The state government says every death, including those of a TV reporter and a Jabalpur medical college dean this weekend, will be investigated while activists and the Opposition are calling it a “larger conspiracy”.
And, in the hothouse of Madhya Pradesh politics, even the number of deaths allegedly linked to the Vyapam scam is under dispute — officials pegged it at 25 last week, a High Court-monitored probe recorded 35 and activists over 40.
But as each death becomes grist for the rumour mills, The Indian Express went knocking at the doors of the grieving families to hear their stories — from a death due to cancer to a motorcycle accident and even suicide.
There was one common theme for many though: “stop this police harassment, leave us alone”.
Even last Friday, police officers visited many of these families to collect certificates and documents related to the deaths. “We have fresh instructions to collect information on all the scam-accused who have died, even if they succumbed to illness,” said an officer in Morena.
“I will not go into details but it is not like somebody has reached any blanket conclusion about these cases. All the deaths — be it an accident or a suicide — registered with the police here and in other districts of the state are being thoroughly investigated,” Adarsh Katiyar, IGP, Gwalior zone, told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, the distraught families wait for answers.
‘Did not look like suicide’
Cause of death: Suicide
Rinku’s body was recovered from a house in Jhansi on April 21, 2013, with police concluding that it was a case of suicide by hanging.
Hailing from Ambah in Morena, Rinku left for Gwalior in 2008 after clearing his Class XII exam, said his brother Mahavir Sharma.
“He fell into bad company. After a couple of years, he set up coaching centres for students in Gwalior, placed big ads in the local press. Then he went bankrupt,” said Sharma.
He added that news of Rinku’s alleged involvement in the Vyapam scam shocked their father Siaram, who died of brain haemorrhage at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital a few months before his son’s death.
Mahavir claimed that Rinku’s body was found lying on the floor under a ceiling fan on which there was no sign of any rope having been tied. “I saw blood coming out of his ears and mouth, nail marks on his forehead and swelling in the head. It definitely did not look like suicide,” said Sharma.
But police dismissed his objections, alleged Sharma, adding that he “got a death certificate and the body, that’s all”.
Rinku’s brother claimed the family is being “harassed” by police even now. “Last week, an officer from the STF (Special Task Force to probe the scam) called up from Bhopal to record my statement and asked for Rinku’s contacts. How do I know? After his suicide, they did not hand over any of his possessions, not even his mobile phone. What could this boy have to do with such a mega scam anyway?” asked Sharma.
“I lost everything to fund my father’s treatment. Today, I live in a rented house and run this rented medical shop. I have three kids to raise. I had even published an advertisement disowning Rinku. It is up to the government to investigate, I have nothing to do with it anymore,” said Sharma.
‘We should be spared’
Cause of death: Accident
Devendra Nagar, the only earning member of his family, died in a motorcycle accident on December 26, 2013. He is survived by wife Manju, who lives with his parents Asaram and Ramkatori at their ancestral home in Birkhadi village near Gohad in Bhind district. Nagar also left behind two sons — Yogesh (9) and Ayush (6).
“My elder son stays separately with his wife and children. I am 70 years old, and forced to work as a daily wager to support this family. Our finances have been poor since Devendra died,” said Asaram.
The family also complained of “constant harassment” by police. “On June 25, I received a notice asking me to reach Bhopal to record my statement. I spent whatever little money I had on the train fare. How many times will they record my statement? My son is long dead, we should be spared,” said Asaram.
family is evasive about the charges against Devendra — acting as a middleman in the recruitment of police constables.
Do they suspect any foul play in his death? “It was a collision of two motorcycles. The other person broke his leg. We don’t know, the police should tell us,” said Asaram.
‘How will I raise my kids?’
Banti Sikarwar, 32
Cause of death: Suicide
Banti Sikarwar was 32 when he hanged himself at his ancestral home in Gwalior’s Sainik Colony two days ahead of Republic Day last year, said his maternal grandmother, Bitti Devi, wife of a soldier who fought in the 1962 Indo-China war.
