A day after a Dalit activist immolated himself in Patan, he succumbed to burn injuries on Friday. The activist, Bhanu Vankar, 61, who had set himself on fire outside the Patan Collector office on Thursday afternoon to protest against the alleged delay in allotment of land to Dalits by the government in the district, died around 10 pm on Friday, Sandip Joshi, the PRO of Apollo Hospitals, where Vankar was admitted, said.
Calling it a “government murder” , members of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), in a press release on Friday, warned the authorities that if those involved in the “murder”of Vankar were not identified by 4 pm on Saturday, they will “block” the Ahmedabad-Mehsana highway.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has ordered probe into the case. The CMO issued a statement on Friday, stating, “CM Vijaybhai Rupani has expressed his sorrow in the case of the Dalit person who attempted to immolate himself and has announced that the expenses of his entire treatment will be borne by the state government. The patient will receive the best of the treatment. Investigations will be carried out in the matter to ensure that the truth behind such an incident comes out and the Chief Secretary of Gujarat will be responsible for the entire investigation. The CM has told that the government will ensure that once the details of the investigations are out, steps will be taken against those responsible for such an event.”
On Friday, the Patan police also filed an FIR against “unidentified persons” in the case. The FIR was filed after Congress MLAs Alpesh Thakor, Shailesh Parmar, Naushad Solanki, Chandansih Thakor and Kirit Patel had a meeting with the collector and the SP of Patan for over four hours.
“While the collector has assured us that the process of land allotment will start within a week, there has been no assurance by the government. Why is there no official statement as yet? This is a big issue and we will bring it up in the Vidhan Sabha. A man fighting for land rights of others is forced to burn himself. After so many years of independence, we are facing a situation in which a person has to take such an extreme step. It is a matter of shame for the country,” Alpesh Thakor, MLA of Radhanpur, told The Indian Express over phone.
Vankar, a retired talati (revenue clerk) and member of the RDAM, along with with fellow Dalit activists Hema Vankar and Rama Chamar, had submitted a letter to CM Rupani on January 17, stating they would perform “agnisnan” (fire bath) if the land is not allotted to Dalits at Dudhka village in Sami taluka of Patan district. Dalits in the village have been demanding allotment of land for the past three years under a government scheme, and some had even deposited money with the government.
“We filed the FIR at 2 in the morning against ‘unidentified persons’. We will find the person responsible for this and then take the necessary action. The FIR is filed under abetment of suicide and various sections of the Atrocity Act. We will ensure that the investigations are carried out thoroughly,” said Ashwin Chauhan, Superintendent of Police (Patan).
“Yesterday, when he was brought to the hospital, he was conscious but today his condition has deteriorated. He has suffered around 96 per cent burns and that makes it very complicated. We are trying our best but the patient is extremely critical,” said Dr Piyasha Nath, Medical Superintendent of Apollo Hospital, Gandhinagar. “Several politicians have visited the hospital today and there is a sizable number of police personnel in the hospital compound,” added Nath.
Commenting on the CM’s statement, convener of the RDAM and Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani said, “Why is the CM still talking about compensation? Why is there no call for dialogue and to look into the issue? We are asking for our right to land and it is time that the government understood the real issue.”
Mevani added, “We want a special investigating team looking into the matter and the names of the revenue officers and the police officers who are responsible for Bhanubhai’s condition to be written in the FIR. The CM has not even visited the victim’s family who are in the hospital in Gandhinagar.”
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