He was a crusader for Dalit rights and rattled Himachal Pradesh’s caste-ridden society.

Sitting behind the polished wooden desk in his office, Sirmaur’s Superintendent of Police (SP) Rohit Malpani looked like a man who hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in days but wore a look of slight satisfaction.

The Director General of Police had just left Sirmaur Police Station after holding a press conference earlier during the day. “This is the biggest case I’ve touched so far,” said Malpani, who has been an SP in Sirmaur for the past 14 months. “But only masala gets covered in Crime Patrol, so you won’t see this on TV. It is a proper UP-Bihar style murder: first hit him with sticks, then throw his body on the road and run a car over him frontwards, then backwards, and then frontwards over his face again—all of it in broad daylight at around noon. Even though there is a school nearby as well as a Block Education Office, not a single person is ready to speak.”

The case Malpani is referring to is the murder of Dalit RTI activist Kedar Singh Jindan (43) that took place on September 7 at Bakrash village in Sirmaur District’s Shillai Block, Himachal Pradesh, around noon. A ‘one-man army,’ Jindan, who was also a practising advocate at the Shimla High Court, worked for the rights of Scheduled Castes and Tribes as well as for those who brought their cases of inter-caste marriages to him. He had also contested last year’s Assembly elections from Shillai on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket. 

Jindan, who belonged to the Koli community, had held a press conference earlier in June in Shimla, wherein, using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he had claimed that Below Poverty Line (BPL) certificates were being tampered with in his native place of Shillai. He said certificates were being issued to people belonging to the upper castes, who not only have heavy incomes but also lead a well-to-do life adorned with houses, multiple vehicles, etc.

Kedar Singh Jindan with his younger daughter

He alleged that Jai Prakash, the up-pradhan of Bakrash panchayat and a Rajput, had tampered with the BPL list and got a few of his family members’ names on it, thereby making them eligible to reap the benefits that should have rightfully gone to someone who was from SC/ST background. Following this, some members of Jai Prakash’s family lost their BPL privileges—something that they held Jindan solely responsible for. Also, to have a Dalit show you up in this manner, wasn’t something that sat well with the rest of the Rajputs in Bakras village.

In the June press conference, Jindan had also stated that his life was in danger. He had lodged a complaint with the NHRC for an incident dating June 12, 2017. The “place of the incident” was “Shila area” and “Simla” and the case was “disposed with directions” on August 23 2017, stating that “the complaint be transmitted to the concerned authority for such action as deemed appropriate. The authority concerned is directed to take appropriate action within 8 weeks and to inform the complainant of the action taken in the matter.”

***

Jindan’s wife said he was attacked last December as well. Hemalata  lives in Shimla, along with their two daughters, Vanshika and Dikshika, who study in Standard X and VII, respectively. She had met Jindan when she was 22 years old and studying in the first year of her B.A course. They both had a love marriage—Hemalata belonged to an upper caste from the town of Rohru village in Himachal Pradesh, and Jindan was a Dalit from Paab in Shillai.

“He was going to Shillai by bus and was dragged out of the front seat, where he was sitting when the bus reached Sataun village (in Kamrau Tehsil, Sirmaur) at around 4 pm. A mob of 50 men beat him up with sticks in the middle of the street, and no one came to his rescue. Sab tamasha dekh rahe the. Even the bus driver didn’t object or try to stop the act.” She further stated: “They hit him a lot…he was bleeding and very badly injured. The attackers then dropped six buckets of sand over him and left him to die.”

Jindan’s wife, Hemalata, at her home in Shimla

However, Jindan regained consciousness after 45 minutes, and in his bloody stupor, started shouting for water. “No one gave him a sip to drink,” said Hemalata. “He roamed the roads in his blood-stained clothes but no one gave him a lift. Maybe nobody recognised him. He was finally taken away in a police van to a hospital in Nahan.”

