New Delhi: Merely twenty five kilometers from the southeastern border of the National Capital, a nine-month-old girl and a boy, aged two-and-a-half, were on Tuesday set ablaze in a suspected revenge killing perpetrated by members of an upper caste community. The incident comes two weeks after mother of the two children, who was also set ablaze in the attack, had filed a complaint with the local police after men from upper caste community had allegedly threatened to kill her family.
File photo of the two kids who were burnt alive
The incident was reported from Sunped village of Haryana’s Faridabad district where an all-night vigil (also called as Jagran) was organised by the villagers on the occasion of Hindu festival Navratra. Kumar (27), a private medial assistant by profession, sees his patients in the office located right next to his room where he and his family were sleeping on the fateful night.
At around 2 am, a resident of the village, was on way to her home after attending the Jagran function. She noticed flames emanate from the bereaved family’s home and alerted a police team that was stationed a few feet away from the scene of crime. Seeing the commotion several villagers followed the police team to the house only to see Jitender Kumar and his wife Rekha, crying for help. The police found the two children in a room adjacent to where the couple was. Kumar had desperately tried push out his two children from tiny passage which opens into what was his office. He was woken up today morning by droplets of some liquid falling onto his feet.
“I woke up to see about a dozen men throwing petrol into our room. I tried to open the door only to find that it had been locked from outside. The attackers continued to throw petrol into our room while I kept begging them to spare us. Minutes after that, one of them used a matchstick to set us on fire. I pushed my children into my office through that tiny window but by then the fire had engulfed them,” said 27-year-old Kumar.
According to him 5-7 minutes had passed before villagers finally opened the door. “I used my hands to extinguish the fire but that wasn’t enough. When the villagers arrived they wrapped my children and wife in a blanket and took them to a local hospital. From there the doctor told us to go to Safdarjung hospital. My children passed away even before we could reach the hospital in Delhi,” Kumar added.
The children, according to the medical reports, had suffered more than 30% burns and were declared dead on their arrival at the hospital. His wife, is currently undergoing treatment and is said to be in a critical condition. Kumar himself has burn injuries on his nose and hands.
Tensions between Dalits and Thakurs of Sunped village had been simmering since October 2014 when three upper caste men were killed in a major confrontation between the two communities. According to officials, a fight had broken out between children of two communities in which a mobile phone had fallen into a drain. Villagers claimed that youth from the upper caste community had abused a Dalit youth and asked him to retrieve the phone from the drain. “When the Dalit youth did not oblige them, he was beaten up,” said Jal Singh, the village head.
Moments later adults of the two families from which the youth belonged to fought with each other as a result of which around 12 persons were injured. Three of the injured men, who belonged to the Thakur community, succumbed to their injuries following which 11 persons, including two women were arrested. The two women were released on bail later but situation in the village continued to be tense.
After Dalit villages approached local authorities a police team had been maintaining 24-hour vigil in the area since last year. However, tensions continued to prevail. “They had told us that they will murder our family. They used to abuse us whenever they saw us or passed by our home. On some days they would throw rocks into our home,” said Santa Devi, the grandmother of the two children.
On October 6, Rekha had written a letter to the SHO of the local police station and had asked the cops to take action against some men who had allegedly threatened to kill her family.
“The police told us that three men of their community had died so they will abuse but they won’t do anything more than that,” said Rakesh Kumar, the younger brother of Jeetendra.
Senior Haryana police officers, however, denied the accusations. “We knew the threat level and we had taken necessary precautions. A police team was present there,” said a senior police officer adding that the noise coming from the function had made it difficult for the posted cops to know what was happening in Kumar’s home.
The villagers, however, refused police’s defense accusing them of appeasing the dominant community. “Is it possible that the attackers would come, set the house on fire and leave without getting caught. Either the police was sleeping or they know something that we don’t,” said Manish, a resident of the village.
Members of the Thakur community speaking to dna floated a different theory altogether. Vinjendra Singh, a resident, even claimed that the Kumar was not in good terms with his wife and might have committed the act himself.
When told that the wife, who is undergoing treatment at Safdarjung hospital, might give a statement contrary to his belief, Singh told dna that it was police’s job to find out the truth. Neighbours of the family rubbished theories of a domestic dispute stating that the couple were recently married and were happy to be with each other. “The husband was not even in the fight that took place a year ago. His uncle, who was a Pradhan, was accused of being in the fight but not him. But all the men in their family are in jail so the attackers though of taking revenge on Jeentendra,” said Rohtas Kumar a distant relative of the family.
According to Kumar, a total of 11 people carried out the attack. Police detained three men, identified as Balwant Singh, Kartar Singh and Dharam Singh, and have launched a massive manhunt to nab the other eight accused named in the FIR. Police said that most of the accused belonged to one family which had been involved in a major confrontation with the Dalit family since 2014. Following the killing more than 150 officials of Haryana police were deployed in the village on account of simmering tension that prevailed in the area throughout the day.
The village has a total population of 2000-2500 out of which 300-400 make up for the Dalit community.