Ground Report: ‘The Crowd Planned To Burn All Of Us Alive,’ Says Family Of Dalit Man Charred To Death In MP
A 24-year-old Dalit man was allegedly set afire by his neighbours in Madhya Pradesh, leading to his death a week later.
While Muslims of the area say the case is being used to malign their entire community, Dalit residents, who are in a minority, say they always faced caste-based harassment by their neighbours
Dhan Prasad Ahirwar, a 24-year-old Dalit man from Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, was allegedly set on fire by some neighbours in his home on 14 January. He sustained more than 70 per cent burns. A week later, he was airlifted to New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital for treatment, but succumbed to his injuries within two days.
Dhan Prasad had married only six months ago.
On 28 January when this correspondent visited his house, his elder sister and nephews were at home. The sister, Janaki, said that her parents and brothers had gone out in search of Dhan Prasad’s widow.
She had gone missing after her husband’s death, said Janaki.
The same day, incidentally, the key opposition party in the state – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – had planned a protest in Sagar over Dhan Prasad’s death. Former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP has been accusing the ruling Congress of negligence and “minority appeasement”.
Janaki, however, said she had no information about the protest. Dhan Prasad’s 15-year-old nephew, Guddu, did not know about it either.
Guddu says he was an eyewitness to his uncle’s “murder”.
“Around four in the evening, some 50-60 men and women from neighbouring buildings crowded outside our house. Some men barged into our home, dragged my uncle into a room, held him tight and poured kerosene oil on him,” says Guddu.
“I saw my chacha burn. We went inside the house, trying to douse the flames. A woman from the crowd removed the blanket that we wrapped chacha with,” he says.
Guddu says the crowd had planned to burn the entire family alive, but they managed to escape his uncle’s fate.
“The men latched the main door from inside, forced us into the same room as my uncle, and escaped through the other door. They latched that door from outside so we can’t escape,” he says.
Guddu says that at that time, his grandparents and three other cousins were at home.
“My father has sustained major burn injuries in his leg,” says Janaki. She is married and lives in a nearby village. Janaki says she had no chance to meet her brother in the hospital; she only saw his body.
Dhan Prasad died on 23 January in New Delhi. After the attack, he was taken to the district hospital in Sagar. On 17 January, he was shifted to Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal. As his condition deteriorated, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes in New Delhi stepped in and got him shifted to New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on 21 January.
“If it weren’t for Rani, our neighbour, we would have probably burnt to death too,” says Guddu.
Rani Vishwakarma lives two houses away in the same building as Dhan Prasad’s family. The two-storey building houses a total of 18 families, she says. Dhan Prasad’s family, Rani and two of the five accused in the case live on the ground floor.
Rani corroborates Guddu’s statement. “Yes, I was the one who opened the door from outside,” she says. “I heard screams and rushed to the spot.”
Rani has been named as an eyewitness in the first information report (FIR) filed in the case on the statement of Dhan Prasad. The statement says that four men from the neighbouring houses had been abusing Dhan Prasad’s parents for several days. When he told the men to stop, they barged into his house, hurled abuses at his parents and sister, picked up the kerosene oil container kept in a room and poured the oil on him.
The men set him on fire. They kept saying that ‘chamaar’ people like Dhan Prasad should stay in their limits when living among them or would be killed, the statement says.
The accused were named in the FIR as Chhotu Musalman, Ajju Musalman (22), Kallu Musalman (23) and Irfan Musalman (19). They were booked under IPC sections 294, 323, 452, 34 and 307, and sections of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Amit Sanghi, Superintendent of Police (SP) of Sagar, told this correspondent that a fifth accused – Babli alias Danny Khan (42) – was later added in the case based on Dhan Prasad’s statement to the magistrate in the district hospital (a copy of which is with Swarajya). IPC sections 147, 148 and 149 were added. After Dhan Prasad died, section 302 (murder) was also added.
All the five accused have been arrested, Sanghi said.
Contrary to the statement in the FIR, Janaki and Guddu say that the scuffle between Dhan Prasad and the alleged attackers broke out after a man from the Muslim side hurled an abuse directed at his sister-in-law.
Guddu signals his younger brother, Sachin, to come and narrate what happened that afternoon.
Sachin is eight. He says that he was playing in the open area when a man asked him to go elsewhere. When Sachin protested, the man told him that he would pack the body of chamaar people in sacks and send them to the mandi [market].
