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14 forest officials booked for ‘shooting dead’ Dalit man in Madhya Pradesh

Activists allege the victim was killed for filling water from a hand pump

The Shivpuri Police have registered a case against 14 forest officials for allegedly shooting dead a Dalit man, while his family filled water from a hand pump near a forest post, in the district on Sunday. 

The Forest Department claims that when a patrolling team reached a forest post at Fatehpur village near Karera, 50 km from Shivpuri, to remove an encroachment by the victim, Madan Mehtar, villagers pelted stones on them, prompting the firing of pellets. The victim’s family alleges the officials fired at them during a scuffle that broke out over drawing water from a hand pump in the village.

FIR registered

“An FIR (First Information Report) has been registered against ten identified persons and others who are unnamed,” said R.S. Chandel, Shivpuri Superintendent of Police. A case has been registered under Sections 302 [Punishment for murder], 307[Attempt to murder], 323 [Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt], 294 [Obscene acts], 147 [ Punishment for rioting.], 148 [Rioting, armed with deadly weapon], 149 [Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence commit­ted in prosecution of common object]  of the Indian Penal Code and section 3(2)(v) of the The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.  No arrests have been made so far. 

The victim’s father, Mahotam Mehtar, a permanent employee at the Madhav National Park in Shivpuri, had not received his salary for five-six months owing to absence from duty, though on medical grounds. This had led to a dispute with foresters, said Mr. Chandel.

“The victim suffered more than 50 pellet wounds. A post mortem has been conducted on the body and we will get the report soon,” he said.

The victim’s wife Saroj Mehtar,28, gave an oral complaint to the police, based on which an FIR was registered. “Around 2.30 p.m., along with mother-in-law and two daughters, she went to fetch water from the hand pump near the forest post like every day,” said the FIR. While one of the daughters washed utensils there, some water splashed on a forest Ranger nearby who’d come to fill a bottle. “He abused them and said - You lowly people, why do you come to fill water from the pump near the post?”

When they protested against being abused, a female forest official allegedly slapped them. And one of the daughter called Mr. Madan and his brother Pankaj Mehtar from home, who were then hit by “rifle butts and sticks”. As they attempted to run away, "foresters fired at them from behind", injuring them. “The brother in law got injuries on his right shoulder. Mr. Madan died on the way to the hospital.”

Second incident

This is the second reported incident of pellet gun firing by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department in eight months. In July last year, during an eviction drive in Burhanpur district, officials reportedly fired pellets at tribals, injuring four. 

Meanwhile, Madhav National Park Director Mohan Meena, who has initiated an inquiry, said whether the guns belonged to the department or were privately owned was being looked into. “The patrolling team comprised of rangers, SDOs (Sub Divisional Officers), and two former Army soldiers who carried rifles,” he said. 

Mr. Meena alleged that villagers used country pistols and pelted stones on foresters as they approached the encroachment. As for drawing water from the pump, he said, “All arrangements are made before going out on a patrol. Officials carried water with them,” he claimed. 

Terming the incident an “encounter”, Sudhir Kode, a Dalit activist, said, “Officials took law in their own hands. They fired unprompted, that too without permission.”

‘Prejudice persists’

Stating that the incident portrayed an attempt by upper castes to deny Dalits access to resources, including water, Ravi Mahant, an activist said, “Those belonging to upper castes, even in uniform, fail to shed their identity to ensure equitable distribution of resources. No matter your position in power, caste prejudice persists.”

Threatening to stage a dharna outside the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s residence in Bhopal, Former Bhim Army State in-charge Sunil Astay wrote on Twitter, “Can’t Dalits even touch a hand pump now? The mountain of atrocities has broken loose on Dalits in Madhya Pradesh…. A brother of the Valmiki caste was shot dead for filling water from the pump.” 

Last September at Bhavkhedi village in the district, two upper caste men allegedly thrashed to death two Dalit children, who did not have toilets at home, for defecating in the open.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 1:20:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/14-forest-officials-booked-for-shooting-dead-dalit-man-in-madhya-pradesh/article30841991.ece

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