On Friday, seven men in their underwear lined up at Panchodi police station in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district as Inspector General, Human Rights, Bipin Kumar Pandey called them up for questioning one by one.
On February 16, the men, all of whom work at a motorbike service centre, allegedly stripped a 23-year Dalit youth after accusing him of trying to steal money, inserted a screwdriver in his anus and recorded the act on at least two phones.
“They should have respected the law and handed over the two to police,” Pandey said, “Now they are repentant.” The men face an FIR under several IPC sections, including attempt to commit culpable homicide and charges under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
About 12 km from the police station, at Bhojas Gram Panchayat, Bisha Ram (24) sits in a newly built, small room. Next to him is his cousin Panna Ram, 18, who was also assaulted. Behind them are their mothers, Gita and Dapu, respectively.
“Don’t know why they had so much anger for us,” says Bisha, who seems a little dazed due to the incident and the steady stream of politicians and officials visiting him. “Maybe they just wanted to spread fear among Dalits by making us an example.”
Bisha’s remark is backed by some political leaders visiting his home. “The heinous act was done simply to spread fear among the community,” says Madan Dilawar, BJP MLA from Kota’s Ramganj Mandi. Bhanwarlal Bhil, Jodhpur in-charge of BSP, says the act reeks of “a feudal mindset”.
According to Panchaudi SHO Rajpal Singh, six out of the seven arrested are Rajputs and one is a Muslim.
Bisha says that he bought a motorbike “about 7-8 months ago” with a down payment of Rs 20,000 and the rest is to be paid in instalments. “About two instalments of Rs 4,200 each were left. On Sunday, I went to get my motorbike serviced, but Bhim Singh denied the service, saying that I should pay the instalment first,” he said. “The instalment wasn’t even due till the 20th,” says his father Jagdish Ram (47). “The dispute was over the instalment,” insists Bisha.
The family members said during the argument, the staff at the service centre hurled caste abuses at Bisha. “Bisha told them, ‘Aap Thakur ho toh mera kya kar logey? (What can you do to me if you are Thakurs)?” says his uncle Bhura Ram, 29, who identifies himself as an activist.
On February 19, after videos of the incident went viral, an FIR was lodged in connection with the assault. A counter FIR was lodged against Bisha and Panna after Hanuman Singh, manager at the service centre, cited CCTV footage in which Bisha can purportedly be seen stealing money from the cash register. The FIR says the staff was having lunch when Bisha stole Rs 50,000 from the cash register. It is alleged that Singh inserted the screwdriver in Bisha’s anus.
Bisha claims that he was forced to fiddle with the cash register in front of the CCTV. “How is it possible that at a service centre, which has a staff of 12-15 people, there is no one by the cash register and everyone is having lunch,” asks his father Jagdish.
Bisha and Panna have been questioned twice by the police. On February 19, they went to the police station with a complaint against the service centre staff after the videos went viral. According to police, both sides reached a compromise on February 16 after Bisha’s elder brother Durga Ram was called to the service centre and made to pay Rs 5,100 as “fine.”
“Panna and I were detained around 9 am on February 19 when we went to lodge a complaint with our family members. About 5-6 policemen accompanied us back home at about 1 am on February 20. They again took us to the police station at 6 am on February 20 and kept us till 7 pm,” Bisha says.
Bhura says at least two other accused are absconding. The family now demands arrests of all the accused, financial help for the two, trial in a fast-track court, security for the family and proper treatment of the two.
“They were examined by a medical board on Thursday but we have not received a report so far,” says Bhura. Bisha says that his body still aches from the assault. “The duo has been given Rs 50,000 each under provisions of the SC/ST Act,” says Bhura.
Meanwhile, while leaders from both the BJP and Congress are visiting the victims, it is BJP ally Rashtriya Loktantrik Party which has taken up the issue most aggressively. Party chief and Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal was among the first to raise the issue on social media and three party MLAs walked out of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s budget address on Thursday over the incident.
Mainly identified as a Jat party, RLTP has thrown its weight behind the Dalits, apparently to sway the Dalit vote while consolidating its Jat base, since Jats and Rajputs are traditional caste rivals in the state.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines