"I want Pravesh Shukla to be let off. He is a pandit from our village," said Dashmat Rawat, a Kol tribal from Madhya Pradesh's Sidhi district, who was urinated upon allegedly by Pravesh, a representative of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Kedarnath Shukla.
36-year-old father of three, Dashmat is a member of a minority community and lives in Kusiyari village, where 20 percent of residents are tribals.
On 7 July, seated outside his kutcha house, he appealed for Shukla's release to media persons merely hours after he told The Quint that he is afraid of what his future and that of his family will be once all the attention goes away.
"Today we have the police and the Chief Minister (Shivraj Singh Chouhan) and other ministers on our side... But once all this goes away, I don't know what will happen. So, I want protection," Dashmat had told The Quint.
Why was Dashmat Rawat so quick to forgive Pravesh Shukla? Why does he fear repercussions once the TV cameras leave? How does it all connect to MLA Kedarnath Shukla?
Why Did Rawat Ask for Pravesh Shukla's Release?
Rawat's apprehensions are not unfounded. In the Kusiyari village, there are only 35-40 Kol families. Caste faultlines are clearly defined here as well as in the adjoining Kubri village, where the incident happened.
A concoction of casteism and politics is at play here – allegedly led by the BJP MLA Kedarnath Shukla and associates.
"The entire area is burdened with casteism. It's a way of life in Sidhi... Actually, all across the Vindhya region. Pravesh was full of casteist supremacy and he had the backing of strong political leaders like Kedarnath Shukla. His action was an outcome of that," a resident also hailing from Kol community told The Quint, on condition of anonymity.
Another tribal from the Kol community, who did not wish to be named, added:
“It has always been like this for us. We belong to the caste which is ridiculed... Everyone who is not a Brahmin or a Thakur is looked down upon, and treated like slaves."
The Vindhya region is dominated by Brahmins who hold a strong influence on the Assembly election results. In all of Madhya Pradesh, there are over 10 percent Brahmin voters. In Vindhya, Mahakaushal, Chambal, and the Central regions, Brahmins influence results in over 60 seats for both the Congress and the BJP, data shows.
The Dominance Of Kedarnath Shukla & Co
This vote bank politics reflects in Kedarnath Shukla's dominance in the region. The BJP strongman has been a member of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly since 2009.
Deendayal Sahu, the man who shot the video in 2020, told The Quint that the accused Pravesh had "forced" him to record him urinating on Dashmat.
"Pravesh and I were friends. But we fell apart because he was close to local politicians – and acted at their behest. It was around the same time that he forced me to record this video of him peeing on Dashmat when he was drunk one night."
"I never intended to put it out... But my friend Adarsh Shukla's father was beaten up by a known associate of Pravesh. He found out about this video and took it from me," he added.
Meanwhile, Adarsh told The Quint that after he got the video recently, he showed it to local police officers and close associates of Kedarnath Shukla. He alleged:
"No one did anything. Once Pravesh's associates found out, they forced Dashmat to sign an affidavit, saying that the incident never happened."
While the photos that emerged after the video went viral pointed towards a link between accused Pravesh Shukla and MLA Kedarnath Shukla, the MLA denied all allegations, even after the accused's father made a mention of it.
To put things into perspective, even Dashmat Rawat did not immediately own up to the police that it was him in the video after it went viral, the police sources had told The Quint, adding that he was "terrified."
Talking to The Quint, Kedarnath Shukla's son Gurudatt refuted the allegations.
"As an MLA, my father knows a lot of people in his constituency, but that doesn't mean anyone can blame anything on him. These are vile accusations of the Opposition to tarnish his image before the Assembly elections."Gurudatt Sharan Shukla
A long-time former BJP leader Lalchand Gupta, who joined the Congress in 2019, has also accused Kedarnath of forcefully acquiring lands owned by the tribals, promoting violence, and suppressing voices of dissent with any and all means.
