Following a recent argument over a kite string, two people burnt alive the 12-year-old son of a kite seller at Malerkotla in Sangrur district on Monday morning.
Vidhu Jain, a resident of Chota Chowk, received 100% burns and succumbed to them on his way to a private hospital in Ludhiana.
The incident took place around 11.30 am when Vidhu, a student of Class 7 at AS Jain School, was reportedly going to hand over the lunch box to his younger brother at Basant Valley School.
SSP Mandeep Singh Sidhu said shopkeepers saw Vidhu, who was ablaze, running down the market lane and screaming in Nawab Da Bagh area and doused the fire.
"The boy was in a serious condition when the police reached the spot. In the presence of the police and his father Naveen Jain, Vidhu said two persons forcibly took him to an under-construction colony and set him ablaze," Sidhu said, adding that one of the assailants was "purportedly minor".
(Victim: Vidhu Jain)
"According to the boy's statement, he could not identify the two but could recognise them as he had had a heated argument with them over the kite string three days ago," the SSP said.
"The boy told his father that the argument had taken place in the presence of their servant who was present at the shop, Sidhu said, adding that the police were trying to locate the servant who was missing after the incident.
The shopkeepers rushed the boy to a local hospital, where he was referred to the Ludhiana hospital, where doctors declared him brought dead.
As the word spread, people from all communities gathered and blocked the Ludhiana-Malerkotla and Patiala-Malerkotla roads. They also ransacked five buses and damaged a few two-wheelers. The police resorted to a mild lathicharge to disperse the protesters, who demanded the immediate arrest of the accused.
Ruling out the possibility of it being a communal attack, the SSP said they hoped to arrest the accused at the earliest. "Though a few people are trying to give it a communal colour, there was nothing of the sort," he said.
(Residents protesting after the incident in Malerkotla. Bharat Bhushan/HT)
Meanwhile, shopkeepers at Malerkotla and Dhuri observed a complete shutdown after the incident and joined the protest. Heavy police force from Barnala and Patiala districts was called in to avoid any untoward incident.
"The situation is tense but under control," the SSP said.