By Kunal Majumder
ON 17 JUNE, which ironically was Father’s Day, Aagar Singh Solanki beheaded his 18-year-old daughter Manju with a sword. He then walked around Dungarji ka Guda village of Rajsamand district, 400 km from Rajasthan capital Jaipur, with the decapitated head and the sword, warning others against following his daughter’s footsteps. Later, he surrendered at the local police station.
What was Manju’s crime? There are multiple versions: She eloped with a lower-caste boy; she liked wearing western clothes; she was sent back by her in-laws for being “ugly”, not bringing enough dowry, and having a “loose character”. Nobody knows the truth. Yet the caste panchayat has decreed that no one from the village will stand witness against Solanki and that Manju deserved her gruesome end.
Solanki, 55, a labourer in a marble mine, has been placed under police custody. Blood samples have been sent for forensic tests. According to the police, nobody witnessed the crime. An uneasy silence prevails in the village.
On 9 July, human rights activists from Udaipur and Jaipur visited the village to raise awareness about the rule of law and women’s rights. What they received in return was a verbal diatribe from the villagers. “She was given multiple warnings,” says Manju’s uncle Kalu Singh, 42, who is a daily wager. “The rule of law cannot be above societal norms.”
When the activists tried to raise the issue of constitutional propriety, the villagers simply walked away. The Rajput community of the village, to which Solanki belongs, held a separate meeting at the village temple. Nobody outside the community has a clue as to what was decided at the meeting.
Nobody in the village believes that Solanki did anything wrong. “Won’t you protest if she were your daughter?” TEHELKA asked an old man smoking a bidi in the village square. “My daughter wouldn’t do such a thing in the first place,” he replied.
At Manju’s house, her mother Bhanwar Kunwar, 45, claims she was not at home when the horrific incident took place. “Nobody was at home. My mother-in-law had gone to take bath,” she says. As Kunwar, who has five more children to take care of (four daughters and a son), spoke to the activists and media, Kalu Singh and the police maintained a strict vigil.
Amidst the chaos, Manju’s younger sister Pinky (name changed), 15, narrated an entirely different version. Manju was married to Ratan Singh of Barwara village in 2010 but was sent back home by her in-laws. According to Pinky, there was growing pressure from the community on Solanki to take action against Manju’s in-laws. He even filed a domestic harassment case against Ratan’s family after Manju had revealed that she was beaten up. “Her father-in-law works with the police. So nothing happened,” recalls Pinky.
A week before her murder, Manju had eloped with a lower-caste boy from a neighbouring village. An FIR was lodged. The police tracked her down and handed her over to her family.
On the day of the murder, everybody, including the mother, grandmother and uncle, were present at home, recalls Pinky, completely negating her mother’s version. On that fateful day, Solanki had scolded Manju for eloping and later asked her to prepare tea. “While she was bending, he tried to hit her with an axe,” recalls Pinky. Manju evaded the hit but fell to the ground. Then Solanki used a sword to chop off her head. “There was blood everywhere,” says Pinky. The head was dipped inside a bucket to drain the blood. Solanki then grabbed the head by the hair and walked around the village “like a mad man”, says Pinky.
Amidst the monologue, Kunwar realised that Pinky was saying what she is not supposed to. She pushed Pinky inside their home and asked the visitors to leave.
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.