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Curfew-like situation as Madhubani burns

Madhubani district magistrate (DM) Adesh Titermare and superintendent of police (SP) Sourav Kumar were removed after two persons were killed and many injured when police opened fire to quell an irate mob of students, which went on the rampage here on Friday.

patna Updated: Oct 13, 2012 13:28 IST
Bishnu K Jha/Avinash Kumar

Madhubani district magistrate (DM) Adesh Titermare and superintendent of police (SP) Sourav Kumar were removed after two persons were killed and many injured when police opened fire to quell an irate mob of students, which went on the rampage here on Friday.

There is virtually a curfewlike situation in the town with columns of central para-military forces (CPMF) staging a flag march and the district administration asking the people to remain indoors in a bid to maintain peace, which threatened to go out of hand throughout the day. The victims of the police firing have been identified as Nishant Kumar Jha, 18, of Basopatti village and Lal Babu Yadav, 26.

The decision to shift the two top district officers was taken at a high-level meeting convened by chief minister Nitish Kumar and attended by his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi, director general of police (DGP) Abhayanand and chief secretary A K Choudhary late in the evening. The chief minister also ordered the transfer of district project officer (education) Jagathpathi Choudhary to the headquarters in Patna.

Lokesh Kumar, currently posted as additional secretary in the panchayati raj department, will be the new DM, while Kishanganj SP Rakesh Kumar Mishra will replace Sourav Kumar. Inspector general (headquarters) J S Gangwar has been asked to camp at Madhubani.

The chief minister, meanwhile, ordered a judicial inquiry into the arson and violence, triggered by the alleged refusal of the police to hand over the body of a school student to his family members.

The beheaded body of Prashant Jha, 17, who had gone missing on September 7, was found on October 2. A probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) would also be recommended into the case of the girl who reportedly went missing with the boy, the chief minister said.

Earlier, the mob of about 10,000 persons set afire the Madhubani collectorate, office of the sub-divisional officer (SDO), town police station, information office, besides many vehicles, including a prisoners' van, in an attack that had the local administration reeling under the impact of Friday.

Many persons, including policemen, were injured when the mob went berserk in protest against the delay in handing over the body of Prashant to his kin.

With the protests taking over the form of a full blown riot, police had to fire around 20 rounds in the air and lob teargas shells in a desperate bid to control the situation.

The entire town resembled a battlefield, with battered vehciles, bleeding people, burning buildings and shrieking people all around. Amid heightened tension and intermittent clashes between the police and the mob and brickbatting all through, Madhubani entered an unsure night with fears of a huge people backlash continuing.

The mob also assaulted the superintendent of police (SP) during the day, reports said, though he managed to escape without much injury. Many in the constabulary were not so lucky in the unprecedented violence.

Late evening reports said there was complete blackout in the town after the administration disconnected the power supply as a precautionary measure. As news of violence spread, the chief minister summoned his deputy, the DGP and home secretary Amir Subhani to review the situation and determine the way forward.

While CPMF columns were put on alert to move in at a short notice, officials on the ground confirmed that the situation was "very tense".

The situation had threatened to spin out of control even in the early morning hours when hundreds of people gathered in support of the murdered boy's grandmother, who had been on a fast since Thursday to demand that the body be released.

However, despite the boy's mother and grandmother identifying the body, the police insisted that they would follow the latest instructions from the top brass to scientifically examine the evidence presented and conduct a DNA test before releasing the body. The police refused to take it that the boy belonged to the family.

Family members said there was no justification in holding back the body when the boy's mother and grandmother had identified it. "But the police claimed that the body is not of the boy and they would first scientifically ascertain it," said a family member, adding that the mob went berserk only after the police resorted to lathicharge and threatened to video-record their actions.

The cries of the mother seeking the body to cremate it and the ire it generated soon led to brawls between the police detachment stationed at the police station and the people.

Arguments and counter-arguments followed. At this point, the police squad threatened to videograph them for their nuisance value and press cases.

This is when all the hell broke loose with brickbatting having begun. It soon developed into a full blooded violent clash.

Soon hundreds of more people joined the brawl pelting stones at government offices. A section of angry youth also surrounded the Madhubani Sadar Hospital where the body of Prashant had been kept and damaged its property.

Many panicky patients fled from the scene. Shopkeepers and other business establishments in the town area downed their shutters apprehending some untoward incident.

The mob became so violent that it put the police into full retreat. A van, carrying 23 prisoners, also came under attack and was set afire. With securitymen and the driver of the van taking to their heels to escape the mob fury, the prisoners also walked away. While nine prisoners surrendered in the court after the incident, the rest had not been traced till late in the evening. A manhunt had been launched to nab them.

The mob also demanded the arrest of the district project officer, whose daughter had also gone missing the same day when Prashant had disappeared.

Prashant, a class 10 student of Indian Public School, was made named accused in her disappearance and the boy's grandfather had also lodged a missing case. The girl, meanwhile, has not been recovered.

On the basis of Choudhary's complaint, the grandfather and brother of the boy were arrested and sent to jail. When the body of Prashant was recovered and identified by his mother, the police lodged a murder case against unidentified persons, but refused to hand over the body to the family members, unless they were fully ascertained about the identity of the victim.

Prashant's grandfather and brother were released on bail on Thursday only.

The outgoing Madhubani SP said the police were ready to hand over the body to the family members, but the mob was in no mood to listen.

"We had to fire a few rounds to disperse the unruly mob, which vandalized the collectorate and police station premises, causing extensive damage.

The situation is still tense. We have already initiated a move for a DNA test of the body," he added. Top police officials, including Darbhanga zone inspector general (IG) RK Mishra, earlier said, "We tried our best to bring things under control."

First Published: Oct 13, 2012 13:26 IST