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Updated: December 28, 2011 14:12 IST

Shobhit Chamar, a bitter recall to life

Shoumojit Banerjee
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After 12 years on death row, this Bihar dacoit had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment

On a bitterly cold winter's night in early January 1989, a gang of dacoits led by Shobhit Chamar broke into the house of Haridwar Pandey in Tirojpur, a village tucked away in the backwaters of Bihar's Kaimur district.

The group rounded up the male members of Pandey's family and ruthlessly gunned them down amid horrified pleas for mercy by their female relatives. In a bid to preclude future revenge attempts, Shobhit and his gang killed two minor children of the family as well.

Haridwar Pandey, perhaps ironically, escaped the slaughter; he was elsewhere in the country that night.

During trial, it was revealed that Shobhit nursed a deep-rooted grudge against the Pandeys, holding them responsible for the murders of his brother and a young nephew.

Shobhit was sentenced to death; his mercy petition was rejected in 2000. In December 2010, after he had spent 12 years on death row, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The memories of his crime are also alive, shaping the lives of the family members of the victims.

Aftermath of death

Bhajurama Devi, a prime witness who is now in her late-70s, may appear feeble, but remembers vividly the horror of that night when she lost her husband and son. “They bound Ram Iqbal,” she recalls, “and gunned him down before my eyes. I was condemned to watch it.”

Haridwar Pandey's wife, Lalmuni Devi, the younger of the two women, bursts forth with bitter recollections of events past.

“I saw my children being pulled away from me as I clutched them close to my breast,” she says, gesturing towards the courtyard where she lost her sons. Anil and Sunil were aged eight and 10. “I pleaded with that butcher [Shobhit] to spare them at least.”

She recounts how she was persistently threatened by Ram Dular, Shobhit's accomplice who was later killed, against giving evidence against Shobhit in court.

Haridwar Pandey married a second time after the incident, and settled in Varanasi in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Lalmuni Devi refuses to leave the house. “It's impossible to wrench myself from its memories,” she confesses.

“What do I care whether they [the government] hang that butcher [Shobhit] or let him go free? My children have left me forever,” she says, her voice quivering with despair.

She is not alone in her sentiments.

A stone's throw from the Pandeys' house live the Chamars — in crumbling mud hovels standing on borrowed land, subject to the whims of ‘better-born' castes.

At the time of the incident, the Chamars worked on lands owned by the Pandeys. “They [the Pandeys] owned at least 60 bighas in these parts,” says Khobaru, Shobit's brother.

Mr. Khobaru recounts how Haridwar Pandey and other members of the family had induced Shobhit and others from his community into criminal activities. He graphically details the killing of his son Ram Kewal, in his mid-20s, who was dragged away and murdered in a village 15 km from Tirojpur.

While acknowledging the criminal fraternisation between members of both communities, Mr. Khobaru accuses Pandey of killing his son.

The mood sobers when the conversation turns to the murder of Lalmuni Devi's children.

“Yes, we admit that was unnecessary,” says Mr. Khobaru, and Jugal Kishore, Shobhit's cousin, concurs. The acknowledgement is the closest that members of either group come to anything resembling reconciliation.

But it was “they” who started it, the Chamar group quickly asserts. “They [the Pandeys] killed my father-in-law by thrusting acid down his throat,” says Urmila Devi, a woman in the group.

When he had the money, Mr. Khobaru visited his brother a few times at the Bhagalpur Central Jail. He has not done so during the last few years.

Almost nobody in the community knows that Shobhit has recently been shifted to the Buxar Jail. Nobody here knows where Shobhit's wife and children live today.

The crushing pressures of daily life have not left much time for Tirojpur's Chamars to brood over Shobhit's drawn-out tryst with death.

“Today, there's no tension between the Pandeys and the Chamars,” asserts Mr. Khobaru. “But we try to avoid each other, and if our paths cross, then we lower our eyes and move on.”

“Sir, instead of this old crime, why not write something that would alert this government to our plight?” suggests Jugal Ram, who follows The Hindu team as we leave Tirojpur.

In Buxar, his jailors describe Shobhit as a man who prefers a quiet life. He even does a bit of gardening in the compound.

“I'm very happy to live,” he is said to have uttered on learning that his death sentence had been commuted.

“They [the Pandeys] owned at least 60 bighas in these parts,” This shows how 'socialist' our country is. In fact it's a matter of research that how tolerant our general population is that these incidents are not prevalent even after such harassing socio-economic conditions.

from:  Vikas Kumar
Posted on: Oct 22, 2011 at 11:27 IST

Even after 63 years of independence we are unable to change the system
that showers tragedy on all. These families are victims of a wretched
system that we have crowned ourselves with.

We Indians collectively must take responsibility for generations of
tragedy and change our fate through rational laws, sound education and
change our life style and thinking to suit modern society.

from:  Saraswathi
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 20:03 IST

Politicians in Bihar have long thrived on caste based politics, which has done nothing good for the people but only created hatred amongst the groups. As of it many of us from Bihar do not use our surnames to avoid our caste being recognised.
But Bihar is changing now, under the able governance of an educated chief minister (I use the word educated in terms of wisdom and not mere collection of degrees)
Let's see what the future beholds.... May Bihar come out of the shadow of caste politics.
So that we can can really feel and say "Proud to be a Bihari"

from:  Kumar Pranav
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 18:44 IST

The socio-economic structure of the society is causing this kind of problems. The lower castes are still somehow dependent on the upper caste to lead a normal life. Sometime there are certain issues on which the viewpoints of these groups of society do not match. The dominating upper caste expect the lower caste to pull back.This lead to injustice to lower caste.The failure of the law and justice to the lower caste lead to increased despair and they try to take matters in their hand.The result is a more brutal act from the lower caste.
This is the failure of the upper caste,the lower caste and the government together. Most of the beneficiary plans of Indian Government don't work properly .The failure of the governance and inability of the law & justice to reach in remote areas aggravate the problem.
its time for the local government to come forward and show its worth.

from:  sumit
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 17:51 IST

Dacoity, terrorism or any kind of communal violence starts from personal
vengeance. If i put myself in Shobit's shoes at that point of time, i
don't find an answer if i had done the same or acted a bit more
thoughtfully carrying the memory of someone in family killed by
thrusting acid in his mouth.

from:  sagar
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 16:47 IST

This showcases the usustainability of exploiting people, much like the unsustainability of exploiting natural resources.

from:  Surya
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 10:38 IST

People are tempted to take up the matters in their own hands when they see the law and order being the bastion of the rich. Only when we see the justice being painstakingly denied or delayed we take up the matters in our hands. Plug the loop holes in law and hasten up the court decisions and most important, inspire our Police force to be hard working and "Honest".

from:  Ankur Jamwal
Posted on: Oct 20, 2011 at 10:32 IST
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