After widespread outrage over alleged police brutality against a Dalit farmer couple, caught on tape, during an anti-encroachment drive in Jaganpur Chak village of Guna district, six policemen, including a Sub-Inspector and two women constables were suspended Thursday. The suspension followed the transfer of Guna District Collector S Vishwanathan and Superintendent of Police Tarun Nayak late Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, a couple of hours after a bulldozer began destroying the soybean crop on their land, Rajkumar Ahirwar and his wife Savitri consumed pesticide.
While authorities alleged the couple had encroached on the 45-bigha plot meant for a government college, their relatives said Ahirwar had taken the land on lease from one Gabbu Pardhi and had even raised a loan to cultivate soybean.
Sources said the couple had requested the anti-encroachment team to give them time till their crop was harvested but when the bulldozers rolled in, Savitri rushed inside their hut and consumed pesticide. A few minutes later, Rajkumar, 38, too followed her.
Officials alleged that when they tried to take the unconscious couple to hospital, Rajkumar’s younger brother Shishupal and other relatives blocked them, leading to a lathi charge. The couple’s condition is stable.
Photographs and videos of the incident went viral – some showing the couple’s six children crying next to their unconscious parents, and others with police raining blows and kicking Shishupal and a woman who tries to shield him.
The Opposition Congress slammed the BJP government, with former CM Kamal Nath saying the incident is proof of “jungle raj” in the state.
On Wednesday, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had ordered an inquiry into the circumstances leading to the suicide bid and the lathi charge. A magisterial probe has been ordered too.
The State Human Rights Commission has asked for a report from the IG (Gwalior) and the Collector within three weeks.
Among the six policemen suspended on Thursday are Sub-Inspector Ashok Singh Kushwah; constables Rajendra Sharma, Pawan Yadav and Narendra Rawat; and women constables Neetu Yadav and Rani Raghuvanshi. They have been told not to leave the headquarters without permission.
On Thursday, IG (Gwalior Range) Rajababu Singh was also transferred but the government did not say if the shift had anything to do with the incident in Guna, a district that’s part of the Gwalior range. Government sources said the IG’s transfer was in connection with the upcoming by-elections since most of the constituencies fall in the region.
While the videos show a woman constable raining blows on Shishupal and the woman, senior officials claimed Shishupal had attacked the woman constable. Posting a video of the police action, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday tweeted, “Hamari ladai isi soch aur anyay ke khilaf hai (Our fight is against this very mentality and injustice)”.
The Congress announced it would send a seven-member team led by former home minister Bala Bachchan and former urban development minister Jaivardhan Singh to Guna on Friday.
A Congress team met the couple at the district hospital on Thursday and handed them a cheque of Rs 1.5 lakh.
Accusing the Congress of conspiring to create tension, state BJP president V D Sharma said the incident had no caste angle but was a dispute between encroachers and a team from the administration.
Bamori in Guna district is one of the 25 constituencies where bypolls crucial to the survival of the BJP government will be held. Most of these seats fall in the Gwalior-Chambal region that was rocked by violence in April 2018 in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.