Hemalata also stated that Jindan had made a list of 35 names from whom he thought his life was in danger, and that this was submitted to police authorities as well. She also pointed out that Jai Prakash’s name was present in the list. “We used to be harassed when we lived in Shillai; people used to knock on our doors late at night and also give dhamkis over the phone. They said: ‘Sataun mein bach gaya, agli baar haddi bhi nahi milegi.’”

On September 7, Jindan was brutally beaten up with sticks and his face mutilated at the Block Primary Education Office (BPEO) in Bakrash village, Shillai, after which he was thrown onto the main road below and then crushed thrice by Jai Prakash’s Scorpio. Jai Prakash then himself called the Sirmaur police authorities and said he was involved in an accident. However, two people—who have now turned witness and are in police’s protective custody—saw the event unfold, or at least, are the only ones willing to come forward and say that they did. They are Raghuveer, son of Nain Singh, the local teacher at a school that is located right next to the BPEO in Bakrash where the incident took place. Nain Singh and his son are residents of Paab village—a remote and backward hilly village with no more than 10 houses—located above Kumrau tehsil in Shillai; the former, higher altitude area is where the Dalits live, while the latter lower-ground area is where the Rajputs reside.

Bakrash, where the murder took place, is only a few kilometres away down the curving mountain road, an area that can be seen from Paab. The other witness is Jindan’s nephew Suresh, who happened to be passing by the spot when Jindan was thrown onto the road.

Bakrash, as seen from Paab

According to Nain Singh, Jindan had arrived at his house in Paab the previous evening and had spent the night there. In the morning, while Nain Singh had gone to the fields, Jindan took off with Raghuveer on the motorbike for a ‘meeting’ at the BPEO office. Now, with his son Raghuveer turning witness in the case, Nain Singh puts on a brave front in the battering rainfall below his terrace roof in Paab village, but his fear is both, visible and justified. “If they can kill such a big leader in broad daylight, then what stops them from killing us?” he asked.

“This is a murder case—even the post-mortem report has found that,” said SP Malpani. “Three people have been arrested so far—Jai Prakash, Gopal Singh, and Karm Singh a.k.a Kaku.” SP Malpani also pointed out that Jai Prakash was an accused in another SC/ST atrocities case in Shillai earlier in March this year. He added: “Raghuveer’s 164 statement has been conducted on September 12; this is the testimony a witness gives in front of the court, as the statement given before police does not count in a court of law. We got his 164 done before a judicial magistrate in Paonta Sahib on Tuesday and his testimony is that it was a murder and that all three people who have been arrested, were involved.”

Malpani also confirmed that the prime accused, Jai Prakash, had initially tried to pass off the murder as an accident, but did not succeed. “The story that was recited by the accused was that it was an accident and that Jindal came under his vehicle, but after seeing the body, we knew this wasn’t an accident. The body was brutally murdered and face was crushed by the Scorpio. We have seen accidents: we investigate them daily. This was not a routine run-over by a vehicle.” He also said: “Jai Prakash has accepted that he has committed the murder—we didn’t disclose this before because we wanted to corroborate information with our witnesses. He (Jai Prakash) did deny it, but later, when he was confronted and questioned, he admitted to doing it.”

However, when asked whether this was a caste-based atrocity—since Section 3 (2) (5) of the SC/ST atrocities act has been implemented on the case—SP Malpani said: “This is not really a caste-based violence; it is more of a personal enmity between the accused and the victim.”

***

Jindan’s older brothers’—Bahadur Singh and Hira Singh—who live in Paab, told Newslaundrythat after Jindan had moved to Shimla with his wife and children more than eight years back, they had specifically warned him not to come back to the village.

“We felt there was some conspiracy being plotted against him that posed a threat to his life,” said Bahadur Singh. “When he came to the village on September 6, he didn’t stay here—he spent the night at Nain Singh’s house and went to the BPEO from there itself next morning,” said Hira Singh. “I was in the fields at the time when I got a call saying that Jindan had been killed and run over by a vehicle. I called the police authorities to provide me with protection so that I could go near the dead body, but the police had already taken the body away, that too without informing the family.”

