Updated: May 26, 2021 11:14:14 am
ALMOST a week after clashes over alleged encroachment of private property led to several homes of people from the Mahadalit community being burned down and one person being killed in Bihar’s Purnea district on May 19, the issue is still simmering. A string of FIRs have been filed and both the Opposition and the BJP, which is part of the ruling coalition in the state, have called for action against the accused.
Purnea SP Daya Shankar said five people have been arrested so far.
According to police, tension between the two sides was building up for a while in Niyamatpur Majhua village in Purnea’s Baisi block.
It flared up on April 24, when Lakkhi Devi filed a police complaint naming 13 people from the minority community and accused them of burning down her under-construction house and misbehaving with her. In a cross-FIR filed the same day, Mohammad Shabir accused 31 members of Mahadalit community of encroachment and assault, among other charges.
“It was regarding a land dispute…31 people were constructing houses on my land…when I and my wife enquired, they started beating us with lathis and other blunt objects…. Then one man and his wife, Lakkhi Devi, set their own houses on fire,” said Shabir, as quoted in the FIR.
Things came to a head around 11.30 pm on May 19, when a mob allegedly set on fire around 25 homes belonging to people from Mahadalit community and allegedly beat them up, killing a villager named Nevalal Rai.
According to three FIRs registered in this case, people from the minority community came armed earlier in the day and violence took place in Baisi at 6 pm. Later, just before midnight, the complaints stated, a mob of 100-150, comprising people from the minority community, reached the Mahadalit colony and allegedly attacked them. FIRs on the midnight violence were registered under sections of rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, damaging property and under various sections under SC/ST Act.
A few specific sections such as murder, attempt to murder, molestation, assault to disrobe women were added as per the crime.
Chaukidar Dinesh Rai, who was posted there along with another chaukidar, Bharat Rai, told The Indian Express: “On May 19, violence occurred around 6 pm. We informed the police and requested them to deploy forces in the area to avoid any untoward incident. But we were not taken seriously.”
The first FIR of May 20 was registered at the instance of Dinesh Rai, who named seven people from the minority community as accused. Another FIR registered on May 20 was based on a complaint by Newalal’s son Fakira. He named 11 people from the minority community and stated, “There was a land dispute between my father Nevalal and Iliyas and Rizvi. The administration and local residents settled the matter on May 19. Around midnight, when they attacked again, my father could not run away as he was old and the mob beat him to death. They also looted our house and beat up many people.”
The third FIR was registered at the instance of Pinki Devi, a resident of Majhuwa Niyamatpur and belonging to the Mahadalit community, whose house was completely burned down. It named 61 accused belonging to the minority community.
Mohammad Nizam, sarpanch of Khapra Panchayat, under which Majhuwa Niyamatpur village falls, told The Indian Express that land dispute in the area between a few families has “disturbed peace”. He said, “There is no tension between Muslims and the Dalit community. The dispute is between one or two Muslim families and one or two Mahadalit families.”
“The problem started when Mahadalits started living in makeshift houses on the roadside, and they did not want to use their piece of land, which was in the interiors,” Nizam said. “Now, the makeshift houses were adjacent to the house of one Muslim family, which asked them to move to their allotted space. They also claimed that they had bought the land where Dalit families had made their houses.”
“Nobody wants to reach a compromise. I sat in a meeting between the families of both sides, but there was no concrete result,” he said.
Nizam said there was “some lapse” on part of the administration since the matter was pending and small incidents of violence kept recurring. “But I fail to understand how so many people were mobilised by our community…. Many people in the area say they were not part of it. Some said the Muslim families had called in their relatives from outside. I will reiterate: this is not a tension between two communities, but between two or three families.”
Purnea SP Daya Shankar said: “We had earlier registered two FIRs on the April 24 violence based on statements by both parties. On May 19, there was some violence initially and later, violence occurred again, killing one person. There have been lapses at the local police level and we have suspended the SHO of Baisi Police Station and placed a permanent police picket in the area to avoid any further violence.”
The incident soon became political, with BJP leaders visiting the village and seeking immediate action against the accused.
Purnea District Magistrate Rahul Kunar said that in 2010, the government had distributed a plot of land to 46 families from Mahadalit community. “As years passed, their families grew and some started making makeshift houses on empty spaces, which ended up encroaching on private land,” he said. “On May 19, violence broke out over a path. Some hours later, violence occurred again.”
The administration has compensated Nevalal’s family with Rs 4.25 lakh, and will give a similar amount once the charge sheet is filed.
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