SLUMPED ON a cot in the verandah, Kunti Jatav, 23, still cannot stop the tears when her younger brother’s name comes up. The cot, family members point out, is barely a metre away from where 16-year-old Vikas was shot dead, while he was asleep, by his neighbour on the night of June 6.
The killing has led to allegations of caste discrimination in UP’s Dhomkhera, a village of about 650-700 people in Amroha district, dominated by upper-caste Chauhans and with about 30 from the Jatav community.
Vikas’s family alleges that he was killed by 18-year-old Horam Singh who had brutally assaulted him days earlier, on May 31, for entering the village temple. In a police complaint, Vikas’s father Omprakash claims that his son had been targeted for his caste earlier as well.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Amroha SP Vipin Tada says Singh, his father Lala and an associate Deepak have been arrested while two others are absconding. Singh is the main accused in an FIR filed under section 302 (murder) and others sections of the SC/ST Act.
But the police and the accused’s family maintain that the killing was linked to an altercation on May 31 between the two sides over Rs 5,000 that Vikas’s brother allegedly owed Singh. According to police, the investigation did not lead to any evidence that supported the charge of caste animosity.
“A few days earlier, we were informed about a fight between Harom and Vikas. Vikas’s elder brother owed money to Harom which he had promised to return once farm sales are carried out. After the altercation, Harom fled to another area from where he planned the murder with another accused. He was angered and spiteful because he was supposed to get his money back but was facing police action,” said Tada.
Police said that after Vikas’s family submitted a complaint on June 1 over the assault, they made Harom’s family sign a bond stating that the family will “ensure that no law and order situation takes place”.
Vikas’s family members say the community has been living in the village for three generations without any previous incident of discrimination.
“My son was stopped from lighting an agarbatti in the temple. Harom is a known nuisance and told him that people of his caste are not allowed to carry out rituals. We have done nothing to harm anyone. The allegation that we owed money is false, and this can be attested by anyone. This was done out of pure spite. He shot my son at close range while he was sleeping,” said Omprakash, 50.
According to police, Deepak allegedly helped Singh procure a countrymade weapon and ferried him to the victim’s house on the night of the killing.
“After he shot Vikas, he threatened us with dire consequences. We fear the worst, and are planning to leave the village to a safer place. We don’t know if other people might turn against us. I have other children to look after and if something happens to them, I will not be able to bear it,” said Omprakash.
Vikas was the youngest of four siblings and would often accompany his father to work in the mango orchards nearby.
Singh also used to work in the orchards. His family, however, maintains that he was attacked when he asked about the dues. “Everyone prays in the temple together, and there has never been any issue. Horam came across Vikas on the street and asked him about the dues. Vikas and other boys beat him up badly. Omprakash created a narrative, and Horam fled the village fearing police action… It is possible that Horam confessed out of fear,” claimed Komal (31), a relative of the accused.
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