The room in which a once happy family of four was sleeping on the night of 20 October in Sunped, Haryana now smells of burnt flesh and blood. The flames that leapt through the room left their mark on the walls and partially burnt the bed on which two-year-old Vaibhav and 10-month-old Divya slept. The fire took their lives and severely injured their parents.
“It must have been around 3 am when the killers, Rajputs from the same village, threw petrol through the grills of the window,” alleges Jitender, father of the children. “The doors were locked and before we could react, the damage was already done. My two children and wife had received critical burns before the main door could be opened.”
It was around 3 pm when this correspondent reached the village where the atrocity took place. The village, which until then had little claim to fame, now swarms with police forces, vip vehicles and media of all hues. The killers succeeded in not just murdering the kids, but also in bringing the remote village to notice, albeit for horrifying reasons.
The gutted house was filled with vips and yet, the cries of the women were the only audible noise. The scenes were so drastically different to what the poor family was accustomed to, that they were overwhelmed. Jitender, whose hands and feet were severely burnt, sat in the courtyard narrating the tale to a stream of journalists. The scene was reminiscent of Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadah’s lines: Today my body was a TV massacre that had to fit in the sound bites and word limits.
It was ironic that just a hundred metres from the house, several villagers were watching Ram Leela, that theatrical enactment of the victory of Ram over Ravan during the nine-day Navratri festivities. While the audience cheered the victory of good over evil, other ‘Ravans’ were at work at the house of late Vaibhav and Divya.
The official police version is that the incident is an outcome of a feud between two families and that security was already being provided to the victims’ family, as they had complained of receiving threats. However, local Dalits say tension had been simmering between the Dalits and the upper castes in the village for the past one year. It started with a trivial issue: a fight between kids of the two communities over a mobile phone that fell down the drain.
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The Dalits allege that the upper caste Rajputs asked their kids to fetch the phone from the drain in an apparent act of casteism. Rajputs, on the other hand, deny this, saying no one would dare to give such a demeaning order to the Dalits in these times. After this incident, three Rajputs were murdered, allegedly by the Dalits, in October 2014. But the Dalit families living in the village refute the allegations. “There is no question of murder. How will we murder someone when we do not even have weapons to defend ourselves?” asks a local Dalit man.
The police has so far arrested three suspects in connection with the triple murder and booked nine others. According to a source within the police, Desh Raj, whom the Dalits accuse of being part of the group that committed the arson, was a complainant in the case. According to the fir, Desh Raj’s relatives — Pappu, Indaral and Bharatpal — were allegedly stabbed to death by the 11 Dalits, including two brothers of Jitender.
At around 4 pm, there was a sudden hustle in the village as a rumour spread that former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was to arrive at the spot. TV crews started unlocking their cameras from their tripods while print reporters pulled out their notepads. Hooda, ignoring them all, went straight to Jitender, sat next to him and consoled him.
Meanwhile, villagers and family members approached him with their lists of demands. They wanted Rs 1 crore as compensation for the family, a government job for the father of the kids and for him to raise the question of security of Dalits in the Parliament. Some even wanted licensed weapons for self-protection. Hooda heard them patiently and assured that he would raise these issues.
Later talking to the media, he said, “Ever since the BJP government came to power, law and order in the country has been dismantled. The Congress party firmly condemns this brutal incident.” Replying to the question posed by Tehelka whether this incident was an attack on the Dalit community, he said, “If the Dalits, who were given security by the police, are not safe, then what will happen to the others? This government is prejudiced against the lower castes and the minorities and is doing nothing to protect them.”
Indeed, the family was given security and they had recently lodged a complaint with the local police that a woman relative was verbally abused by the Rajputs. However, the Station House Officer (SHO) allegedly told them that they will have to bear the brunt in view of the fact that three Rajputs died last year.