Armed men torched two dozen houses in the night, reportedly killed 4 women and threw their bodies into a river

On a quiet July night in 1995, an armed mob unleashed its fury on Dilerganj — a small village close to Kunda MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh’s native Beti village in Pratapgarh district — and torched almost two dozen houses.

Four girls, one aged 18 and the other 13, 11 and 8, were reportedly shot, their limbs cut with swords and hatchets, and bodies thrown into a river.

Some reports claimed the four were raped before being killed and an infant was murdered as well. Two other women jumped into the river to escape the marauding mob.

Non-payment of tax?

According to one version, based on accounts of locals, a boy belonging to the minority community had refused to give in demands of paying lagan (tax) to local musclemen. He was beaten up, tied behind a jeep and dragged around the village. Even after this, the villagers, who were voicing their opinion against the newly elected MLA, were reluctant to pay the tax and as a result, they believe, the village was attacked.

Another version, based on eyewitness statements to the court, related that the attack was in retaliation to a rape of a woman belonging to a particular community. There were also speculations of rivalry over the post of village pradhan leading up to the incident.

However, the police denied that the girls were shot, contending that they drowned after jumping into the river to escape the mob. The post mortem report also claimed death by drowning.

Gunshot wounds

Carried by the strong current of the river, the bodies had drifted away into the jurisdiction of the Kokhraj police station. When they were recovered, the policemen there, contrary to earlier police statements, noted in the General Diary that the bodies had gunshot wounds. A high-level probe was called and 37 persons were named accused.

However, all the nine witnesses turned hostile — they described the events but refused to recognise the accused even after naming them in the FIR — and a sessions court in Pratapgarh eventually acquitted all 37 on March 27, 2006.

The Dilerganj massacre, as the incident was called, was the first major case where Mr. Raghuraj Singh alias Raja Bhaiya’s name surfaced as accused.

Rights groups alleged that the perpetrators belonged to the Raja Bhaiya Youth Brigade — a group of youngsters raised by him and acting as musclemen to consolidate his electoral base and intervene in local disputes.

While Mr. Singh admitted that the incident occurred, he denied all allegations of involvement. “A lawyer associated with the case is considering re-opening it but getting witnesses to come out remains the biggest challenge,” he says.

DSP’s killing

As the Central Bureau of Investigation’s team of Special Crime investigative unit and forensic experts tries to corroborate the sequence of events of last Saturday, when Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia-ul-Haq was killed in a clash that erupted over the murder of a village pradhan and his brother in Ballipur village, they face similar hurdles.

Unable to get even a single witness so far, the CBI has appealed to villagers to come forward and provide information on the murders. It has assured that the identity of the persons will be kept secret and nobody will face any harassment during the investigation, while appealing to those who left their homes to return. The out-of-clue CBI has circulated a telephone number “05341-230006” and an email address “spscu1del@cbi.gov.in” asking people to provide information about the murders. There have been reports that most of the 300 persons who were witness to the incident have fled the village to avoid questioning.

Yet to be quizzed

The CBI took over the cases on the recommendation of the Uttar Pradesh government after the demand was made by the slain DSP’s wife, Praveen. It has filed four FIRs in the case and booked 23 persons, including Mr. Singh and his aides, on various counts. However, he has not been interrogated so far.

Mr. Singh has been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, rioting and intentional insult to provoke violence.

The CBI team, which is camping in a guest-house in Unchhar on the Allahabad-Lucknow highway, has questioned police personnel who deserted the DSP, sources said.

The CBI is already probing allegations of embezzlement of Rs. 100 crore from PDS during Mr. Singh’s tenure as Food and Civil Supply Minister during 2003-07.

A journalist from Kunda, speaking on condition of anonymity, recalls how the local editor of a Hindi daily was on the run for months after he wrote an editorial on the corruption in the PDS in the area.

Nobody speaks out

“As is the trend, he had to give a haziri [attendance]) at the raj durbar. Only when he agreed to re-track, was the compromise made. Nobody will speak out easily,” he says.

Meanwhile, Ms. Parveen has written to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav demanding that the CBI team investigating the case be from Delhi, not from Uttar Pradesh.

She has also demanded that a fast track court be set up outside Uttar Pradesh and the case should be heard on a day-to-day basis.