Leaving an entire Bhavnagar village in shock, a 21-year-old Dalit youth was hacked to death on Thursday night, allegedly by three men from the Kshatriya community, because he owned and rode a horse, according to police and local residents.
On Friday, following protests from the family of the youth, Pradeep Rathod, and other residents of Timbi village in Umrala taluka, police said they were questioning three men in connection with the murder. All the three are from the Kshatriya community, police said.
Late in the evening, the horse, Raju, led the procession of mourners for Rathod’s funeral. “We wanted to carry the body in a horse carriage as a mark of protest. But since a carriage couldn’t be arranged, we ensured that the horse led the funeral procession,” said Aravind Makwana, a Dalit social worker.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rathod’s father Kalu, a farmer, said, “He had pleaded with me for a long time to buy him a horse. I suggested that I would buy him a Bullet motorcycle instead. But he wanted a horse. Eventually, I bought him one around eight months ago. But people from the upper caste couldn’t stand him riding a horse and started threatening us.”
“We own just three bigha of land on which we grow cotton. Keeping a horse is costly and people like us cannot afford it. But then, I had also treated Pradeep like a prince,” said Kalu, who has never been to school. His son had dropped out after Class X and was helping his family at the farm.
Bhavnagar SP, Pravin Mal, said that “prima facie, the victim riding a horse led to his death”.
However, Mal said, “Some people from the village and nearby villages have also complained about his behaviour. They say that he would perform stunts in front of girls near schools, bus stations, etc. That can also be a reason for the attack.”
The three being questioned have been identified as Natubha Darbar from Timbi, and brothers Ghoghubha Gohil and Jitubha Gohil from the neighbouring Piprali village.
According to local police, the incident took place between 6 pm and 7 pm when Rathod was on his way home from the farm.
In his complaint, Kalu said: “Pradeep left for home on horseback while my elder son Rakesh and I stayed back to milk our cow. But when Rakesh and I reached home on our bike, my wife informed us that Pradeep had not reached. Initially, we thought he might be with his friends. But when he did not return till dinner time, Rakesh dialled his number and the calls went unanswered.”
After that, states the complaint, Kalu and Rakesh launched a search for Rathod. “While we were on the road to Keriya village, we spotted three motorcycles coming from the opposite direction. Two of them, with two riders each, took a different road, and the third came towards us. When we asked if he had seen a youth on horseback, he told us he had seen a man lying dead near a check-dam at some distance,” it states.
According to police, Kalu and Rakesh found Rathod lying in a pool of blood, with deep wounds and cuts on his head, throat and right hand. He was rushed to a government hospital in Umrala where he was declared brought dead.
Based on Kalu’s complaint, Umrala police booked Natubha and unidentified men of the Kshatriya community from Piprali for murder and under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
“My son’s love for riding a horse led to his murder. Around a week earlier, while my son and I were going on horseback on the road to Keriya village, a man from the Kshatriya community in Piprali stopped us and warned us to never ride a horse again. He said that Dalits can’t ride a horse and asked us to sell the horse or else he would kill us,” Kalu stated in the complaint.
“Even after that incident, Kshatriya men from Piprali continued to issue death threats to my son. Moreover, Natubha, who is married to a woman from my village, had threatened to kill my son around two weeks ago if he did not give up riding a horse… The men from Piprali and Natubha hatched a conspiracy on March 29 and murdered my son,” Kalu alleged.
Located around 50 km west of Bhavnagar city, Timbi has a population of around 5,000. The village is dominated by Patidars, with about 50 Dalit families making the community the second largest group. There are only around a dozen Kshatriya families in the village.
On Friday, the village was in shock over the killing. “I have never heard of a murder in my village. This is shocking. It’s not that people here don’t have disputes. But things have never escalated to this point,” said Mohan Bhingradiya, a 60-year-old farmer.
“I have never heard of any dispute about a Dalit youth riding a horse,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ahmedabad-based Dalit activist Martin Mackwan said that incidents “like these are unacceptable”. “Dalits in northern Gujarat districts like Banaskantha and Sabarkantha face protests from upper-castes when they ride horses during marriage processions. But this is the first incident when a Dalit has been subjected to such an atrocity for owning a horse. Incidents like this are unacceptable in the 21st century,” he said.