The mysterious death of a young Dalit woman in a far-off village of Jodhpur has forced her in-laws’ family to sit on a dharna outside the Collectorate since May 28 seeking a re-investigation into the case.

The woman’s father-in-law Tejaram runs between police stations and court, while his wife and two children — both of whom are mentally unstable — wait endlessly.

Life, probably, was never easy for Tejaram’s 21-year-old daughter-in-law whose burnt body was found in a jungle near Dediya village on February 10. But it became even worse for the family after her death under suspicious circumstances. The police arrested Tejaram and his son, Omaram, on charges of dowry death based on a complaint lodged by the victim’s parents. Police registered a case because Omaram and his wife had been married for only three years. While Tejaram was kept in a lock-up illegally and released on judicial intervention, Omaram is still in jail facing trial.

Tejaram and his family have a different story to tell. In a petition before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), filed on their behalf by Dalit Adhikar Network, they alleged that the victim was being sexually exploited by three upper caste men living near Tejaram’s house — the only other family in the vicinity.

The three — Tej Singh, Kavraj Singh and Manohar Singh — used to visit Tejaram’s house when he and Omaram were away at work in the nearby mines, threaten the three family members and sexually exploit the victim. They eventually killed her, the petition alleged. “Dalit women have been exploited by upper caste men for ages. No one listens to Dalits,” Tulsidas Raj, State convenor of Dalit Adhikar Manch told The Hindu. He has been helping the family fight the case. “Our only hope is the NHRC, which has taken cognisance of the case, and we have demanded a CBI enquiry, protection to Tejaram and his family and action against the policemen who kept Tejaram in illegal custody. Importantly, it makes a case under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,’’ he said.

On May 13, Tejaram, after a directive from the court, lodged a second FIR in which the three men had been accused of sexually assaulting and killing his daughter-in-law. It was after the police refused to take action against those named in the second FIR that the family left their house fearing victimisation and sat on a dharna outside the Collectorate.

The police, on the other hand, claim that it was a clear case of dowry death. “The victim and Omaram did not get along. She was staying there against her will. Who wants to live with mentally unstable people? The only two sane men were out during the day, and there was no other family nearby. So the victim made friends with these three young boys which the family disapproved of,’’ said Govind Singh Devada, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Jodhpur.

The case was registered at Phalodi police station on a complaint from the victim’s parents, he said.