“I said that if you do so, the police would arrest you. He let out an expletive directed at my aunt. I abused him in return. Then, I went inside and told my chacha [Dharmendra, younger brother of Dhan Prasad] about it. He got furious and called up elder chacha [Dhan Prasad],” the child says.
Guddu says that Dhan Prasad thus came home early that day. “I don’t know what unfolded next, but soon, I saw the crowd outside our house,” he says.
The room where Dhan Prasad was allegedly set on fire is cramped and small, barely five feet in length. On the floor, a garlanded framed picture of Dhan Prasad is kept.
Janaki bursts into tears. “My father is really old. It’s very difficult for him to bear the loss at his age,” she says.
Janaki says the family has got nothing from the state government so far. (Some reports however have mentioned the family has received some compensation).
Dhan Prasad is survived by his wife, his parents and five siblings, including two brothers.
The building in which Dhan Prasad’s family lives is part of a residential colony set up three years ago under the prime minister housing scheme to relocate hundreds of families living in nearby jhuggis, say residents. Most men work as construction labour and most women are employed as househelps, they say.
The area is called Dharm Shree and falls under the jurisdiction of Motinagar Police Station.
The colony is divided into several blocks. Each block has 15 buildings, housing 18 families each, they say.
Rani says she has threat to her life as she has testified to the police against the neighbours named as accused.
She says that while allotting houses, the government “made a mistake”. That mistake, she says, is at the heart of the scuffle that led to Dhan Prasad’s death.
“The government didn’t do the distribution of families in the buildings in the right manner. They have given four houses to Hindus in each building. The Muslim families gang up against us and try to dominate over us. We are constantly fighting among ourselves,” she says.
“The government could have put all Hindus together,” she says.
Rani’s mother says that Muslim residents address them derogatorily as chamaar and this has become a reason for constant tiff between neighbours.
“They throw casteist slurs at us all the time in a bid to belittle us and show themselves to be superior,” the mother says.
A woman from another Vishwakarma family in the same building says the Muslims don’t let the Hindu children play in the common area, complaining they make too much noise and take too much space.
The woman says that the Muslim families don’t let the Hindus celebrate their festivals the way they want to. “On Holi, they warn us that no colour should reach their doorstep. On Rakshabandhan when our married girls come home, their men ogle at them,” she says.
Most houses in the building were locked on 28 January, including those of the accused.
“The Muslim families have shifted out temporarily fearing police,” says Rani.
Hardly 50 metres away, although in a different block, several men and women are sitting in the sun. They say that all families in their block are Muslims.
When asked about Dhan Prasad, Saddam Qureshi, a labourer, says the case needs thorough probe, preferably by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
He says Dhan Prasad immolated himself.
“He set a blanket on fire and tried to wrap it around his body. In fact, the men who tried to save him have been named as accused,” he says.
Others nod in agreement with Qureshi.
Asked why Dhan Prasad would do that, Qureshi says the men involved in the incident harboured old grudges against each other.
“We did not see what happened, but innocents have been framed in the case,” a woman says, “especially Ajju and Irfan”.
Mohammad Nasir, another resident, says, “Irfan would object to Dharmendra talking to his sister. Things got ugly that day.”
Qureshi says that the incident is being politicised and given a communal colour. The entire Muslim community is being painted as murderers, he says.
“The media and the leaders, all are saying that Muslims killed the Dalits. It’s wrong. It was a tiff between some people. Others have nothing to do with the crime. Then why our entire community is being dragged in,” he says.
“We Muslims are not against Dalits. All of us have the same blood. What will we even achieve by fighting,” says Qureshi.
Nasir says that some political leaders exploited the incident to demolish a makeshift madrassa that the Muslim community had built on a rooftop.
“After Dhan Prasad died, some cops came saying they have orders to remove the tent and furniture,” says Nasir.
“You tell us, was the madrassa harming anyone? We were only educating our children about our religion.”
SP Amit Sanghi, when asked about the possibility of self-immolation as claimed by some residents, said that the residents told him of that angle too.
“We are going by the deceased’s dying declaration as of now,” he said.
“If any evidence emerges supporting the residents’ theory, we will pursue it. However, so far, we have found nothing to support the self-immolation claim,” said Sanghi.
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