Guddi Devi knew it was coming. Her 25-year-old son Sandeep would be hacked to death, so would she be. She would keep a watch over Sandeep 24X7, even at the ground where he’d play cricket with his friends. “She accompanied us to the playground, to the market, everywhere,” says Sandeep’s friend refusing to be named.
Death finally came at home. On May 11, Sandeep and Guddi Devi were shot dead in their house in Ghirai in Haryana’s Hisar district. Their killers drove away with the bodies and dumped them beside a highway in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan, about 300 km away.
The Haryana Police has identified five accused, and all are family: Sandeep’s step-brothers, constable Daljeet and ex-constable Jagit; his step-sisters, inspector Satya Bala and sub-inspector Raj Bala; and Daljeet’s wife Darshana. Except Jagjit, all are under arrest.
Murders are not new to Ghirai. Each family in the village of 10,000 has seen one. And yet, the blood feud in the family of Randhir Singh Boora alias Pehelwan — involving eight killings over 32 years —has shaken the village. At the centre of the feud is a 70-acre land, claimed by Pehelwan’s three wives, for their children, 10 in all.
It all began in 1983 when, recalls sarpanch Narinder, “an ugly fight broke out between Pehelwan’s first wife Phoola Devi and second wife Ram Pyari over property for their children”. Pehelwan, a wrestler who lived off money from his property, had no say in the matter and “Ram Pyari and her children always dominated him”, say villagers.
Soon, Phoola Devi, her sons Baljeet and Amarjeet, Pehelwan’s mother and another woman relative were found slaughtered in the family’s fields. The police arrested Ram Pyari along with her sons Daljeet and Jagjit, then 14 and 15, respectively. The sessions court sentenced Ram Pyari to death and Daljeet and Jagjit to life terms, which was later commuted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to life and eight years respectively.
It was while Ram Pyari was in Hisar jail in 1986 that Pehelwan married for a third time, to Guddi Devi. Daljeet and Jagjit, meanwhile, completed their education from inside prison.
In 1994, when Phoola Devi’s third son Kuldeep died, apparently in a road accident, Pehelwan suspected murder. In a police complaint, he accused Ram Pyari’s children Satya Bala, Raj Bala, Manjeet and Anita of murder, and said they had acted on the behest of their mother. The police took no action on his complaint.
Ram Pyari was released in 2000, after a review of her sentence concluded she need not serve time for life. By now, Satya Bala and Raj Bala had joined the Chandigarh Police. Daljeet and Jagjit joined them there, and applied for the post of constables.
After they were recruited, Guddi Devi complained to the police that the two had been convicted for murder. An inquiry was held, and the two were dismissed from service. But they were reinstated after they made an appeal to then home secretary N K Jain.
With Phoola Devi and all her children eliminated, Pehelwan’s land had two claimants — Ram Pyari and her six children on the one hand, and Guddi Devi and her only child, Sandeep, on the other.
Villagers say Ram Pyari and Guddi Devi never spoke to each other. Matters took a turn for the worse when Pehelwan died of a heart attack in 2010 and left behind a will dividing his property between his seven remaining children.
The same year, Sandeep, then a 20-year-old, allegedly shot at Daljeet, then 42, over the possession of a house in which Pehelwan, Guddi Devi and Sandeep lived. (Pehelwan had three houses, one for Guddi Devi and Sandeep, one for Ram Pyari and her children, and a third house). Daljeet survived and Sandeep was arrested. Four years later, when the latter was released, he decided not to return to Ghirai, fearing retribution.
“Till January this year, Sandeep lived with his maternal uncles at Pabra village in Barwala. He returned to Ghirai after reaching a settlement with Jagjit and Daljeet over a 12-acre patch of land Pehelwan had left behind, and the ownership of which Sandeep had won in court,” says ASP (Hisar) Jashandeep Singh Randhawa.
But Daljeet and Jagjit had their reasons for striking the deal, says Sandeep’s friend who didn’t want to be named. They wanted to “avenge their brother Manjeet’s murder”. Last year, Manjeet had been found dead, his body burnt. Sandeep, says Randhawa, was a “natural suspect” and was picked up. But investigations led the police to Manjeet’s business partner Kapil.
Ram Pyari and her children, though, were convinced that Sandeep, not Kapil, was the culprit and allegedly planned to get him killed. “Jagjit hired eight contract killers for Rs 30 lakh to eliminate Sandeep, but before they could do anything, the Haryana Police arrested them,” says Randhawa.
Guddi Devi, he adds, gave a written statement exonerating Jagjit in the plot to kill Sandeep. After this act of goodwill, Jagjit and Daljeet’s wife Darshana often visited Sandeep and Guddi’s home. The police believe that they were only preparing for D-day. “A few days before the incident, Darshana came from Chandigarh for a reconnaissance,” says the ASP.
On May 11, between 1 pm and 1.30 pm, two men and a woman, their faces covered, came in a Ford Ikon, barged into Guddi’s house, and allegedly fired at the mother and son. While Guddi, 50, sustained two bullet injuries, Sandeep was shot seven times. He had almost jumped over the boundary wall to the neighbour’s house when the assailants shot him the final time.
Villagers refuse to talk about the incident. Kavita, the neighbour to whose house Sandeep was trying to flee, says she was not at home when the shooting took place. Mange Ram, who runs a store, says he was asleep. Two other neighbours, including the sarpanch’s brother Kuldeep, say they thought the shots were fired at a wedding nearby.
“There was no wedding,” says Sandeep’s friend, as he takes The Sunday Express around the run-down five-room house. The two rooms where Sandeep and Guddi Devi lived — the other three rooms were locked — were ransacked and a small LCD television lay smashed on the floor.
The house did not have a fan even. “Everyone knew what was happening. No one wants to tell the police anything,” he says.
The Haryana Police have registered a case of “abduction for the purpose of murder”, house trespass and murder against Satya Bala, Raj Bala, Daljeet and his wife Darshana, and Jagjit at the Sadar Hansi station.
Jagjit, who is still absconding, had taken voluntary retirement last October from the police after Manjeet’s murder.
Ram Pyari is being questioned along with another of her daughters, Anita, who is married and lives in Karnal.
Chandigarh Police say the four siblings employed in the force had an “unblemished service record”. In line with Ghirai’s reputation of producing champion athletes, mostly women, Satya Bala is a national-level discus-throwing champion and Raj Bala a shooting champion. But the village has now earned another reputation — for blood feuds.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines