Updated: May 14, 2018 7:15:14 am
The Bhavnagar Dalit youth was not killed by upper-caste men for owning a horse or riding it but was hacked to death by a share-cropper as the youth was harassing the share-cropper’s wife, Bhavnagar police said on Sunday and claimed to have cracked the case. However, the victim’s father claimed he did not believe in the police theory and alleged that the upper-caste men had made the share-cropper a scapegoat to cover their crime committed due to caste-prejudices.
Superintendent of police of Bhavnagar, Pravin Mal told a press conference that Pradeep Rathod, the Dalit youth from Timbi village in Umrala taluka of Bhavnagar district was not killed by upper-caste men due caste-prejudice but was murdered by a man whose wife had complained that Rathod had been harassing her and was demanding sexual favours. The share-cropper was identified as Munna Thaleisha, a native of Padana village in Dhandhuka taluka of Ahmedabad district. Bhavnagar police picked up Thaleisha and his family-members from Padan village on Saturday. Thaleisha was formally arrested by Bhavnagar police on Sunday.
The SP said that 28-year-old Thaleisha had been cultivating agricultural land of one Bhotha Lathiya in Piparali, a village neighbouring Timbi for the last two years. “However, Pradeep started harassing Thaleisha’s wife around two months before the incident. The woman even complained to her husband about the harassment and suggested that they should approach police. However, the husband turned it down telling her they were poor and therefore they should rather focus on eking out a living by working as share-croppers,” the SP told The Indian Express after the press conference.
Mal said that on March 29, Thaleisha was cutting tender boughs of babool tree to be used as toothbrushes with the help of a dhariyu, a sharp-edged curved blade with wooden handle, on the border of his farm when he noticed Pradeep approaching his field on horseback. “Thaleisha stopped Pradeep and asked him why he was harassing his wife. Pradeep told him that he in fact was going to his filed only and dared the share-cropper to stop him. An argument ensued and Pradeep hit Thaleisha with a stick which he used to control his horse. An enraged Thaleisha hit Pradeep with the dhariya repeatedly, killing the Dalit youth on the spot,” he said.
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The SP added that Thaleisha was living in a cottage on the agricultural field, around 500 metres away from the crime scene. “Hours after coming the murder, Thaleisha and his family fled to their native village,” Mal said adding the police did not merely rely on Thalaiya’s confession but location of his mobile phone had also confirmed his presence at the crime scene at the time of the murder.
Pradeep was found dead on road between Timbi and Keriya villages on the night of March 29 this year. In his complaint, Pradeep’s father Kalu had stated that Natubha Darbar who belongs to upper-caste Kshtriya community had told his son and him that Dalits can’t own or ride a horse and that it was privilege of upper-castes only. Darbar had warned of dire consequences if they continued to keep the horse and ride it. Kalu had told police his 21-year-old son, who had dropped out of school was fond of horses and therefore he had bought him one around eight months ago.
Based on Kalu’s complaint, Umrala police in Bhavnagar had booked Natubha Darbar alias Natubha Zala, a resident of Timbi village for the Dalit man’s murder. In subsequent statement, Kalu had named Ghoghubha Gohil and his brother Jitubha Gohil—both residents of Piparali village. Police had detained Darbar, the Gohil brothers and four others but nobody was arrested till Sunday. The Bhavnagar police had also subjected the seven suspects to suspect detection system test, a forensic test to identify suspect of a criminal act. “It is true the father of the victim had named an individual in his complaint and had given names of two others in subsequent statements. But we did not have any proof to arrest them hence we did not put them under arrest. Meanwhile, since the beginning, we also bore in mind complaints of villagers about Pradeep’s behaviour. Our investigation establishes that Pradeep was not killed for owning a horse or riding it. He was murdered for harassing a married woman,” the SP added.
However, Kalu rejected the police investigation. “I don’t believe in police theory of my son harassing the share-cropper’s wife and that leading to his murder. We don’t know that sharecropper and his family so how does the question of harassing her arise? Apparently, this is a conspiracy by the upper-caste men, who are real murders of my son. They have made the share-cropper a scapegoat since he is poor. This is a ploy to divert the probe from the real reason my son was murdered for,” Kalu told The Indian Express.
Aravind Makwana, the Bhavnagar district coordinator of Navsarjan, an Ahmedabad-based NGO working for rights of Dalits and human rights, also termed the police claim a “police concoction as Dalits had mounted pressure on police and the government.” He said: “Just two days back, we had announced and sought permission to sit on a hunger-strike at the office of Bhavnagar SP from May 17 onward as police had not made any progress in the investigation in Pradeep’s murder till then. Our announcement apparently increased pressure on police to show something. Therefore, they concocted this story of him harassing a married woman who is much older than him. This is an attempt to diver the probe from the fact that he was killed for owning and riding a horse,” said Makwana who has been helping Kalu in seeking justice since the murder of the latter’s son.
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