Custodial death sparks off violence, brings politicians, Chhattisgarh village fears its new caste equationshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/dalit-man-custodial-death-chhattisgarh-caste-equations-3048617/

Custodial death sparks off violence, brings politicians, Chhattisgarh village fears its new caste equations

The Thakurs have been confined to their homes ever since a 35-year-old Dalit man was allegedly beaten to death by policemen of the nearby Mulmula police station on September 17.

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Hours after Nogre was allegedly beaten to death, a mob attacked the upper castes. Express photo

THE remnants of last weekend still haunt Nariyara. Along the highway between Bilaspur and Janjgir that cuts through this village in Chhattisgarh’s Jangjir Champa district, most shutters are down, and there is very little movement. At the village centre, beside its only bus stand, the streets are peppered with shards of glass.

On one side of the road, a group of police personnel sit on the ground, discussing how long they would be stationed here. They also talk about the people they are guarding — the Thakurs of Nariyara, who live on the other side of the road.

The Thakurs have been confined to their homes ever since a 35-year-old Dalit man was allegedly beaten to death by policemen of the nearby Mulmula police station on September 17.

Satish Kumar Nogre had gone to the electricity sub-station for the second time in two days that Saturday, complaining about a faulty transformer in his part of Sagarpara village. He allegedly got into an argument with Lav Singh, an official at the station. Norge’s family alleges that Nanhe Singh Thakur, a local petrol pump owner who was with the official, called the man in charge of the Mulmula police station, Jitendra Singh Thakur, who allegedly first beat up the Dalit man at the sub-station and then at the police station. Hours later, Nogre coughed up blood, which his son was allegedly made to clean by the thana incharge and other policemen. When Nogre breathed his last, his body was covered with thick purple welts from the assault.

Thus began the division of Nariyara.

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Soon as news of the incident began filtering in, says D B Singh, the eldest of the Thakurs in Nariyara village, he sensed the atmosphere changing. “This is a big village, with several thousand people. Upper castes like us have only about 40 homes, and in that, Thakurs number only around 40. Something like this has never happened here before, but I knew something was wrong. I shut the doors and told everyone to stay inside,” Singh says.

Outside his home, the streets tell the story of the mob that came. House windows bear cracks, the windshield of the only car not sent yet for repairs is half shattered. “It was a matter of 10 minutes. They first went to Nanhe Thakur’s under-construction house, but he wasn’t there. We could hear the mob enter the lane and then exit. On their way out, they broke the windshield of cars, threw stones and abuses. An hour later, we opened the doors,” says Singh. The next morning, an angry group of men, mostly below the age of 30, blocked the main road.

As night fell, Satish Norge’s body arrived and was only cremated after much tense negotiation and many promises. His wife has been promised a government job and the family has been awarded Rs 6 lakh as compensation from different sources. A panicked administration has registered a case of murder against five policemen, including the thana incharge.

The Thakurs say they are mistrustful of “the politics that has now clouded the issue”. “Cheezein gaon valon ke haath mein ab nahi hain (Things are not in villagers’ hands anymore). If they had been, then the communities would have sat together and talked. We would have reminded each other that there is no ill-will between us. Arre, agar us raat todphod nahin hota, to hum khud Nogre ke parivaar ke saath Pamgarh jaate (If there hadn’t been a ruckus that night, we would have ourselves gone to Pamgarh, where the post-mortem was conducted). Those that killed him must pay because he was our brother too. But after the violence, none of us feel safe. Now we are waiting and watching because politics has taken over,” one man says.

The first politician to land up in Nariyara was Chhattisgarh Janata Congress leader Amit Jogi, who for a few hours took part in a sit-in with the angry youth. The Jogis are believed to hold sway over the Dalit satnami community, to which the victim belonged. In Raipur on the same day, state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghe courted arrest, and arrived in Nariyara. T S Singhdeo, the leader of the opposition, wrote letters to the NHRC, accusing the state BJP government of being incapable of protecting the rights of minorities in Chhattisgarh.

Even among the Dalits, who are in a majority in Nariyara, there is a feeling that communities should not let the events of the last week divide them. “It is not as if they (the Thakurs) protected those who killed Satish. For the mistakes of some people, the rest should not be punished,” says Ram Kishan, who lives in one corner of Nariyara.

And yet, there are others who believe that it is politics and caste that has, in this instance, become a potent instrument for justice. “If there had been no pressure on the state government, do you think even an FIR would have been registered? They would have brushed it under the carpet as they always do with our community,” one young man sitting at a paan stall says.

In Nariyara, even if the death took place a week ago, flashpoints still remain. Om Prakash Norge, a relative of the victim, says, “They have registered a case but have made no arrests. None of this compensation will matter if they don’t arrest the accused quickly. And they haven’t registered a case against Lav Singh, only removed him from here, while Nanhe Thakur, who has left the village. We have decided to hold another community meeting and decide what to do if nothing happens.”

Superintendent of Police (Janjgir Champa) Ajay Yadav told The Sunday Express that to arrest the policemen involved, due process would have to be followed. “We will have to get clearance from the Home department. And the police personnel will be stationed there outside the Thakur colony till September 27 at least, which is the tenth day of the death, when there are some ceremonies. That is a possible flashpoint and we want to take no chances,” he says.

Asked if the postmortem report confirmed that Norge was beaten to death, Yadav says, “The postmortem report shows the presence of alcohol, but there is no doubt that it shows multiple injuries. Cardio vascular distress is also mentioned in the report. The viscera has been sent for further medical examination.”

Looking at the restive police personnel sitting outside the bus stand, D B Singh says he is waiting for them to leave.

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“Both communities want peace; we have always lived together. When one of the wheels of our rath stopped working during puja, Mithoo (Satish’s uncle), offered the wheel of his bullock cart. Elections have been won by them because we voted for them and by my family because they voted for us. When all these people from outside leave, and things calm down, then we will talk to each other, and I know things will be better. Till then, we will stay inside our homes and wait.”