With the cloud of a civil suit hanging over his head, Tala Marandi, Jharkhand BJP’s first tribal chief, held his first party meeting as the state unit president in Ranchi on Tuesday —party functionaries called it a routine meeting.
About 350 km from the state capital, at the Marandis’ native Itahari village of Godda district in the heart of Santhal Parganas, however, things look hardly routine for the father-son duo. It’s confusion all around, like the grey of the overcast sky.
The district administration has moved the court against Marandi and his son, Munna, accusing the latter of marrying a minor girl. Munna also faces a court-ordered FIR for allegedly sexually abusing another minor girl after promising to marry her.
It now turns out Munna’s ‘wife’ is a cousin of the girl who complained against him.
The Marandis, as also the girl’s father, deny she is a minor.
At Bara Simra, a rehabilitation colony constructed by Eastern Coalfields Limited, about 30 km from Godda town and 10 km from Itahari, the girl’s family appeared reluctant to talk. Responding to persistent knocks on the door, a woman, who claimed to be the girl’s aunt but was reluctant to tell her name, said her father was at work, and the mother, too, was not home.
“All I know is, she is a mature girl. I came here seven years ago, so I don’t know when she was born,” she said. She also confirmed that Munna’s ‘wife’ is a cousin of the girl who has alleged sexual abuse.
At her school — SDN Academy in Mahagama — principal Deep Narayan Mandal maintained that the date of birth of a student is registered only after an official document supporting it is made available by the parents.
“I was surprised when officers like the Block Development Officer and the Sub-Divisional Officer visited my school. I showed them whatever I had on record about the girl,” Mandal said, adding that the primary section in-charge knows the document submitted by her parents.
Primary section in-charge Devendra Kumar said the girl took “formal” admission in Class I in 2010-11 session. Kumar also parried the question on documents, saying, “I am not sure what documents were submitted but we usually take the parents’ word.”
Mandal had given a copy of the admission register and a handwritten letter on his official letterhead to the district administration about the girl’s date of birth in school records — July 25, 2005, which makes her less than 11 when she married Munna on June 27.
At Marandi’s three-storey house, a BJP worker, unwilling to state his name, said with the state BJP president away, “people have been advised to avoid unidentified people”. Maintaining that the girl is “not a minor”, he alleged that it is a conspiracy by opposition JMM to sully Marandi’s name, and thereby halt the BJP’s progress in the tribal districts.
Godda district BJP chief Rajiv Kumar Mehta also said, “She looks mature and much older than 11 years, as is being said. We have already demanded that a medical board be constituted to determine her age.”