before registering a case under the Act. District officials said that Shobhapur has a Dalit majority, followed by Gujjars, Muslims and other communities.
“What happened was unfortunate. We used to live together, it shouldn’t have happened,” said Bobby Gujjar, nephew of the accused Manoj. Outside Bobby’s home is a board declaring that his wife was a former BSP councillor. “We once took pride in electing her,” said Tarachand.
Now, another message is doing the rounds on social media in Shobhapur. It’s a photo of Gopi in dark blue shorts and red shades, with these lines in Hindi: “Gopi Jatav, the heartbeat of a thousand hearts, the pride of Jatav, the lion of Shobhapur. You will always live in our hearts.”