(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of violence.)
"First they harassed me, then they killed my brother for seeking justice. The system did nothing," said the 20-year-old sister of a Dalit teen who was murdered in broad daylight on Thursday, 24 August, in Barodiya Nainagir village in Madhya Pradesh's Sagar district.
Eight men, including Vikram Singh (28) and Azad Singh, who are also residents of the village, were arrested in connection with the alleged murder on Sunday, 27 August.
The 18-year-old Dalit boy and his family were allegedly thrashed – and their house vandalised – for purportedly refusing to settle a 2019 sexual harassment case, filed by the sister. Both Vikram and Azad are the prime accused in the said case.
Speaking to The Quint, Nitin Pal, Khurai police station in-charge, said that a case has been filed under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and relevant sections of the SC/ST Act.
A Past Case, Pressure to Settle, and Murder
On 24 August, Thursday, Vikram Singh, his father Komal Thakur, Azad Singh, and other villagers went to the survivor's house allegedly to coerce her family to settle the 2019 case.
"They (the accused) came to my home on the evening of 24 August, and threatened my mother to settle the case. It wasn't the first time that they had come, but this time my mother agreed to settle, and they left."Survivor told The Quint
"On their way back, they met my brother near the bus stand, where he had gone to get vegetables, and they started beating him up," the survivor said.
"Since the bus stand is close to our home, we heard the ruckus. Some people came running and told us that my brother was being beaten up. My mother rushed first, and I followed her. They tore up my mother's clothes and beat us up."Survivor told The Quint
She further alleged that the accused continued beating her brother "with sticks, pinned him down and pressed their feet against his throat and killed him." His mother, too, sustained injuries, and is now admitted to a hospital with a broken arm.
The survivor's 50-year-old father is a daily wage labourer, while their mother is a homemaker. The deceased boy was the youngest of four children, survived by his two brothers and a sister.
While the deceased's two elder brothers also work as labourers, the survivor is pursuing her graduation.
"They were continuously forcing us to settle, threatening us. This time also they encountered my brother and asked him to settle, to which my brother said no. Then, they thrashed him, beat up my mother and sister, and humiliated them."24-year-old brother of the deceased told The Quint
Police Retracts 'Harassment' Statement
Initially, the police claimed that the assault stemmed from the deceased's reluctance to retract the sexual harassment complaint lodged against the accused by his sister in 2019.
However, on 27 August, authorities reversed their statement, denying that the 2019 case was related to sexual harassment.
"A case of fighting and using force was lodged against four people on the complaint of the girl's family for beating them up in 2019."Nitin Pal
The survivor's family claimed that the accused were being protected as they belonged to the upper caste, and had political connections.
"The attackers belong to well-to-do and influential families. They are Thakurs, and are related to the Sarpanch. They are connected with several politicians, and so they were being protected."24-year-old brother of the deceased
The brother added, "Police to kuchh sunti hi nahi thi, ham log gareeb aadmi hain wo paise wale hain. (The police didn't pay attention to us. We are poor and they [accused] are rich)."
Local Congress leader Raksha Rajput alleged that the police are shielding the accused because of their 'close ties' with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Bhupendra Singh, a close aide of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
"The police is doing nothing... the administration is trying to save the culprits. A young boy from a minority community was murdered in public view. His sister was harassed a few years back, and the goons nurtured by the BJP wanted to settle the case. When the family refused, they killed their son. We have not put any demand, but we have said that the demands of the family are our only demand."Raksha Rajput
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, who participated in the Congress Jan Akrosh Rally in Sagar district merely two days after the incident, hit out at the BJP government, saying:
“A Dalit man was beaten to death in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh. Even his mother wasn’t spared. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is gimmicking to open a Saint Ravidas temple in Sagar, is silent on the ongoing atrocities against Dalits and tribals.”
Meanwhile, local BJP MLA Bhupendra Singh denied any association with the accused – and claimed that the Congress was "politicising the issue."