Maganlal Barela’s wife says he loved his daughters, whom he is accused of killing, the most

The fragrance of lantana is overpowering as you approach the home of Maganlal Barela, who is on death row for hacking his five daughters to death on June 11, 2010. Supreme Court stayed his execution late on Wednesday night, just hours before the appointed time on Thursday.

The mud huts of Maganlal, and his brothers Agan, Chhagan and Jagan are situated in the forest bordering Kaneria, more than 100 km west of Bhopal. Barelas are a Scheduled Tribe. Maganlal’s wife Basanti, around 30 years old, was returning from the forest with firewood when this reporter arrived at her hut.

“I had gone to cut firewood,” she said recalling the horror on that fateful day. “When I came back I found my husband tied to a tree. The men who had gathered there said he had done something bad. When I entered the hut I found my daughters on the floor.”

The huts are hard to find. One must wade through ankle-deep mud, skip across a couple of rivulets and then walk in the direction of the tinkling cowbells of Maganlal’s pairs of oxen and cows. These animals, some poultry and firewood have sustained Maganlal’s family of seven — his two wives (Santo and Basanti, who are cousins) and five sons — after he was jailed. The youngest — three-year-old Binod — was born at home after Maganlal’s arrest, as no one came forward with a motorcycle to take Basanti to the hospital.

“We keep our distance from the family,” said village elder Ramlal. “The brothers always create trouble. I heard Jagan is facing a case for selling fake gold in Harda.”

There is a village legend behind the fake gold charge. “I think he was under maya,” said Head Constable Manohar Thakur — who arrested Maganlal in 2010. ‘Maya’ in these parts refers to black magic for increasing wealth. Locals suggest it is also related to alchemy. “The brothers were into this fake gold racket. There are no cases against them here however. He got in too deep into maya is what I think,” says Thakur.

Maganlal’s charge sheet, however, says he was angry with his wives who didn’t want him to sell his land. And that he killed his daughters aged 1 to 6 in a fit of rage.

“I entered the hut and there were the girls, all with their heads partially severed,” said Thakur. “Each of them had suffered a single stroke with an axe.” Maganlal appeared intoxicated, but sobered after the medical tests. “He sobbed silently. He didn’t say much. There was that look on his face… the look of one who realises he has killed his children and would do anything to bring them back.”

Basanti says he loved his daughters the most. “He used to bring them sev and sweets whenever he got work in the village. I don’t know if he killed them. Santo and I were not there. When we came back from the forest, he didn’t say anything. He stood with tears rolling down his cheeks.”

The prosecution claimed that Basanti and Santo alerted their brothers-in-law after seeing the girls lying in pools of blood through a gap in the door. Maganlal then tried to kill his wives, who ran away. He then tried to hang himself from a teak tree, but was saved by his brothers. The charge of attempted suicide could not be proved.

Case proceeding records quote the wives as saying that their daughters were killed by unknown men who also tied Maganlal to the tree.

Maganlal’s wives have not met him since he was arrested. They tried, says Basanti, but the prison guards turned them away. His first wife Santo is ill, and too weak to speak. His brothers and the eldest son had gone to Jabalpur to receive the body after the hanging. They later sent word to Basanti through a villager that bada log (big people) in Delhi had spared Maganlal.

“Can you ask the bada log to send him home? Our land has not been tilled since he went away,” said Basanti pointing to the pasture beyond the remains of the hut where her daughters were slain. The family brought down the hut. “Every one has turned away from us. Even my brothers-in-law won’t help plough our field. Our eldest son, Vijay, can’t go to school as he earns money as a cowherd. If Maganlal comes back everything will be fine.”

Vijay, who has the appearance of a 10-year-old but says he is 15, was stoic throughout the interview. “I don’t know my father,” was all he would say.

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