The Madhubani muddlehttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/the-madhubani-muddle/

The Madhubani muddle

Before ‘murdered’ teenager was found alive with girlfriend

Prashant Kumar Jha and his girlfriend Priti,both 17 and classmates,were holidaying in hill stations when Madhubani was going through violent protests over Prashant’s supposed murder. By the time the Delhi police found the teens,two innocents had been killed in police firing and mobs had torched or damaged half a dozen block offices and police stations in the Bihar district. And Prashant’s family had cremated a body supposed to be his.

In the days leading to the protests,Prashant’s family had refused to give the police DNA samples for a match with the body,which had been recovered,without the head,on October 3. In fact,a medical board had ruled that the body belonged to an older man,around 25,but large crowds went on protest demanding that it be handed over to the family.

The protesters were also angry about the rush with which police had arrested Jageshwar,Prashant’s elderly grandfather,which the family alleged was a result of pressure on the police from the girl’s father,Jagatpati Choudhary,district programme officer (now transferred). The boy’s father,Rajeev Jha,works in a private firm in Delhi.

With the Opposition targeting the government for its handling of the protests,Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a judicial probe into what led to the firing.

‘Reluctant’ family

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A senior police officer said the boy’s family had been unccoperative. On October 5,two days after the headless body was found,Prashant’s mother,Vinita Devi,claimed it was that of her son. “She identified the body not on the basis of any birthmarks but because of the colour of the underwear and an amulet. This unscientific approach was unacceptable,” said the police officer.

Madhubani SP Saurav Kumar set up a five-member medical board whose report,on October 6,said the body was that of a 25-year-old man,not of a teenager. As the family kept demanding the body for cremation and public pressure mounted,police decided on a DNA test to prove the body was not Prashant’s. When they sought a sample from Prashant’s mother,the family refused. A local court refused to interfere.

The police say they asked the family to at least give an affidavit claiming the body was Prashant’s. The family still refused.

The protests had mounted by then. First a group of people had arrived at the Madhubani town police station from the boy’s village,Arer. On October 11,Prashant’s mother and grandmother,Chhema Devi,had sat on a fast before district collectorate. The next day,when they refused to sign an affidavit,the violence erupted,leading to the firing.

Today,Vinita Devi says the family is extremely sorry for what happened. “We were in shock,” she says. “We did not know about scientific investigations. We just wanted the body to cremate.”

Police have noted some inconsistencies between the attitudes of various members of the family. Prashant’s elder brother Manish Jha stayed out of Madhubani while his father Rajeev stayed at home while the rest of the family was out on the streets. At a time when Prashant was supposedly dead, Manish was “not willing to divert his focus from studies in Delhi”,according to Vinita Devi’s explanation.

The police are also probing who financed the teens’ trips to Ranchi,Jammu and Darjeeling and finally Delhi.

“We are investigating the case thoroughly and will question everyone connected to the case in any way,” Bihar DGP Abhayanand said.

Policing ‘lapses’

The hurried arrest of Prashant’s grandfather — following a complaint by the girl’s family — was the first provocation. The tension started building up towards the end of September but there appeared to have been no serious attempt at defusing it during the days leading to the violence. And after it erupted,the police handed over the body despite the medical board’s ruling that it belonged to a 25-year-old man.

At Monday’s janata darbar,Nitish Kumar admitted there had been lapses. The IG (Darbhanga range),and Madhubani’s SP and DM have been transferred. Shortly after Nitish’s admission,word came that the teens had been found. “All’s well that ends well,” said Nitish,who had to cancel his Adhikar Ydatra to Ara and Buxar because of the violence.

Prashant’s family alleged that the police never made any serious attempt to search for Prashant. They said the discovery was a fluke and not because of Bihar police’s efforts. His grandfather said,“They could not ascertain the identity of the headless body,which gave us the impression that it was Prashant’s.”

‘Outside hand’

Police have not ruled out the possible involvement of local goons and politicians. “The violence in which half a dozen government installations were set on fire looked orchestrated. While it was natural for Basopatti residents to protest the killing of a village boy in the Madhubani firing,the violence at other places has to be looked into,” said a Madhubani police officer.

The RJD,LJP and the Left parties,which called a bandh on Tuesday,continued to blame the state government for deteriorating law and order. Opposition leader AB Siddiquei said: “It has become a fashion to blame the Opposition. Though the missing boy is alive,it does not exempt the government. Who will take responsibility for the two killings in police firing and the damage to public property worth crores?”

LOST & FOUND

September 7: Prashant and Priti go missing

September 8: Missing report registered at Town Police station,Prashant’s grandfather arrested,later released

October 3: A decapitated body recovered

October 5: Prashant’s mother claims it is that of her son

October 6: A medical board concludes the body is that of a 25-year-old. Family insists it is that of Prashant and registers a murder case against Priti’s father and others

October 7: Police insists on DNA test and wants sample from Prashant’s mother,family refuses

October 10-11: Over two dozen people from Arer village protest at Madhubani; Prashant’s mother and grandmother sit on fast at district collectorate

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October 12: Police ask Prashant’s mother for an affidavit,family refuses and violence erupts. Two killed in police firing

October 13: Body given to family,creamated

October 15: Prashant and Priti found holidaying in Delhi