Godhra, arson, terrorism, stone-pelting, Dalits and Muslims, and other such issues in village Lehna

A fact-finding report released today by PUCL Uttar Pradesh

Fact Finding Report on the murder of MNREGA and labour activist Shri Hari Lal, Village Lehna, Block Manjhanpur, District Kaushambhi on 15.08.2010

A fact finding committee to investigate the incident was formed with the following: members

  1. Mr. S.R.Darapuri, Retired IPS, Vice President UP PUCL.
  2. Mrs. Arundhuti Dhuru, Consultant to Commissioner Right To Food Committee of Supreme Court.
  3. Mr. Ram Kumar, Vice President UP PUCL.
  4. Mr. Jawed Rasool, Dyanmic Action Group.
  5. Dr. Nisha Srivastav, Professor  (Deptt. of Economics ), Allahabad University .
  6. Mr. Rajni Kant Rai, HRLN, Allahabad .
  7. Mrs. Bindu Singh, Convener UP Right To Food Campaign .
  8. Mr. Sanjay Singh, convenor, Parmarth, Oriye, Jalaun

The committee visited the site of incident in village Lehna  on 21.08.10 .The fact finding committee met the family members of the late Hari Lal, other residents of the village, and workers and officials of Voice of People’s (VOP). The committee also met the district magistrate and spoke to the superintendent of police. The following facts about the incidents came to light through this enquiry:

Background to the Incident

The main issue behind this incident was of MNREGA and payment of labour wages. According to the available evidence, a pond was dug in the village by 250 labourers from the panchayat quota of MNREGA in April, May and June 2007. However, the gram pradhan, Tirath (Dhobi), did not pay the labourers full wages. The gram pradhan is a mere puppet in the hands of a former gram pradhan, Bassan, and his son Fateh and a criminal named Nakkan.

The issue of wages for this work was raised before the concerned officials and eventually on 26 Oct 2007 the labourers were forced to sit on a hunger strike before the DM’s office. It was only after that that they got their wages,

Instrumental in making them get their wages were Hari Lal and Budh Ram of the organisation Voice of People’s. After that, gram pradhan Tirath and the former gram pradhan Bassan’s son Fateh, who was also the contractor of the work, started regarding Hari Lal and Budh Ram as their enemies. Thereafter, they started threatening and harassing those labourers who were members of VOP.

From January 2010, labourers had been asking for work under MNREGA but were not given any work. So the labourers directly asked the BDO for work, who allotted them work from his office in February. Enraged by this the gram pradhan and his associates beat up the labourers. When this matter was reported in the police station, an FIR under non-cognizable offences was admitted and negligible action was taken against the pradhan. The pradhan falsely complained to the DM that despite completion of 100 days of work the labourers of the village were unduly pressuring him for more work. In truth, 100 days of work had not been completed in the panchayat. To protest against this, nearly 1000 labourers protested before the DM’s office on 9.2.2010 under the banner of VOP. As a result, no action was taken against the labourers on the gram pradhan’s complaint.

Due to these events, again the pradhan, Tirath, and his associates Fateh and Nakkan were unhappy with Hari Lal. Nakkan has been an accused in two murder cases in the past and was prohibited from entering the district for committing the murder of the regional Lekhpal. Nakkan harassed VOP activists Rekha Devi and tried to rape her. With help from local police, he tried to abduct Rekha Devi from her house. This matter was taken up before the police and higher officials. The police did not take any strong action against Nakkan, and merely some action under section 151, which encouraged Nakkan even more to continue harassing and threatening VOP workers. The result of such tardy action by the police and the administration against Tirath, Fateh and  Nakkan was that they were successful in causing harm to Hari Lal and his co-workers.

Hari Lal murdered

On 15.08.2010, around 11 am Hari Lal was returning to his house from Independence Day celebrations when Nakkan and Fateh shot at him and he died instantly at 1.30 pm Hari Lal’s wife Shanti Devi registered an FIR against the four accused – Tirath, Fateh, Nakkan and Bassan – at thana Karari – case number 316 under IPC sections 302 / 34 / 120 (B) of IPC and section 3(2) of the SC/ST (PoA) Act.

Violence and arson

Since Hari Lal was a popular leader of the poor in the area, the news of his murder spread fast and many people from Lehna and neighboring villages got together. The local police also arrived. After committing the murder, the accused Tirath and Fateh hid themselves in Bassan’s house. The people collected there asked the police to immediately bring them out and arrest them. But the police did not do so. The crowd kept swelling with more people joining in. In their anger the crowd set Bassan’s house on fire. In the meanwhile, the DM and the SP reached there with additional forces and a fire brigade. The crowd pelted stones on the police. It was after much effort that the police could bring the fire under control and rescue the people caught inside, including the accused. In the process apart from Bassan’s, seven neighboring houses were also burnt. In this arson and violence, 4 to 5 thousand people were involved. The violence and arson happened as a spontaneous response to the killing of Hari Lal.

