Less than a week ago, Piyush Sarvaiya, a 29-year-old Dalit from Una town, was assaulted by two men who were among 11 convicted by a special court last November for the murder of his brother in 2012. The two were out on parole and this was a revenge attack for the punishment handed to them by the court.
This was the fourth such case in less than two months in Saurashtra where those accused of murder returned to attack the family members of their victims or against whom they had a grouse. The incidents preceding Una were reported from Rajkot, Surendranagar and Botad districts and each time, the assailants were either out on bail or parole. Piyush was kicked and slapped, but in the other three incidents, the family members were killed.
The motive behind the three killings seem to be the waning dominance of the upper castes in their own village or town.
The string of copycat unrelated murders began on May 22 when 19-year-old Rajesh Sondarva was clubbed to death, allegedly by men from the Kshatriya community, two of who were arrested for murdering his father Nanji Sondarva last year. An RTI activist from Manekvada village in Rajkot district, Nanji had filed applications to expose alleged corruption by the accused.
About three weeks later, on June 12, Prakash Parmar, a 34-year-old Dalit labourer in a ceramic unit, was killed in Thangadh town of Surendranagar district, allegedly by scythe-wielding Kathi Darbars to avenge criminal complaints lodged against them by his brother.
Similarly, Manji Solanki, 51, a Dalit deputy sarpanch of Jalila village in Botad district, was run over and clubbed to death on June 19, allegedly by men from the Kshatriya community. They had made at least four attempts on his life earlier.
In fact, a week before the murder, Manji had sought police protection from the Botad Superintendent of Police. His application was still under process when he was killed.
“How easy it is to kill a public representative. Had even a single personal security officer (PSO) accompanied my father, he would have been alive today. He paid with his life for the police protection we are getting now,” says Tushar Solanki, Manji’s son. Manji was deputy sarpanch of Jalila since 1995, upsetting the monopoly of the Khachar family of Kshatriyas, members of which allegedly killed him.
In Sondarva’s case, the only one being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department, eight men, including Mahendrasinh Bhikhubha Jadeja and Ajaysinh alias Ghanubha Chandubha Jadeja, have been arrested. These two, also residents of Manekvada, are the prime accused in the murder of Rajesh’s father Nanji on March 9 last year. All three accused in the Thangadh case and nine in the Botad case have also been arrested.
Manji Solanki was killed in a manner similar to Rajesh Sondarva. He was returning on his bike from Charanki village, five km away from Jalila, in Botad district, when a car hit his bike and the accused beat him up with sticks and pipes.
Botad SP Harshad Mehta had confirmed to The Indian Express that Solanki was attacked in 2010, 2011, 2016 and 2018 and that the police had registered offences on each occasion. It was only after the 2016 incident that the police lodged a case of attempt to murder against the accused.
“In April 2016, they had attacked my father with swords. He was critically wounded. The police arrested Bhagirath Khachar and Ashok Khachar, sons of Zeeluaapa Khachar. However, they got bail and the threats continued. Then, on March 3, 2018, they again attacked my father with knives and wounded him. This time as well, Bhagirath and Ashok were sent to jail and were again released on bail,” said Tushar.
The accused belong to two Khachar families in Jalila whose patriarch is 60-year-old Zeeluaapa Khachar. For a living, the family relies on farming and leasing of land for mobile network towers in the village. Bhagirath and Ashok are among nine accused in the murder of Manji Solanki on June 19.
In the Prakash Parmar murder case, the accused – Naresh Dhadhal, Devendra Bhagat and Jayraj Mala, all in their 20s – were angry after FIRs were filed against them by his relatives. Prakash’s brother, Bantu, alleged that the accused are part of a gang. After consulting his uncle Babu Parmar, who is the patriarch of the family, Bantu lodged FIRs against them in 2016.
Dhadhal, who had cases against him under the Atrocities Act and for bootlegging, was out on bail. “On June 12, they (the accused) had gone to Ambedkar Nagar looking for Babu. However, they were clear that if Babu was not found they would kill anybody from there (the Parmars) to re-establish their dominance,” said a police officer, who is part of the investigation.
In the Manekvada case, too, the accused Mahendrasinh, Ajaysinh alias Ghanubha, Jitendrasinh Chandubha Jadeja, Jitendrasinh Nirmalsinh Jadeja, Narendrasinh Bahadursinh Jadeja and Jagabhai Bharwad have been granted bail by the Gujarat High Court in the Nanji murder case.
“They got bail around six to seven months ago. Contending that Ghanubha was violating his bail condition as he was seen in the area, Rajesh Sondarva was trying to move court to get Ghanubha’s bail cancelled. This infuriated the accused, leading to Rajesh’s murder,” said a CID-crime officer.
Now, based on a complaint filed by Nanji’s 18-year-old son Ajay, police have booked Mahendrasinh and his son Divyarajsinh alias Kumar, Ghanubha and his son Dhruvrajsinh, Yashpalsinh alias Akrunbha Jadeja and his brother Deependrasinh, Hardeepsinh Narednrasinh Jadeja and Hardeepsinh Bahadursinh Gohil for Rajesh’s murder.
All the accused were arrested in May and are in judicial custody. Ghanubha was externed from Rajkot district in the past for bootlegging while Hardeepsinh Gohil had also faced action under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), said a CID officer.