 

(R-L) Jindan’s brothers Hira Singh and Bahadur Singh, along with their uncle

When asked if Jindan had ever asked for police protection, Hira Singh said: “Every office knew that he had been threatened and there was a serious threat to his life. None of this would have happened if he had police protection.”

While the gruesome details of this murder have shaken the state of Himachal Pradesh, no politicians from national parties have commented on this atrocity. Out of the 68 MLAs present in the state, only Rakesh Singha of the CPI(M) has stood in solidarity with the deceased Jindan’s family—an act for which his effigies have been burnt across the state of Himachal. “I need the government’s help, but all I have been given till now are promises,” said Hemalata.

She wants the compensation provided to be Rs 20 lakh and not Rs 8.5 lakh as the SC/ST Act makes provisions for. “I want a job (she has an MA B.Ed) and a full education for both my daughters. We don’t have any money in our banks and are paying Rs 5,000 as rent for this house (in Shimla)—we need a house too.” A CBI probe too, is one of her demands, although a five-member SIT has already been assigned to the case, headed by ASP Virender Thakur.

The trans-Giri area of Sirmaur (known so because of the Giri river’s presence running through this remote and untouched part of Himachal Pradesh) is no stranger to caste-based discrimination and violence. Ashish Kumar (35), District General Secretary of the Dalit Shoshan Shakti Manch (DSSM) of Sirmaur Parishad, said there was a case that occurred in trans-Giri area earlier in August this year wherein a Dalit by the name of Rajender Singh had suffered 18 fractures on his body after he was beaten up by a mob of upper caste men. His crime? Entering the village temple. “The police tried to register only a case of violence here, but after DSSM built pressure, the SC/ST Atrocities Act was included,” he said.

Another case in trans-Giri area was that of a Dalit being beaten up at a marriage ceremony for eating at the same time as people belonging to the savrna group. Many villagers narrate incidents of how they often had to give goats in compensation for not turning up when summoned by the Rajputs, sometimes up to seven goats, with each goat costing around Rs 7-10,000 each. “Most of the people belonging to SC/ST in trans-Giri work in the fields of the Rajputs and so-called higher caste people. They are dependent on them for work and an income,” said Kumar.

Even in the case of Jindan’s murder, the Sirmaur police had first registered an FIR under Section 302 (Punishment for Murder) and not under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. It was only after an all-night protest march along with Jindan’s body on The Ridge in Shimla on the night of September 8 that the following morning the SC/ST Act was included.

Dr Tanwar Singh, Secretariat of the CPI(M) and President of Himachal Kisaan Sabha, who spearheaded the protest march of nearly 300 people that night, said: “At first, the case was only registered under IPC 302 but after we protested all night, the SCT/ST atrocities Act was included the next morning.”

Hemalata too doesn’t seem to trust the Sirmaur Police. “I wanted the post-mortem to be conducted in IGMC in Shimla because earlier when he (Jindan) was attacked in Sataun (in Shillai), the police had not taken any action. After his post-mortem was conducted in IGMC, I didn’t even get a receipt intimating me of his release, and they (police) tried to take his body away back to Sirmaur.” That is when the protest broke out.

***

Three days after the death of Jindan, on September 10, a Rajput Sabha gathering was held in Shillai. SP Malpani was present in Shillai along with other police personnel at the time, to maintain law and order. “Nearly 500 people had assembled; their demands were varied,” he said. “They wanted the SC/ST Atrocities Act should be removed from the case, said that the death was due to an accident, that there was too much heavy a police force deployed in the village which was not required, and lastly, that MLA Rakesh Singha (CPIM) should not have come along with Jindan’s post-mortem body to Shillai to attend the cremation. I personally interacted with them (Rajput Sabha) and invited them to have a dialogue with me; I suggested they come and meet me, in as many numbers as they please, and have a dialogue with me.”

