From inside a tightly knotted jute sack at the bottom of a six-feet-deep pit, Sumit Khati made 26 calls from his mobile phone. On the first call, he was reassured that the stunt was going according to plan — that he would make it out alive the next day. The other 25 calls to his friends went unanswered. At the end of them all, the 17-year-old was dead.
Khati, from Kurar village in Haryana’s Samalkha, had volunteered for the “daredevil” stunt on June 24. At 10 pm that night, over 11,000 residents of Chulkana village, 30 km from Khati’s home in Panipat district, had gathered around the freshly dug pit on an empty patch of land. Jagdeep alias ‘Kalia’, the 25-year-old organiser, was busy collecting cash from onlookers. After the collection reached Rs 8,500, the villagers urged him to start the event. They promised to shell out Rs 2,000 more after Khati came out alive.
And so, the show began. The 5-feet, 9-inches tall Khati was given a phone and put inside a jute sack, which was fastened with 21 knots. Amid massive applause, the sack was lowered into the pit. Jagdish and seven of his associates then placed several wooden planks on top of the sack and covered it with sand. A massive puja followed and an earthen pot and a few red threads were placed near the covered pit.
At 10 pm on June 25, when Khati was pulled out, he was unconscious. The doctors declared him dead at the local hospital.
“When I was told that a boy named Sumit was performing such a stunt, I didn’t know it was my grandson. When I went to the ground in the morning on June 25, I realised who he was and begged the organisers to pull him out. But they said it would be a bad omen if he was taken out before 24 hours,” says Shakuntala Devi, 60, Khati’s maternal grandmother who stays in Chulkana.
At Khati’s two-room, rundown home in Kurar, his mother Poonam, 45, and father Mam Chand, 44, a daily wager, are struggling to come to terms with their son’s death.
“He refused to study after Class 5 and would just sit at home. Five months ago, he joined Jagdeep and his friends and help set up lights during jagrans. They would perform stunts like breaking bottles on their heads while riding a cycle, but not like the one they performed in Chulkana,” says Chand.
Khati was the eldest of Chand’s three children, including another 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter.
Chand’s second son shows a video of that evening moments before Khati was buried. “He seemed so happy,” says Chand, before snatching the phone.
“On June 16, Jagdeep and seven other boys came to our home and urged my son to perform the stunt for Rs 600. I thought it was a cycle stunt. He left that night and it was the last time we saw him. At 3.30 am on June 26, we got a call from police informing us about his death,” says Poonam.
“I always told him to avoid the company of Jagdeep and his friends but he would never listen. I wish he had attended school like my other children,” she says, between sobs.
A few metres away, at Jagdeep’s home, his two-sister-in-laws, who are busy preparing lunch, have little idea why the police have arrested him. “He didn’t get along with the family. He would take part in tamashas and jagrans. That is all we know. On June 26, the police came and arrested him. But I am sure he will be released. I heard that Mam Chand’s boy died during a stunt but how could that be Jagdeep’s fault? Even Sumit didn’t get along with his family,” says Jyoti Rane, 32.
“Such shows are common in villages around here. We have stopped many of them, but nothing of this kind has ever happened. These boys had no permission and even panchayat members were not in the know. We got a call from the hospital at 1 am on June 26 informing us about the boy’s death,” says assistant sub-inspector Rameshwar, the investigating officer.
An FIR has been filed in Samalkha police station on Chand’s complaint, following which Jagdeep, and two of his associates, Ankit and Satbir of Kurar, were arrested. “The boy did make some calls from his phone. The case is still under investigation. We are also planning on making two more arrests,” says Rameshwar.
At Chulkana, very few are willing to talk about the incident. The pit has been filled, but the earthen pot and the red thread lie nearby. “The entire village was here — men, women and children. We were very excited. But no one anticipated such a end. When Sumit’s body was being pulled out, we were all cheering. But when the sack was untied, he was unconscious,” says Amit Kumar, 18.
Back in Kurar, Poonam pulls out a passport-size picture of her son. “Bohot tagda ladka tha, satrah saal ka tha par lagta bees ka tha (He was a strong boy. He was 17 years old, but looked 20). I am sure he would have fought hard to come out, but these people killed him for money,” she says.