"No one can raise their voice against Kedarnath Shukla. Even if he snatches their land or treats them like an unequal, there is no one to oppose him. Who will take the risk of facing the ire of the system and the government?"Lalchand Gupta
A year before the urination incident grabbed headlines, Sidhi grabbed national headlines for another incident. Again, linked to Kedarnath Shukla.
Why Was Sidhi Under Spotlight in April 2022?
The town found itself in the limelight when a photo – showing a local journalist and theatre artists, among others, stripped down to their underwear inside a police station – went viral in April 2022.
The eight people who were stripped inside the police station were arrested for protesting against the arrest of theatre artist Neeraj Kunder who MLA Kedarnath Shukla alleged had put out offensive posts on social media under a fake name.
Speaking about the "suppression of the government," Neeraj Kunder told The Quint, "My father gets worried if I stay out after 6 pm. He has been worried ever since I was arrested on bogus charges. His fear is not unwarranted – those implicating me are powerful people."
It’s been over a year since the incident, but no chargesheet has been submitted by the police.
The artist further alleged that Kedarnath Shukla influenced the case and ensured a fake case is lodged against him. The MLA had at the time defended his arrest, but denied any involvement in the episode of stripping journalists and theatre artistes.
Once again, denying the allegations, the MLA's son Gurudatt Shukla told The Quint:
“Neeraj was the one who operated the fake ID and used it to spread fake news against my father. Kanishk too used to spread false news. He was not even a registered journalist. The case is undertrial and they would get what they deserve.”Gurudatt Sharan Shukla
Sidhi's former BJP tribal leader Vivek Kol, who resigned on 7 July from the party's membership, also asserted that the MLA was ruling with fear and promoting casteism.
"It's not an isolated incident. There have been many cases where tribals and Dalits were suppressed. BJP MLA Kedarnath Shukla has always protected his goons after they thrash, abuse or pee on tribals and dalits. Anyone trying to lodge objection is further scared into a corner by these representatives of Shukla."Vivek Kol
Like Lalchand Gupta, Kol too alleged that Kedarnath Shukla has forcibly acquired lands leaving several tribal families, leaving them helpless.
"One such poor tribal family has no resources to fight this battle against the MLA. Who can fight against an MLA?"
Land Grabbing Case Against Kedarnath Shukla
Kol was speaking about Gulab Singh Gond, a 60-year-old Gond tribal resident of Hadbado village. Speaking to The Quint Gond said that his 19.41 acre land was "snatched from him using intimidation and fraud."
"Till 1962, 19.41 acre land was owned by my grandfather Mahkam Gond. Ten years later, without us selling anything off to anyone the ownership was changed to Kedarnath Shukla."Gulab Singh
The Quint accessed the document showing Mahkam Singh as the owner of the land till 1962. The document then shows Kedarnath and his brother Markandey Shukla as owners of the same land a decade later in 1972.
Gulab's son Rahul Gond claimed to The Quint that they have tried to get justice but Kedarnath Shukla has ensured that they don't get any.
According to Gulab, there was a dispute in 1984-85 when Kedarnath Shukla's father used to graze cattle on their father Mahkam Gond's land.
(Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)
"We were not even aware of the ownership change which was obviously carried out illegally by the MLA Kedarnath Shukla. After the fight between my family and Shukla's in 1984-85 my family stayed away from the land... Since he was upper caste, we didn't do anything. In 2020, when my father and his brothers decided to divide the land, we learned that it didn't even belong to us. It belonged to the MLA now."
Even as the Gond family registered a complaint at the SDM court Sidhi their case was dismissed on 3 March 2023. Gulab's family then wrote to the President of India seeking intervention in the alleged land grabbing by the MLA.
"He is a powerful man whose father used to graze cattle on our lands. Today, they have become the owners of our land and because we are tribals and have no resources. We don't have means to get justice," Gulab said.
Gurudatt refuted the allegations, saying the court gave the right judgment based on the evidence. He said:
"The verdict in the land case of Hadbado came in our favour. My father bought the land – and it has been in the family for decades now. We have a lot of land that is occupied by the tribals and other community members but we are not asking them to vacate the land."