The Madhya Pradesh high court on Tuesday asked police to re-investigate the death of a minor tribal boy who was allegedly killed by an upper caste vigilante group for playing music on his mobile phone more than two months ago in Dhar district.
The Indore bench of the high court also took critical view of the earlier investigation and raised questions on human dignity in the state, said Madhuri Krishnaswami, a tribal rights activist who had taken the issue to court after police had passed off the incident as suicide.
The 16-year-old Bhil tribal Madiya was allegedly assaulted, set on fire and then hanged from a tree in front of his house on August 14 by people of the influential Patidar community, underlining the deep caste divide in a state which had seen several atrocities on lower caste people in the recent past.
In neighbouring Gujarat, the Patidars are known as the Patels who have launched an agitation for reservation under firebrand leader Hardik Patel.
The incident in Manawar township, around 350 km from capital Bhopal, bore a chilling resemblance to the recent death of two Dalit children in Haryana’s Faridabad after their house was set on fire allegedly by people from an upper caste over a family dispute.
Passing the order, a bench headed by justice SR Waghmare asked the Dhar superintendent of police of Dhar and Manawar police inspector of Manawar to be present in court on the day of the next hearing on November 2.
She also directed the police to provide protection to the family of the boy.
Krishnaswami said members of the vigilante group ‘Sewa Dal’ was involved in the killing and added that police had first tried to hush up the matter before registering an FIR under section 306 of IPC (abetment of suicide).
In the FIR, the police mentioned that Madiya committed suicide out of a sense of guilt on being manhandled by a few persons for playing music on his mobile phone.
Police said that Madiya had set himself afire and then hung himself from the tree, she added.
Senior advocate Anand Mohan Mathur who is representing Krishnaswami in the case said, “The upper caste men resorted to such a ghastly incident to incite panic and terror among the mind of the tribals of the village.”
The incident was one among similar attacks on lower caste people in the state in recent times.
In May, a groom belonging to a lower caste was pelted with stones by upper caste men for riding a horse in Ratlam district. He was later forced to wear a helmet by police to proceed in the marriage procession.
Then in August, a lower caste woman was gang-raped, paraded naked and forced to consume urine by upper caste men over a property dispute.
Though caste-based discrimination is banned in India, atrocities on Dalits and tribals continue unabated in several parts of the country.