“Ye horse wala case hai na? Compensation diya hai parivar ko? Kya status hai case ka? (Isn’t it the case involving the horse. Have you paid the compensation? What is the status of the case?)”, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member Jyotika Kalra asked Bhavnagar Superintendent of Police P L Mal on Thursday while hearing a petition on the murder of a 21-year-old Dalit youth at Timbi village in Bhavnagar last month. Pradeep Rathod was killed allegedly by upper caste men as they were not happy with him owning and riding a horse.
Mal on Thursday told The Indian Express that police are yet to make any arrest in the murder case. “What steps have you taken to ensure there is no repetition (of such incidents)?” Kalra further asked the SP. “The compensation has been paid to the family… Since then, police have been patrolling the area to ensure peace,” Mal replied. “Write to the (Bhavnagar) District Magistrate to hold meetings of community leaders at regular intervals, involve religious leaders also in these meeting, so that such incidents don’t occur again,” Kalra told the SP.
In less than five minutes, the NHRC panel disposed of the two petitions — filed by one Dr Ashu Kumar and Aditya Mishra — in connection with the incident that had led to protests by Dalits.
The hearing was part of a two-day “open hearing session” camp organised by the NHRC in Ahmedabad to take up about 155 cases of human rights violations, including those of SC/ST victims, in Gujarat and adjoining Union Territories of Daman & Diu and Dadara & Nagar Haveli. Superintendents of Police and Collectors of at least 20 districts on Thursday attended the camp along with complainants.
On Thursday, the cases were heard separately by NHRC chairman Justice (retd) H L Dattu and three Commission members — Jyotika Kalra, D Murugesan and P C Ghose. On Friday, the NHRC chairman and other members will hold a joint sitting for some of the important cases.
Later, speaking to The Indian Express, Bhavnagar SP said that the probe in the murder of the Dalit youth is still on. “The investigation is still going on to nab the culprit. We have detained several people for questioning, but no one has been arrested as yet,” he said.
Police had earlier claimed that six persons were detained for questioning in connection with the murder. Many Dalit activists had expressed unhappiness with the police probe after some senior officials claimed that Rathod used to perform stunts on horseback whenever he encountered girls in the area. Calling it as an attempt by the police to malign the Dalit youth’s character, activists had threatened to launch protests.
While hearing another case, NHRC member Kalra scolded a team of government officials who had brought villagers as witnesses to prove that “toilets were constructed in the school and villages”. “This is unprecedented,” remarked Kalra adding, “I have hardly seen government officials bringing witnesses rather than proof on papers.”
Similarly, she questioned why no action was taken against a trust for procedural lapse in handling children in an orphanage in Bhuj district. In this case, the complainant alleged that over two dozen children had gone missing from the orphanage, and after several months it was found that they had reached their homes. But the trustees, who run the orphanage, were never held accountable.
Kutch Collector Remya Mohan told Kalra that the children had gone on their own and their parents never complained, so no action was taken against the trustees. “There was a lapse. You please issue notice to the trustees. They are responsible for it, based on which inferences can be drawn. It seems that they are not capable of running the orphanage. Please issue them notice under juvenile justice act,” the NHRC members directed the Collector.