Thangadh Firing: 6 Years After Dalit Killings, Charges Yet to Be Framed

On September 22 and 23, 2012, three Dalit youth – Mehul Rathod, Pankaj Sumra and Prakash Parmar – were killed allegedly in police firing in Thangadh, Surendranagar district, Gujarat.

Pankaj was 16 years old, Mehul 17, and Prakash was 26 when they succumbed to bullet injuries, while another Dalit youth, 25-year-old Chana Vaniya, survived the injury.

A memorial built by the Thangadh municipality in June 2013 stands in the village in remembrance of those killed. Justice, however, still eludes the victims’ families.

Six years after the incident, even charges have not been framed against the accused.

“The first stage of any case is framing the charges, and then the court starts looking at the evidence. In this case, the charges have not been framed yet. Before the charges could be framed, the lawyer of the accused put an application demanding to quash the case on the basis of being baseless. However, that did not work,” said advocate Vinod Rathod, who is handling the case at Surendranagar district court.

According to him, investigation in the first FIR – in Pankaj Sumra’s case – was over, and the chargesheet has been prepared. However, investigation in the FIRs filed in murder cases of Mehul and Prakash was still underway.

“Another application was filed by the lawyer of accused stating that the three cases should be heard together since they are related. Responding to that application, the Surendranagar court stayed the proceedings in Pankaj’s case, and ordered that the three chargesheets pertaining to the  three FIRs should proceed together. Later, a summary report was submitted by the police to the Surendranagar court. The summary report stated that there was no case and that the FIR should be quashed,” said Rathod.

In 2016, the c-summary report filed by the Gujarat Crime Branch (meaning no offence found against anyone) had led to an uproar and mass protests due to which the police had to retract the summary report. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani then had announced the formation of a special investigation team (SIT) led by Anupam Singh Gehlot, the then police commissioner of Rajkot, to investigate amid demands for a CBI inquiry.

The stay ordered by the Surendranagar court was later challenged in Gujarat High Court, and is being handled by Advocate Anand Yagnik.

‘No Progress in Case’

“It has been two years. There has been no progress in the hearing in the High Court,” said Rathod.

The SIT formed to investigate the incident was supposed to submit its report by August 5, 2018, but it  has not been submitted yet.

In the course of time, two complainants – fathers of the two of the deceased – have passed away. Pankaj Sumra’s father  passed away in 2015, while Prakash’s father died of a heart ailment, three months ago.

While Geetaben and Manjuben, mothers of Pankaj and Prakash, respectively, have resigned to their fate, Valjibhai and Chandrikaben, parents of Mehul, are now the only complainants left to fight the case.

“I don’t think we will get justice,” said Valjibhai Rathod.

KP Jadeja, the then police sub-inspector (PSI), Nathuba Andhuba, the then head constable, Kishoredan Gadhvi, the then constable and BC Solanki, the then second PSI of the local police station, are the four accused in the case. While Solanki has been absconding for the last six years, Jadeja is the son-in-law of Kiritsinh Rana, who was a BJP MLA from Limdi constituency from 1995 to 2017, Minister of Forest and Environment from 2007 to 2012, Minister of Animal Husbandry from 1998 to 2002 and Gujarat BJP secretary from 2003 to 2006. Rana is also considered to be close to BJP President Amit Shah.

“Our demands have not changed. We want a CBI inquiry into the matter, and release of the report submitted by Sanjay Prasad,” said Valjibhai.

The Sanjay Prasad Report

The report submitted by Sanjay Prasad, the then principal secretary of the Social Justice and Development Department, was barred from being released on the grounds that it may incite hatred among sections of the society. In 2013, Dalit activist Kirit Rathod had sought the report through an RTI, but was denied. Later, Rathod approached the Gujarat Information Commission demanding a copy. GIC directed the state home department to reveal the report, except for the part exempted under the RTI Act.

The Home Department, however, invoked section 8(1)(a) and (C) of the RTI Act denying revelation of the report. Under this section, the government is not obliged to share any document that might affect the sovereignty and security of the country, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or leading to incitement of an offence breach of which would cause breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature.

Valjibhai has appealed in the High Court, seeking a copy of the report. Responding to the court’s notice, the Gujarat government said “the report is under consideration of the State”.

“A lot has changed over six years. The momentum of the movement has faded. Two complainants and five witnesses have passed away. The incident had shaken Ambedkarwaas, an area where Dalits reside in Thangadh, but most of us have now resigned and lost hope,” said Danabhai, who was once a member of Dalit Hathyakand Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation formed after the incident.

The organisation was dissolved in 2013 after the victims’ families accused some members of mishandling the money that was donated to the families by various political parties and other organisations.

“Initially, the raw sentiments after the incident kept Dalits of the area united for the cause. But, as time passed, various polemics came into play. The fact that of the families who lost their son that day, we are Chamars (a sub-caste considered lower in hierarchy amongst Dalits) is perhaps why I stand alone today,” said Valjibhai.

“We will fight for our son even if we are alone,” Chandrikaben, mother of Mehul, told Newsclick.

“The government did not do anything to rehabilitate the three families. In fact, activists counselled the families, especially the mothers of the boys,” says Manjula Pradeep, a Dalit activist.

The families received a compensation of Rs 6 lakh over the years from the Gujarat government, apart from donations from other organisations. The sole earning member of three families were the fathers, who were labourers. After the demise of Prakash’s and Pankaj’s father, their mothers have been surviving on widow pension. Valjibhai, who used to work as a labourer in a ceramic factory, has quit his job, as he suffers from a liver ailment.

“He hardly stays at home ever since Mehul died. He would travel all across the state and participate in any programme for a chance to speak about our son and the incident in a frail hope of justice,” said Chandrikaben.

“Losing a son is never easy in our society and not just because of the trauma that comes with losing one’s child. Our relatives and friends would avoid seeing our face in the morning as we are parents of two daughters and have no son,” she added.

Valjibhai and Chandrikaben have built their home near the spot where their son was killed six years ago.

“I want to stay near the place where my son lost his life. It reminds me of the long battle yet to be fought,” said Valjibhai.

TIMELINE

  • September 22 and 23, 2012 – Three Dalit boys killed in two separate incidents of police firing

  • October 2, 2012 – Than Dalit Mahasammelan in wake of the killings took place at Thangadh saw a mammoth gathering of Dalits from all over the state. Around same time, state-wide protests had erupted and hundreds of Dalits were arrested in several districts.

  • November 6, 2012 – RS Bhagora, then Superintendent of Police, Surendranagar files and affidavit in Surendranagar Court stating that police used AK -47 rifles among other weapons to fire at Dalits.

  • February 2013 – KP Jadeja, then Police Sub-Inspector, Yogesh Gadhvi, then constable and Nathubha Andubha, then Assistant Sub-Inspector arrested by CID (Crime). Subsequently KP Jadeja lodged and FIR against 8 Dalits accusing them of criminal offences including attempt to murder. His FIR also stated that many police personnel were injured during riots by Dalits. CID (Crime) took charge of the case, arrested the Dalits. However, they dropped the murder charges against them.

  • May 2013 – CID (Crime) submits its report to the Gujarat government

  • May 2013 – Sanjay Prasad, then Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Development Department submits his report to the government

  • June 2013 – Thangadh municipality agreed to build memorial in remembrance of the three Dalit youth

  • August 2016 – Chief Minister Vijay Rupani decided to form SIT to investigate Thangadh incident after several representation from dalit activists. The issue had come into light again in wake of Una Dalit flogging incident that had happened in July 2016

  • August 5, 2018 – SIT was supposed to submit its report but has not yet.

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