Had it not been for a parent-teacher meeting, Monday would have been a usual day at school for Vidhu Jain on September 30 last year. A day divided between prayers, school and helping his father at the toy shop in the busy Teliyan Wala bazaar – Malerkotla’s bustling market housing embroidery, garments, cosmetics and jewellery shops, a majority of them run by Muslims, and the remaining by Sikhs and Hindus, mostly Jain families.
The walls of this wedding bazaar now have posters seeking justice for ‘Shaheed Vidhu Jain’. Over a year after 11-year-old Vidhu left his home riding a new bicycle to the school of his younger brother, Naman, carrying a lunch box and was found burnt alive in a under-construction colony, the case files have only moved from the state to the Centre, which now wants to send them back to the state.
The union government’s counsel on Monday told the Punjab and Haryana high court that the matter concerned the state and should be investigated by it. But the high court asked the CBI counsel if he had read the facts of the case. “The court observed that it is a sensitive matter and how can the CBI counsel be casual about it. He has been asked to appear on Thursday after reading the facts of the case,” Brajeshwar Jaiswal, the counsel for Vidhu’s family said.
The Punjab Police had expressed its inability to crack the case and CM Parkash Singh Badal had written to the union home ministry in January this year to hand the case over to the CBI.
Vidhu’s mother Aarti Jain has petitioned the high court for a CBI probe claiming that he was burnt alive by five Muslims. The family has based their contention on a video filmed by two policemen that later went viral on the social media. Community pages sprang up on Facebook supporting justice for Vidhu and the incident was reported in radical websites.
The disturbing video has been seen on WhatsApp by most of Malerkotla town that is still rife with rumours on what happened to Vidhu on that day. The CCTV camera outside the Jain Watch Company on the busy chowk of Malerkotla town -- it now sells mobile phones -- caught the last glimpse of Vidhu riding on his new bicycle with a lunch box.
There is the suicide theory doing the rounds, which radical Hindu organisations claim has been “invented by police and politicians” as it is the only assembly segment in Punjab with a pre-dominantly Muslim population -- over 1.25 lakh with 68,000 voters, its sitting and former MLAs are both Muslims. The other half of the population comprises Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians. Amid hate-mongering by radicals of both sides, an uneasy silence prevails in Malerkotla as it tries to keep its tradition of communal harmony alive.
Balwant Singh Mastana, who sells bangles, cosmetics and gota-jari, says he used to go to Vidhu’s shop almost once a month to buy toys. “The boy was so cheerful that we went especially when he was at the shop after school. He used to show the latest toys that his father would get from Delhi. I do not visit the shop anymore. What happened has shocked the town,” he says.
‘We don’t burn our dead’
Nearby is Bhatti general store of Mohammad Shabir. He, too, refuses to believe that a child Vidhu’s age could end his life. “It is not possible for an 11-year-old to do something so drastic.
But I also don’t think anyone from our community can do so. We don’t burn our dead, how could someone from among us burn a child alive. We want the CBI to find the killers,” Shabir says.
What has united the town is the “insensitivity” of the police, as shown in the purported video.
“They were asking Vidhu questions about his attackers and making a video when he was writhing in pain. Are the police not first supposed to give first aid or at least cordon off the area? The forensic experts could not locate any footprints as so many people were allowed a free run of the site,” said one of the shopkeepers.
The site is an isolated under-construction colony between two busy roads of Malerkotla — where shops and residential plots have been cut out.
Nearby is a deserted palace, the mahal of the erstwhile Nawab of Malerkotla whose begum still lives there. People say among the eyewitnesses was a deaf and dumb person and a maulvi of a nearby mosque. The police had announced Rs 5-lakh reward for eyewitnesses, but got no leads.
Sangrur SSP Mandeep Singh Sidhu admits a video was filmed by two cops during the five to seven minutes after calling an ambulance. “There are many voices in the video. We did our best to investigate the case while maintaining communal harmony. The Sangrur Police have cracked 13 blind murder cases this year. But we could not solve this one,” Sidhu says.