Old war, new bodies

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‘I thought we were safe. I was wrong’

Kamal Mujahaldi went to pay his taxes and found his land had been sold to someone he didn’t know

Manju Chauhan, sister of farmer who killed himself

IT WAS a chilly morning in January 2009. Heaps of fresh cowpats were drying, soon to be used as manure for Kamal Mujahaldi’s fields. The house was rife with the smell of cow dung. Kamal watched his wife make lunch. Then he walked behind the kitchen, poured kerosene on his body and set himself on fire.

“Take care of everything, I’m leaving,” Kamal had told his sister Manju Chauhan the previous evening. When Manju asked where he was going, her brother looked away. “I’m going out,” is all he said.

Today, Kamal’s house stands empty on a hilltop in Gadhwani village. Two months after Kamal killed himself, his wife Radha left the house with their eight-year-old daughter, their mattresses and wedding photographs. Manju hasn’t heard from her since then.

Below the hilltop are 6.5 acres of cotton and soya fields that Kamal once cultivated. In January, Kamal went to the local patwari to pay his land tax. He returned aghast. The land wasn’t in his name anymore. He was told he had sold it off to a person whose name he didn’t recognise.

That person is another SSP oustee called Bharat. Bharat’s uncle Manga Lal is Kamal’s neighbour. Villagers suspect Manga Lal tied up with middlemen to transfer Kamal’s land to his nephew Bharat’s name so he could claim his due compensation. On many afternoons, they’d heard, Manga Lal threatening Kamal with evacuation if he dared to complain. No state government task force ever came to inquire whether Kamal had willingly made the sale.

“Our village isn’t in the submergence zone,” says Manju. “I thought we were safe. Our lives wouldn’t be affected by the dam project. I was wrong.”

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