At 1.30 pm Saturday, Satish Kumar Norge, a resident of a village in Sagarpara, called his family to inform them that he was at Mulmula police station and that he had been beaten severely. He breathed his last within the next four hours, his body covered with thick purple welts from the alleged assault.
According to the family, Satish, along with some other Sagarpara residents, had gone to the electricity sub-station in Nariyara at around 11 am that day to complain about lack of power supply for three days, reportedly due to a faulty transformer.
Rahul Norge, his cousin, told The Indian Express, “The official there, Lav Singh, told him (on Friday) it would be fixed by evening. But Friday night too was the same. So Satish went again on Saturday. But this time they were abusive and there was an argument… ‘Jab hoga tab hoga,’ he was told. When he protested, they began beating him up, and called the thana in-charge, Jitendra Singh Rajput, as well.”
Satish’s death has left the Dalit-majority village, with more than 500 homes, divided on caste lines. The village has a small population of upper-caste Thakurs, but there has always been peace among the communities. Yet in this instance, villagers believe, caste was a factor.
“Lav Singh, of the electricity sub-station, and another man called Nanhe Singh Thakur called the thana in-charge and said that Satish was misbehaving. The thana in-charge took their side and also started assaulting Satish. He then took him to Mulmula police station where the assault continued. We have no fight with the Thakurs, but if Satish was one of them, nobody would have dared lay a hand on him for something as small as this,” Norge said.
The family said that when Satish called from Mulmula police station, he sounded breathless and in pain. By the time his wife, brother, two schoolgoing children and sarpanch of the village reached the police station, which is 3 km from the village, they were told he had been taken to Pamgarh police station.
Sarpanch Sukh Sagar Sonvani said that when they arrived in Pamgarh, Satish could barely speak. “All he could do was ask for water. He asked for three glasses and began showing his injuries. His entire body was covered in thick purple welts. They had hit him for hours. He threw up blood in front of us. The policemen at the station made Prakash, his elder son, take a bucket and clean the police station. I folded my hands and asked the thana in-charge to charge him and let him go for medical attention. He said he would not until he paid a Rs 25,000 fine,” Sonvani said.
“In front of the thana, he (Rajput) said that he had hit him because he was arguing needlessly,” added Rahul. After Satish’s death, the administration suspended Rajput, followed by two constables. Later, two officials of the electricity board were also removed.
A day after the death, the village remained on edge. Armed with sticks and iron roads, close to 200 villagers blocked a road Sunday, even as policemen kept vigil on streets. The protesters demanded a case of murder against the accused.
“His wife must be given a government job, “ said D K Rai, a protester. Other voices drowned him out. “Don’t even talk of compensation. We want nothing from them. Just justice. Bring those killers here, and we will deal with them. They think just because we are satnamis we will do nothing,” said one protester.
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Twenty kilometres away, the police and district administration were dealing with another irate crowd outside the Pamgarh autopsy room. Only by 5 pm, a full day after his death, was the postmortem complete. Emissaries were sent back and forth from Pamgarh to Nariyara, asking people to stay calm when the body returned.
With senior police officers camping in the area, the police maintained that while the errant personnel had been suspended because of prima facie evidence, a case could not be registered because a preliminary inquiry had to be carried out first by a judicial magistrate.
IGP (Bilaspur Range) Vivekananda said, “The norms in case of a custodial death are clearly laid out and have all been followed. An inquiry by a judicial magistrate has been ordered, and a postmortem conducted. We have also sent a report to the NHRC. Any case by the police will now be based on the independent judicial inquiry and postmortem
report. We have taken the case with all seriousness.”
By 6 in the evening, led by the SP and district collector, the body was brought back to Nariyara. By 8 pm, a government JCB arrived to dig the grave. The body was lowered into the grave in the light of the JCB’s headlights and mobile phone torches. Most parts, like Nariyara, were shrouded in darkness.
With opposition parties in the state latching on to the issue, CM Raman Singh announced Rs 1 lakh ex-gratia and promised swift action.