Dalit families allege that Jamnagar SP Harikrishna Patel offered them bribe to hush up Surendranagar firing case
In a shocking disclosure, the families of Dalit youngsters killed in a police firing in Surendranagar district of Gujarat have alleged that a senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer had asked them to omit his name when their statements are recorded during investigations that are now underway. The families have alleged that the senior police officer tried to influence them with offers of money and jobs.
The firings which took place at Thangadh city of Surendranagar district in Gujarat led to the death of a Dalit boy on 22 September and two Dalit men on 23 September. The incidents caused a furore as the first firing was allegedly by a sub-inspector against people had earlier complained for being “anti-Dalit”. The second firing happened under the charge of SP Harikrishna Patel, whose commando had allegedly fired with an AK-47 on a group of Dalits, who were marching towards the Thangadh police station to lodge a complaint about the first incident.
The families say that Harikrishna Patel tried to influence them by sending an emissary to negotiate on his behalf. They say that Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) VD Kharadi, approached them twice and offered “whatever money” they wanted and a “job with a private company.”
Valji Rathod, father of 16-year-old Mehul Rathod who was killed in firing, said, “We were told to accept the offer or be ready to get killed in an accident or another firing. We refused because we wanted justice.” He said that they did not disclose this information earlier because they feared for the lives of their family members.
When contacted by TEHELKA, Harikrishna Patel denied approaching the families and refused to comment further stating that the case was under investigation by CID.
During the last day of the annual Tarnetar fair on 22 September, a skirmish broke out between the Dalit and the Bharwad (shepherd) community over a minor incident. The matter was later resolved by both the communities. However, that night, another skirmish broke out in which Pankaj Sumara (16), who was returning home from the fair, got shot at allegedly by sub-inspector KP Jadeja. Sumara was fatally injured in the neck.
The next day, on 23 September, a group of Dalit families marched toward the police station to report Sumara’s death, but were stopped near the Thangadh railway crossing by the police. The Dalit group alleges that the police then started firing indiscriminately at them without warning. Police, however, maintains that they fired only when the mob started pelting stones and tried to snatch their rifles. In the firing, Prakash Parmar (26) and Mehul Rathod (16) died after being hit by bullets on the chest. A Dalit boy, Chana Vaniya, and a couple of policemen were also seriously injured.
After a public outcry three cases were registered against sub-inspector KP Jadeja and three other policemen on 26 September for murder, rioting, unlawful assembly and conspiracy and a CID inquiry was ordered by the government. Anil Pratham, IGP, CID (crime), who is investigating the case, said, “There is a warrant against Jadeja and others and we are coordinating with district SPs to arrest them.”
However, human rights activists and the victims’ families are now demanding that action against Harikrishna Patel be also initiated. “The role of Harikrishna Patel has been established by the fact that his commando fired using an AK-47. He is equally responsible for the deaths, but his name hasn’t been mentioned in any FIR. He should be made an accused along with the Rajkot DIG,” demanded Kirit Rathod, a Dalit rights activist who works with an Ahmedabad based NGO Navsarjan and has been helping the Dalit families in the case.
Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.