Grief boiled over into anger on Wednesday in a Haryana village where two Dalit children were burnt alive as irate villagers blocked the Delhi-Agra highway, forcing the government to agree to their demand for a central probe into the killing that has outraged the country.
The children, aged nine months and two-and-a-half years, were cremated late in the evening with a bevy of political leaders in attendance, after hours of protests forced chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar to cancel a scheduled visit to Sunperh village in Faridabad district.
The cremation capped a tense stand-off after two men placed the children’s bodies -- wrapped in white shrouds -- on the highway as the grief-stricken family refused to cremate them and about 1,000 people shouted slogans against the state government.
“The family agreed to cremate the bodies after we accepted all demands, including that of a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the case. We all participated in the last rites,” said Union minister of state and local MP Krishan Pal Gurjar. Two state ministers, a couple of MLAs and top police officers attended the ceremony.
On Tuesday, over half a dozen upper-caste Rajput men allegedly set ablaze the house where 31-year-old Jitender Kumar was sleeping with his wife and two children, charring the toddlers instantly.
Their mother, Rekha, suffered serious burn injuries during the attack and is still critical while Kumar sustained burns in a case that triggered nationwide shock over festering caste hatred in the region.
The killings were reportedly linked to a long-standing feud in which 11 Dalits were arrested for the murder of three Rajputs last year and is the latest in a string of similar atrocities across the country.
With angry protesters repeatedly disrupting traffic and leading to a long pile-up on the highway, the police arrested four more people, bringing the total to seven. The local station house officer who was responsible for providing security to the Dalit family was also suspended.
Watch | Faridabad village erupts over Dalit killings, block highway
Dalits constitute about a quarter of the state’s population but are often at the receiving end of brutal violence. Two years ago, over 200 Dalit families fled their homes after an upper-caste community attacked them over an inter-caste marriage in Kaithal district.
In 2011, a Jat mob charred to death a physically-challenged girl and her father, besides burning down 15 Dalit houses in Hisar district’s Mirchpur.
As anger mounted, the attack sparked a fresh bout of acrimonious exchanges between rival parties.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited the family in the morning and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Haryana chief minister, the BJP and RSS of practicing the “politics of crushing” those who are weak and poor.
“In Haryana, there is no government for the poor and poor people are being targeted here which is totally wrong,” he said.
Gandhi also appeared to lose his cool when asked if the visit was a photo-op.
“It is insulting that someone says that. It’s not insulting to me, but it’s insulting to these people. People are dying left right and center in this country. People are being beaten up” he said. “Yes absolutely I will visit.”
Left leader Brinda Karat, Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, senior Congress leader Kumari Selja also visited the family.
Hours later, Gurjar said Gandhi was trying to vitiate the atmosphere and insisted the rivalry between two families couldn’t be termed as a clash between two castes.
The Centre also asked for a report with home minister Rajnath Singh and social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot speaking to Khattar, asking him to ensure such incidents weren’t repeated.