“I followed my father on Friday morning. He fell down before me and died in front of my eyes,” said Sabira, 17.
Civic body officials in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh have denied that they assaulted Zafar Khan on Friday, leading to his death, after he objected to them taking photographs of women defecating in the open. On Saturday, Sabira and residents of Mehtab Shah Kutchi Basti said they witnessed the assault unfold and Khan die on the spot.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, they also said that women here have been facing harassment for months from the accused on the issue of open defecation — but without a single toilet in this unauthorised settlement, they have nowhere else to go.
They alleged that Pratapgarh Nagar Parishad officials, led by Commissioner Ashok Jain, visited the settlement early Friday morning as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, “as they do usually around 6 am”, and chased away the women by “threatening us”, “kicking our water mugs” and “taking our photographs”. But this time, they claimed, the officials also shoved the women who raised an alarm, prompting Sabira’s father Zafar, 53, to rush out of his home.
A member of Rajasthan Construction Workers Union and district president of All India Central Council of Trade Unions, which is affiliated to the CPI (ML), Khan was the most vocal in the settlement over such issues, said residents.
“He ran out when the women shouted and I followed him. My father tried to reason with the government employees, about 5-6 of them, and two women who were related to one of them. He told them not to click photographs but they hit him in his stomach, his head and then over his ear,” said Sabira.
“The men were kicking and punching him. He was all alone. That’s when he fell on the ground. Hearing the commotion, our neighbours came to mediate but my father just lay there and cried in pain. He died there,” she said.
“Kamal, one of the government employees, shouted that he was bleeding but it was actually Zafar’s blood on his clothes,” said neighbour Shahida. Holding a stone with red stains, she said, “It is Zafar’s blood but who cares about evidence.”
Pratapgarh police have lodged an FIR under IPC section 302 (murder) against Jain and municipal employees Kamal Harijan, Ritesh Harijan and Manish Harijan, following a complaint filed by the family of Zafar — police had initially recorded his age as 44.
Jain has denied the charges and claimed that Zafar was alive when they left the spot following the fight.
“My house is next to the spot and my wife woke me up during the commotion. About 7-8 people were beating Zafar. I tried to intervene and others came rushing. But he fell on the ground,” said Khushnood Khan, 35, a neighbour.
“The men threatened to kill me and said they will burn my mother and the basti, before rushing away in their vehicle. Other men from the basti rushed my father to Pratapgarh district hospital,” said Sabira.
“Doctors said he was brought dead,” said Nur Mohammad, Khan’s younger brother, on whose complaint the FIR was lodged. On Saturday, dozens of women gathered at Khan’s house said that they had been taking up the demand for toilets in their settlement for over a decade at various levels. They claimed they had met District Collector Neha Giri Thursday over this issue and quoted her as saying that their settlement was “questionable” and built on “government land”. Giri did not answer calls to her phone, and her office staff said she was on leave.
When contacted, Dr O P Dayma, from the district hospital, said, “The tentative post-mortem report has found that Zafar died due to cardio-respiratory failure. However, what led to this failure can be ascertained only once we receive a report following a forensic and pathological inquiry on his liver, lung, spleen, kidney, etc.”
Zafar’s wife, Rashida, questioned that assessment. “He was healthy. Why would he have a heart attack? The Parishad hated him as he cared for people of the basti…no one from the police or district administration has met us since his death,” said Zafar’s wife Rashida.
Pratapgarh SP Shivraj Meena said no arrests have been made in the case yet. “We will decide once the final report is out,” he said. Zafar’s youngest brother Zulfiqar, meanwhile, took out a pile of files, containing letters from about a decade go to this year and marked to district authorities. The contents remained mostly the same: “regularisation of the basti”, “nearest school is five kilometres away”, “no water source in basti”, “we have been kept out of BPL cards.” Zulfiqar said, “My brother wrote them, hoping someone would listen.”
“Whether Hindu or Muslim, he was always the first to lend a hand. All of us went to him when we had any trouble,” said Suraj, sitting among a crowd of people from the basti outside Zafar’s home. “He was poor but he would somehow help arrange funds for the marriages of our children,” said Nisar Khan.
Zafar’s mother Zeenat died a few years ago and his father Rustam Khan, in his 90s, lives with Zulfiqar a couple of kilometres away. Sabira’s sister Ruqsar, 19, is married.
“Who will take care of my daughter now? How will I get Sabira educated? We were to get her Class IX result today from school but how will I support her? My husband used to run a small kirana store from home and make Rs 100-200 every day. But my daughter is not safe anymore, I am not safe anymore,” said Rashida as Sabira tried to console her.