In the violence and arson incident, FIRs were filed at thana Karari on the same day against 22 accused. The cases were filed by one Qusar Abbas – case number 316 under IPC 147/145/149/392/436/352/427/506/336/353/307 and the Seventh Criminal Amendment Act.

In addition to the cases above, Shri Dinesh Prakash Pandey, in-charge of Karari thana, filed another set of cases on 16.08.10, 25 hours after the arson incident. These were filed against 8 individuals and 4-5 hundred unknown individuals. He filed case number 317/10 under IPC 147/145/352/336/307 and  the seventh criminal amendment Act.

Summary of the survey of the site and testimonials of the villagers conducted by the committee

1. The committee found that in the Pasi basti where Hari Lal lived, everyone has run away from home and all the doors are locked. Many doors had been broken down. The village residents said that on the night of 15 August itself, the police attacked these houses to find those responsible for the arson. Some women and elderly said that the police had terrorised them and visited them several times since 15th August and vandalised their houses. The police also beat up some women, including Tirari (w/o Shiv Lal), Shanti Devi (w/o Siya Ram), Sonia (w/o Budha). The police raids the houses in the night and beats up whoever they find. When the fact finding committee visited Lehna on the 21st arrests were still going on. No one knows where the arrested individuals have been kept. There is an environment of fear in the village. The Dalits have left their houses and their cattle are still tied to the doors, unattended, hungry and thirsty.

2. The inquiry committee also went to the houses of those which faced arson. The police and DM informed that they had been sent to a safe place.

Actions taken by the police and District Administrarion

  1. So far three of four accused in Hari Lal’s murder have been arrested. However, the main accused, Nakkan, is still absconding.
  2. 22 people including 3 women have been arrested and jailed so far for arson and vandalism.
  3. In the arson case, the police has increased its list of those it wants to arrests from 22 to 45. This may be increased even more. Similarly, in the cases filed by the Karari thana in-charge, the number of accused have been increased from 8 to 37. The increase in the number of accused much after the initial FIRs is to target the workers of VOP.
  4. In the fight with the police, a prominent activist of VOP, Parvez Rizvi and many others have been made accused. However the committee found that Parvez Rizvi had reached the site of incident when he was called by the police at 2.30 pm to help them calm down the crowd. He did his best to do so an it was because of him that the crowd allowed the fire brigade to the arson spot and extinguish the fire and rescue the people inside. That Parvez reached the spot much after the incident can be confirmed from his mobile phone records.
  5. Parvez Rizvi’s name was not there in the arson and vandalism cases but has been included in the investigation stage. In the cases filed by the thana in-charge,  Parvez Rizvi has been made the number one accused.
  6. The fact finding committee is alarmed by the DM’s approach to the incident. Firstly, he did not take any action against the MNEGRA irregularities of the gram pradhan despite VOP activists bringing them to his notice repeatedly since 2007. Secondly, for the last one year Hari Lal had repeatedly informed him of the threat to his life from the pradhan and his associates. The administration’s inaction is responsible for Hari Lal’s death. Thirdly, in the committee’s interaction, the DM repeatedly compared the arson incident with Godhra .The committee pointed out to him that on both sides of this case, both Hindus and Muslims were involved, and so the incident should not be given a communal colour. Despite this he kept mentioning Godhra. The efforts of the highest administrative official of the districts to communalise the incident are condemnable. Fourthly, no matter how condemnable the arson incident is, the fact remains that it happened because of the day-light murder of Hari Lal who struggled against corruption. The arson happened because the police and administration could not estimate Hari Lal’s popularity and the people’s anger. Fifthly, when the committee asked the DM why a second FIR was filed 25 hours after the arson incident, the DM said that the police had got tired. This was a shocking response. Sixthly, by victimising the Dalit victims and giving the incident a communal colour, the police is sowing the seed of more violence in the area.

The committee’s recommendations

  1. The main accuse in Hari Lal’s murder, Nakkan, should be immediately arrested.
  2. The list of accused in the arson incident should be limited to those named in the first FIR.
  3. Parvez Rizvi is innocent and all charged against him should be withdrawn.
  4. To arrest the accused, the police should not intimidate the Dalit families and should not ran sacked their houses.
  5. The administration should investigate the irregularities in MNREGA committed by gram pradhan Tirath. Labourers should get work under MNREGA.
  6. In Lehna village the police should end its fear and make the situation normal.
  7. This incident is of a murder and spontaneous public reaction to it. The accused in the cases are both Dalits and muslims. The incident should not be given a communal colour.
  8. Those whose houses have been burnt should be given compensations. Since Hari Lal was a Dalit, his family should also be given compensation under the SC/ST (PoA) Act.

(Javed Rasool)   (Ram Kumar)    (Arundhuti Dhuru)     (SR Darapuri)   (KK Roy)

(Dr Nisha Srivastava)   (Bindu Singh)   (Sanjay Singh)           (Rajnikant Rai)

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