The Rajput Sabha gathering

SP Malpani explained his reason for suggesting so: “If anger comes out in phases, it helps in maintaining the peace. I wanted to dissipate their anger in pieces so that it wouldn’t all come down at one time—like in a typical mob mentality.”

When asked about the suspicions on police personnel in Sirmaur, Malpani dismissed these claims and said they had always treated this as a murder case and not tried to hide anything. “Our investigation is on the right track. We have done a good job. We have collected all material evidences—forensic reports, post-mortem reports, etc. There were two big challenges to the case: investigation, as well as maintaining law and order. We have managed to do both.” He also pointed out to the sheer strength of the police force deployed to maintain law and order in the area. “We went with 225 policemen; there were two reserves from Solan and two from the 6th battalion and two reserves from our own district Sirmaur, to Shillai with the dead body for cremation on September 9. These numbers are unprecedented—it is not a Mumbai or a Delhi.”

According to him, the last time such a heavy force was deployed in the area was around 10-12 years back, when there was a triple murder case in Paonta Sahib, Sirmour. “It was the impact of these high numbers of police personnel that got everyone scared; even the upper caste knew that we would arrest them if they tried to break the peace. We had planned that if anything speech was given in Sirmaur on that day, we would arrest people.” Speaking of the post-mortem incident that led to the protest, he said: “It is procedural for police officials to first hand over the body to doctors, and once the post-mortem is done, take it back from the doctors and then hand it over to the family.”

The five-member SIT team assigned to the case comprises SI Jeetram, the investigating officer from Paonta Sahib, SI Mohar Singh, the SHO from Majra, ASI Vidyasagar IO from Paonta Sahib, SI Virochen Negi who is the SHO from Sangda, and DSP Rajgarh Dushyant Sarpal— all led by additional SP Virendra Thakur, and supervised by SP Malpani.

***

Newslaundry also accompanied a seven-member independent fact-finding team of Human Rights Defenders and Activists visiting Shillai, in the Jindan murder case. The team comprised Kuldeep Verma, Birbal (Dalit Vikas Sangathan Sirmaur), Sukhdev Vishwapremi (Centre for Mountain Dalit Rights), Advocate Sanjay, Rajkumar (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & National Dalit Movement for Justice), Raja Velu from Human Rights Defenders Alert and Manshi Asher from Kangra Citizens Rights Group. The team interacted with members of the community including the Pradhaan of the Gundaha Panchayat (of which Paab is a part) as well as members of the administration and the police.

The fact-finding team visiting Paab

On September 14, the team published an interim statement and expressed some concerns: “…the police had not responded adequately to the repeated threats received by Jindan from different members of the community who were irked by his work. Last year too there was an attack on Jindan at Sattaun where he was pulled out of a bus and beaten up badly by people who were enraged that he supported an inter-caste marriage in the area. Jindan’s family informed us that he was left buried in a heap of sand and left there to die. While he survived that attack, he had exposed that a large number of people from the area who were out to get him and they are all complicit in the murder according to the kin of Jindan. This needs to be investigated.”

***

Not so long ago, Kedar Singh Jindan used to run a Superlative Academy For Competition (SAC) in Shimla. A dusty old business card with his name emblazoned next to the SAC logo shows him as its Managing Director. The card reads: “What makes the difference between others and us? We create the talent, while others hunt for it.” The lines printed on the bottom of this piece of paper reads: “Every successful person has a painful story, and every painful story has a successful ending. Accept the pain and get ready for SUCCESS.” Jindan was a crusader for all causes: he fought for the rights of the oppressed SC/ST community, favoured inter-caste marriages, and was a voice that rattled Himachal’s deeply caste-ridden society. His murder will not be an easy pain to accept for those he fought for and indeed his family.

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