A 21-YEAR-OLD Dalit man in Rajasthan has succumbed to injuries sustained in an assault by a group of men belonging to an OBC community nearly two weeks after some of them allegedly tore posters of B R Ambedkar pasted outside his home, police and family members of the victim said.
Vinod Bamnia, who was a member of Bhim Army, was assaulted on June 5 near his home in Kikraliya village of Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh district, and died in a hospital in Sriganganagar two days later, police said.
Police confirmed that at least two persons named by Bamnia’s family over the poster incident — Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag — have been named in the FIR registered on the June 5 assault and his death two days later. The two are among four who have been arrested, police said.
The FIR states that the accused allegedly shouted casteist slurs during the assault, and said: “Aaj tumhe tumhara Ambedkarvad yaad dilvayenge (We will make you remember your Ambedkarite ideology today.” The Bhim Army staged a protest against “police inaction” in the case.
According to police, Bamnia had registered complaints twice earlier this year on different issues — one in April on receiving threat calls after he objected to copies of the Hanuman Chalisa being distributed at a school, and another naming several village residents for allegedly attacking him and his family for objecting to a road block.
Bamnia’s cousin Mukesh, who is the complainant in the murder case and an eyewitness in the assault, told The Indian Express that the attack on June 5 was “an act of revenge” linked to the poster incident.
“Recently, some men including Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag, who also live in our village, had torn the banners of Babasaheb Ambedkar, which were put up outside our home since Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14. After we identified them, we complained to their families. The matter was sorted with the mediation of the panchayat, and their family members apologised on their behalf,” said Mukesh.
“But the actual culprits wanted to take revenge. On June 5, Vinod and I were on our way to our fields in the village when we were attacked by Rakesh, Anil and a few others, who were waiting for us with sticks. I managed to escape with minor injuries. But they beat up Vinod with hockey sticks about 20-30 times. He was taken to Rawatsar and referred to hospitals in Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries,” said Mukesh.
The initial FIR in the assault was registered by police under IPC sections 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) and 143 (punishment for unlawful Assembly) — and sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
After Vinod’s death, the charge of attempt to murder was changed to murder under IPC section 302.
Hanumangarh SP Preeti Jain said “it is wrong to say there was police inaction as the arrests were made promptly after the incident”.
Speaking about the incident that is believed to have led to the assault, Jain said: “Posters of B R Ambedkar were put at the house of Vinod. On May 24, some men from the village tore them. Following this, their family members apologised on the directions of the panchayat. Nobody contacted the police. But the accused who tore the posters didn’t forget the incident and carried out the assault on June 5, which led to his death.”
According to police, an FIR was lodged in April under sections of the IPC and the SC/ST Act on a complaint from Bamnia over the Hanuman Chalisa being distributed at a school in Soneri village of Hanumangarh. In the FIR, Bamnia described the distribution as “unconstitutional” and alleged that he had received threat calls with casteist slurs.
On May 25, district police said, Bamnia lodged another FIR at the Rawatsar station and named 10 people from his village who had allegedly blocked a road and attacked him and his family when they were trying to pass through. Subsequently, police said, the other side registered a counter FIR against Bamnia’s family on various charges, including attempt to murder.
“Vinod was a very active member of Bhim Army and regularly raised issues of caste discrimination and reported them. The reason behind his murder is casteism. We protested yesterday until Vinod’s family got a favourable response from the administration about their demands, including compensation,” Satyavan Indasar, Bhim Army state president, told The Indian Express.
According to Indasar, Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad is expected to visit Hanumangarh to meet Bamnia’s family.
“We demand action against local police officials. Had timely action been taken in the earlier FIRs and arrests made, Vinod would have been alive. The accused in the FIRs belong to the same community,” he said.
SP Jain, however, said the FIRs registered earlier had no bearing on the assault. “The FIR pertaining to the assault on the fields was because of a land dispute in which both sides sustained injuries and lodged cross FIRs. As for the FIR pertaining to the threat calls, it was found to be that of abuse, which is a non-cognisable offence,” said Jain.
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