Bitti Devi stays with the widow of her grandson and their two children — Mohini (6) and Sumit (3). Bitti Devi raised Banti after he lost his mother at an early age and his father remarried.
“Nani gets Nana’s pension of Rs 19,000 a month. But it will stop once she is gone. How will I raise my two children on the meagre rent that comes from one half of this house?” asked Banti’s widow Mala, who is a B Ed and preparing for a school job.
Bitti Devi, however, is not ready to look beyond the tragedy. “How do I know what Banti was up to? He was roaming around town all day, but I never thought he was involved in something that could take his life,” she said.
Mala said her husband never shared anything with her. “They say he was a middleman [in the Vyapam scam]. Even if that is true, how big could his crime be that he had to suddenly kill himself?” she asked.
Bitty Devi was so devastated that she destroyed every photo of her grandson. “One day, when I was at my mother’s house in Kanpur, she burnt everything, including his Voter ID and Aadhar card. It’s a big problem now to produce papers even if I try to seek some relief for my children,” said Mala.
Both Bitti and Mala refused to talk about the STF.
‘Driver lost control’
Cause of death: Road accident
Dinesh died in a road accident near Joura in Morena district on February 14, 2014.
At his ancestral home in Devgarh village, his widow Manju and their two children — daughter Muskan (10) and son Adat (7) — live with her mother-in-law Rambeti, younger brother-in-law Dilip and sister-in-law Renu.
“He used to work as a security guard in Morena. On that day, he was walking with a cousin when a four-wheeler hit them. The cousin survived,” recalled Dinesh’s uncle Banwari.
Dilip does odd jobs, and the family has been struggling since Dinesh’s death. “The money is never enough. The children go to school and I have an unmarried daughter,” said Rambeti.
The family recalled that the STF came calling a month after the accident. “Policemen keep coming. We are not educated. We don’t know about Dinesh’s involvement in any scam or what the police want from us,” said Banwari.
Rambeti said they did not suspect any conspiracy behind the accident. “It was raining that day. So probably the driver lost control, but the police should investigate,” she said.
‘The shock killed him’
Cause of death: Cancer
Anantram Tagore, a resident of Uttampura in Morena, died of cancer on November 7, 2012. Accused of getting his son Jagdish a job in the Railway Protection Force (RPF) through the Vyapam scam, he was diagnosed with cancer in the kidney two years before his death.
“The shock of witnessing his son’s career going bad killed him,” claimed Anantram’s wife Kalavati.
Anantram’s elder son Hemraj, a veterinary doctor, lives next door but cut off all links with Jagdish in a newspaper advertisement. “A few months back, Jagdish missed a court date and I was summoned. Policemen visit us regularly. My grandmother, my wife and children get worried every time someone comes knocking,” said Hemraj.
Kalavati insisted that her husband led an honest life. “All he wanted was to secure Jagdish’s future. And all that the poor boy does now is make the rounds of the courts. How many times do they want to ask the same questions?” she asked.
‘This is murder’
Cause of death: Heart attack
Narendra Singh Tomar’s name did not figure in the state government’s list of those dead but he died in Indore jail two days before the official list was released last Monday.
An assistant veterinary officer, Tomar was arrested on February 17 for his alleged role in helping scorers’ — imposters who write papers for candidates — in pre-medical tests in 2009.
Tomar complained of chest pain and was declared ‘brought dead’ at Maharaja Yashwant Rao Hospital.
The day his last rites were performed, people in his hometown Porsa in Morena observed a bandh. At a condolence meet, his father Kailash Tomar said the “backbone” of his family was broken. Today, Narendra’s elder brother Pramod helps his father in the fields while younger brother Vikram teaches at a school in Ujjain.
“I have two unmarried daughters and I lost my main support,” said Kailash.
The family claimed that Narendra’s mother and elder brother spoke with him on his mobile at around 6pm that day. “It was a normal conversation. And we get a call at 3am telling us he expired,” said Tomar’s cousin Sandeep.
“We don’t want any relief from the government. But it is our right to know how my brother died. He had no health issues. This is murder. We’ll not give up till we have the answer,” said Sandeep.
(To be concluded)