A 38-year-old tribal woman is battling for life after allegedly being set on fire by a group of people, including two women, for resisting their bid to encroach upon her family land in the Guna area of Madhya Pradesh on Saturday.
Rampyari Bai belongs to the Saharia tribe that comes under the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs). Her family claims that it had sought police protection due to threats by the accused but was denied the same.
A video of the incident — in which the woman is seen under fire on a field in Dhanoria village of Bamori — has gone viral. It is not clear if the video was shot by the accused themselves or some passers by.
Ms. Rampyari Bai’s husband Arjun Saharia said he saw three fellow villagers — Pratap, Hanumat, Shyam Kirar — fleeing the spot in a tractor along with their family members. His wife later told the police that six persons, including the three mentioned above, one person called Pandit and two women had poured diesel and set her ablaze before escaping.
Six bigha land
The spot of the crime is a six bigha land that the victim’s family claims legally belongs to them. On Saturday afternoon, the accused were ploughing the land, when Ms. Rampyari Bai reached the field and objected to it. It was then that they allegedly poured diesel and set her ablaze.
The land, said Arjun, was allotted to them under a Chief Minister’s welfare scheme launched by the erstwhile Digvijaya Singh government. A dispute with the accused over the ownership of the land was settled by the local administration in their favour in May, he added. Nearly a week before the incident, on June 23, Arjun had reportedly sought security from the police claiming that his life was under threat. However, no action was taken.
The victim’s husband added that he was attacked by the same set of people earlier too and a First Information Report (FIR) had been filed. However, no action was taken on the matter either.
Following the incident, the woman was taken to Bhopal where she is being treated for burns at the Hamidia Hospital and is said to be critical.
Guna Superintendent of Police Pankaj Srivastava told the local media that an FIR had been registered and two of the three accused had been taken into custody. The accused have denied the allegations and claimed that the woman had immolated herself.
Spotlight on vulnerability
The incident has brought the spotlight on the vulnerability of the tribals who comprise 22% of the State’s population. Latest statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show that the number of cases of atrocities against the Scheduled Tribes has been steadily increasing in Madhya Pradesh. As many as 2,401 cases were registered in 2020, up from 1,922 in 2019 and 1,868 the year before.
The Opposition Congress accused the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government of having a “hostile attitude” towards the tribals.
“The woman's husband says that he had given an application to the police on June 23 asking for security as he faced threats, but was not given security cover. I want to ask Shivraj ji why his government has such a hostile attitude towards the tribal community? When will the tribal community in the State be safe?,” former Chief Minister Kamal Nath asked in a tweet.