Enter Mafatiyapura locality of Thangadh in Surendranagar district and ask for the house of Bantu Parmar, a resident. People are wary of showing you the house. The reason: an all pervasive fear among Dalits.
It becomes clear after meeting Bantu even as he is mourning the death of his elder brother, Prakash, who was allegedly killed by three youths from the upper caste Darbar community.
On June 12, Prakash (34), who was a labourer at a local ceramic unit, was killed by three men from the town after the former did not show them the house of one of his uncles, Babu Parmar whom the alleged assailants wanted to kill.
“The atmosphere of fear is so dominant. It is because we have resisted certain anti-social elements from the town by raising our voice and filing FIRs against them. The FIRs have threatened their dominance in the town and therefore, they wanted to teach us a lesson by threatening us,” says Bantu (26), a labourer at local ceramic unit. “On June 12, Prakash was sitting at a kiosk when three persons came on a motorbike. One of them, Naresh Dhadhal, asked for Babu Parmar. Prakash told him he did not know Babu’s house, and Dhadhal started abusing him. To avoid a fight, Prakash went inside the house of Jayaben Parmar, a relative. However, Dhadhal and two of his accomplices — armed with a pistol, a scythe and an iron rod – entered the house and asked Prakash to show him Babu’s residence. They forcefully took Prakash to a local chowk near the temple of Ramdev Pir, insisting he reveal where Babu lived,” said Bantu.
“Hearing the commotion, one of our uncles – Suresh Parmar – rushed to the spot and tried to intervene when two of the three accused caught him. When Prakash did not give in to their demand, Dhadhal hit him with a scythe on his head. Prakash collapsed when one of them fired at my uncle Suresh with the bullet hitting below his shoulder,” he added.
Following this, the trio fled Prakash succumbed to injuries at Rajkot hospital whereas, Suresh, is recuperating.
The assailants were not licenced gun holders, police said. A case of murder under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, IPC and Arms Act was later registered. Surendrana-gar police arrested all the three accused. “Anti-social elements, led by some powerful persons, indulge in all sorts of illegal activities like bootlegging, extortion and drug abuse. They also beat up anybody randomly by picking fights over silly issues to instill fear in the minds of people,” said Babu.
He said all three arrested for Prakash’s murder are accomplices of a local bootlegger, Uday Karpada alias Uday Kathi. “We do not have any personal enmity,” Babu said. Relatives of Dinesh Dhadhal and Devendra Bhagat, two of three accused, refused to comment. Dhadhal is named in three complaints under the Atrocity Act and he was out on bail when he killed Prakash.
‘Authorities failed us’
“In May 2016, when I was returning home after work, 3-4 rowdies stopped me and began inquiring about a fight they had with some Dalits the previous day. They asked if I was among that group. I answered in the negative and kept walking. They stopped me and beat me up near our locality. My brother, Prakash, came to my rescue and sustained a knife injury,” said Bantu.
“Initially, we did not lodge a complaint. But after consulting our uncle, Babu Parmar, we decided to lodge a police complaint as there was no point remaining silent against such goons. I filed an FIR under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and IPC, following which the accused were arrested,” he added.
“After that FIR, at least five more complaints were lodged by different persons against such anti-social elements between 2016 and 2018. So, they must have felt that their dominance was waning. Considering me responsible for this, they started targeting me. They threatened me of dire consequences more than once. And following those threats, my wife, Balu, registered an FIR against some persons who came to my home to threaten in 2016.”
“I wrote to a number of authorities of the state government seeking SRP protection for our Dalit mohalla in Thangadh. When nothing happened, I filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. The court ordered police to take steps in accordance with the law. However, we got no security,” Babu said adding, “In 2016, after Bantu lodged an FIR, the protection remained for some days and then it was withdrawn. Had SRP protection been given, Prakash would not have been killed. The authorities failed us,” Babu added.
“Life is dear to all. Now everybody feels that if Prakash can be killed like this in the open, anything can happen to anybody. So, I think people will withdraw themselves,” Bantu said.
‘People are fed up’
President of Thangadh Municipality, Vijay Bhagat, admitted that anti-social activities in the town has become a menace. “But it is not targeted towards any particular community. People from all the communities are fed up,” said Bhagat.
A centre of the ceramic industry, Thangadh, has around 275 ceramic manufacturing units. In 2012, three Dalit youths were killed by police in a clash in Thangadh. The case is caught in a legal wrangle. Suresh Sompura, senior leader of local Ceramic Industries Association, said, “Due to anti-social activities by certain persons, there is tension between communities. Only then a murder takes place, isn’t it? Even the people of local ceramic industries have got fed up by the menace of extortion and other such activities. Some small shop owners have even migrated.”
“Villages around Thangadh are so poor that its people have settled in Thangadh. With lack of employment, people from some communities have been indulging in anti-social activities,” Sompura added. Thangadh has population of around one lakh people; Kolis are the dominant community followed by Prajapatis, Dalits, Dalwadis, Maldharis and Darbars.
According to Surendranagar police, Bantu filed an FIR against one Jagu Kathi, his brother Uday Kathi and others in 2016. Naresh is associated with the Kathis. After that FIR in 2016, some more FIRs were registered against the Kathis and their accomplices.
“Naresh had a grudge against Babu Parmar for all those FIRs as he was considering the latter responsible for them. And therefore, to establish their dominance in the region, they were attacked,” said a police officer involved in the investigation.
According to the officer, Nar-esh is facing three criminal cases of Atrocity Act and two cases of bootlegging. And in all those cases, he was out on bail. Investigation has also revealed that the bike used by the assailants was stolen from Amreli and Devendra Bhagat, one of the three accused in Prakash’s murder, is an accused in that bike theft case.