The panchayat office in Bhondsi village can only discuss Wednesday’s mob attack on a school bus with children. All the suspects apprehended or arrested a day later are from this Rajput-dominated village and while village elders condemned the violence, many still insist Padmaavat should not have been released.
The mob was protesting the film’s release when they stoned a G D Goenka World School bus as students — ranging from nursery to class XII — huddled on the floor inside. Before that, demonstrators had set fire to a Haryana Roadways bus.
The film opened Thursday in multiplexes and theatres across Gurgaon amid heightened security and several preventive arrests, including Suraj Pal Ammu, the General Secretary of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
Just 500 meters from where the buses were attacked is Bhondsi village, from where police held 18 suspects, including eight minors based on an FIR by Sukhbir, the driver of the roadways bus.
The villagers vehemently deny participating in the protest and have even called for a mahapanchayat Friday. “There is a Mahapanchayat on Friday to discuss these illegal arrests and we may not even unfurl the Tricolour as a mark of protest,” said one villager. The mahapanchayat was announced across the village through loudspeakers.
The grandfather of one of the apprehended suspects said his grandson had reached the scene of the crime only after the incident. “He was going for a football match. He had stopped there for some time when the incident occurred and had no role to play in the incident,” he said. The grandfather, a 75-year-old retired army Subedar said he was not part of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, but asserted that Padmavat should not have been released.
Ravinder Kumar, Gurgaon Police PRO, said, “Ten of the eighteen people held for the school bus incident were majors, and have been remanded to judicial custody for two weeks. The other eight were juveniles, who have been sent to the observation home in Faridabad.”
Another arrested after the incident is Sukhbir (20), the gram panchayat pump operator who managed the tube well. Bhondsi residents said they realised he had been arrested when there was no water supply Thursday morning. His wife Pooja (18) said, “We have nothing to do with this Karni Sena. My husband was only standing there out of curiosity. We are dependent on him to run the house. I just want my husband freed.”
A few hundred meters from Sukhbir’s house is where a 14-year-old orphan, apprehended by police lives with his 70-year-old grandmother. “A child without parents goes off the track but that doesn’t mean he would have such things,” she said. According to her, she had sent her grandson to a ration shop Wednesday afternoon for the monthly ration and she did not hear from him.
“He never showed any violent streak, how could he have put a bus on fire. Villagers tell me the crime was committed by some other group and persons from this village have been wrongly arrested,” she said.
According to Sukhbir’s FIR, 50-60 people with “petrol cans, lathis” had blocked his bus raising “Karni Sena slogans”. “Passengers in the bus realised they would be burnt alive and they jumped out of the bus. The mob even threw stones at a G D Goenka bus that was behind me,” the FIR stated.
D P Singh (68), who has lived in Bhondsi all his life, insisted that the name “Karni Sena” had never been heard in the village before November, 2017. “The children of the village has not even heard the name of Karni Sena till three months ago. It is only after a mahapanchayat was held in the village two months ago that they knew what it was.”
Gurgaon police said the suspects, from Bhondsi village, were produced in a court in Sohna Thursday and remanded to judicial custody, with police saying some “objectionable materials” were also recovered from them.
Villagers said that they don’t support violence as a medium to protest but asserted that Padmaavat distorted history. “(Sanjay Leela) Bhansali should have shown the movie to Karni Sena or the elderly people of the community. He is showing a Rajput princess dancing. Which princess dances?” Singh said.