Dalit activist’s murder exposes toxic caste divide in Himachal

“Anth to ek din Raavan ka bhi ho gaya tha (Ravana was also killed eventually). This is what a resident of Dubor village in Shillai block had to say about the murder of Kedar Singh Jindan, a dalit lawyer, a BSP politician and RTI activist on September 7.

The murder has brought to the fore a toxic caste divide in Himachal, where incidents of caste violence are rare. In Dubor, members of the Rajput caste can barely hide their joy at what they described as “good riddance” to a man “known for encouraging Koli (a dalit caste) men to marry Rajput women”. At the same time they are vehement it was not a murder but an “accident”.

The scene of the alleged crime is Bakrash, a village 20 kms off the Paonta Sahib-Shillai road, close to Paab, Jindan’s native village, but in several villages of Shillai, the responses were similar.

Police have registered a case of murder and under the SC/ST(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and arrested three persons – deputy sarpanch of Barkash Jai Prakash, and two more suspects, Gopal Singh and Karam Singh aka Kaku.

Jindan was allegedly beaten up at the Block Primary Education Office in Bakrash, and then run over by a Scorpio driven by Jai Prakash, better known in the area as JP.

In June, Jindan held a press conference in Shimla, alleging that Jai Prakash’s brother Rajeev Chauhan had managed to get a government job on the basis of a “fake BPL card” with the help of Jai Prakash.

This is one of the angles Sirmaur police is probing as a motive behind the alleged murder of Jindan, who practiced in Shimla as a lawyer and did not visit his village too often due to security fears.

Jai Prakash first informed police that he had accidentally run over Jindan, but officials said, he admitted to murder during interrogation.

From Bakrash to Paab, a distance of about 5 kilometers on which road construction work is on, no one wants to talk about the case.

Jai Prakash’s brother Kuldeep asserts it was an accident. “I learnt that day a man had come under our Scorpio. I asked who was behind the wheel, and was told it was Jai Prakash. Later, I talked to Jai Prakash who said he was going to surrender before the police as there was an accident in which a person got run over. He said there was a problem with the brakes. Other than this, I do not know anything,” said Kuldeep, a government primary teacher.

Jai Prakash, who is unmarried, and Kuldeep and his family live jointly in a well built two-storeyed house. Jai Parkash lives on ground floor and Kuldeep and his family on the upper floor. About the allegations of getting benefits under BPL scheme for family and relatives, Kuldeep Singh said, “We three brothers are independent entities. Rajeev’s financial status was very bad before he got the job. Later, when he improved financially, he was no longer in BPL list.”

Rajeev works as junior engineer with Himachal Pradesh Town and Country Planning department, currently posted in Kasauli. When The Indian Express called him, he said he would call back, but did not, and stopped responding to calls later.

Police believe that “revelations” based on information obtained by Jindan under Right to Information Act had led to a “personal rivalry” between him and Jai Prakash.

Sirmaur Superintendent of Police Rohit Malpani said though the motive had not yet been conclusively established, “frauds highlighted by Jindan which were specific to the village” could have led to the murder.

Malpani said the police had a strong case against Jai Prakash, backed by the testimonies of witnesses, and the post-mortem report which according to him mentions “injuries by sticks” and “a crushed head”. The witnesses are at the moment in the protective custody of police.

The three are Raghuvir Singh, Suresh and Jagdish Chand, said a police officer. The first two have recorded their statements in court under section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code.

Jagdish Chand, as per the officer, was a complainant in an Schedule Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act case against Jai Prakash and his brother Kuldeep Singh. The case was registered in March this year and brothers were out on bail, said the police officer.

Raghuvir is the son of a Paab resident Nain Singh at whose place Jindan stayed, the night before the alleged murder. Suresh is Jindan’s nephew.

“It is good riddance. People were fed up of him,” said a resident of Kafota, located on Paonta Sahib-Shillai road, 30 kilometers from Bakrash.

A shopkeeper in Sataun recalled how Jindan was thrashed by a group of men and women last year. They were family members of an upper-caste girl from a nearby village who had married a Koli boy. They were upset with Jindan for facilitating and providing legal support to the couple in the inter-caste marriage.

In Dubor, one resident said: “Castes have been created by God. Till some years ago, people of castes like Koli were dependent on upper caste people for food and other necessities. We fed them. It cannot be tolerated now if someone encourages Koli men to marry women of upper caste. This is extreme.”

In Timbi, a woman said: “Some people with vested interests are calling it a murder. It is not a murder, but an accident.”

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