Eleven-year-old Neeraj Kumar knew how important he was for the future of his family. His parents frequently told him he was the only child they could afford to send to school. The only indulgence he was allowed was watching television at a roadside dhaba near his hut.
On Monday night,at the dhaba where Neeraj watched TV – and did not work – he was told to wash dishes by a customer. When he refused,he was reminded that he was a Dalit and shot dead.
Three days after his death,his family has still found no time to grieve. I work as a labourer at a factory. For the past month,it has been shut and Ive tried to earn money by cutting sugarcane. My 15-day-old daughter has chest congestion and needs medicines. Her 3-year-old sister is always hungry. I dont even have time to remember my Neeraj, his father Roopchand said.
He remembers sending his son to get milk at 11:15 pm Monday night. Fifteen minutes later,the dhaba owner,Gokul Singh,came running and told him his son had been shot.
Singh said the accused,Jagpal Pandit,arrived at the dhaba on the Saharanpur crossing at 11 pm. He used to come every day and was usually drunk. On Monday,he kept asking someone to clean the table and the dirty plates. The boy (Neeraj) was watching TV inside and Jagpal called out to him, Singh said.
When Neeraj approached Jagpal,he was asked to clear the table. Neeraj refused and said he didnt work there. Jagpal got angry and whipped out a pistol. He removed the magazine,put it in his pocket and threatened the child. Neeraj told him he went to school and reiterated that it wasnt his job. Jagpal used a derogatory term and shot him. There must have been a bullet left in the chamber because the weapon fired. For some reason,Neeraj was laughing before he was shot,and then he slumped to the side, Singh said.
Realising what he had done,Jagpal fled the spot. Policemen from a nearby chowki gave chase. But he disappeared into the sugarcane fields. Since he lives nearby,we waited at his house. But for the past three days,he hasnt come to the area, an officer said.
Prakash Kumar,DSP Shamli,said,We registered case\s both of murder and under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act because of the caste slurs that he used.
Incidentally,Jagpals family isnt that different from the victims. Jagpal works as a labourer at a farm and his two daughters work as domestic helps in Shamli town. But Jagpal was a Brahmin and Neeraj a Dalit,which is why there was pride. That has never changed in these parts, Singh said.