Lynching of 2 tribals in MP: Families of 6 held say accused linked to Bajrang Dal

AT LEAST six of the 13 persons arrested for the death of two tribal menwho were assaulted on Tuesday over claims of cow slaughter in Madhya Pradesh’s Seoni, are members of the Bajrang Dal — and had championed in previous “raid against cattle smugglers”, their family members told The Indian Express.

The families of some of the six others arrested claimed they were cajoled into joining the raid, which led to the deaths, by people they met at a local wedding. Another accused is a tribal youth whose family does “not know much” about the case.

The local court in Seoni has sent the 13 accused to judicial custody. SP (Seoni) Kumar Prateek said the police have not been able to ascertain if the accused are Bajrang Dal members.

According to the police, one of the two tribals who died, Sampatlal Vatti, was involved in a previous cow-slaughter case registered on October 4, 2021. Both Vatti and his associate Dhansai Invati succumbed in a local hospital to injuries sustained in the assault early on Tuesday morning. A third man, Brijesh Vatti, was injured in the attack.

Tapasvi Upadhyay, the Seoni district chief of Bajrang Dal, said: “Many people are connected to our organisation and it is difficult to give a definite answer that these were our men. They must have attended events hosted by us but that does not make them members.”

But one of those arrested with alleged links to the Dal, Deepak Avidhya (38), introduces himself on his Facebook account as the “Bajrang Dal Gau raksha pramukh”. He has also posted a series of warnings in Hindi: “We will not allow Seoni to become a slaughterhouse, even if we have to do a fierce campaign. Even if a brick is laid at Seoni, then the Bajrang Dal, in coordination with the entire Hindu society, will do a fierce campaign.”

Avidhya, a father of three, sells “haldi masala”, earning Rs 200 per day, his family said. They stay in Gopal Ganj village, where temples and mosques dot the lanes. Avidhya’s family says he dropped out of school in Class 8 following the death of his father. “My son has been associated with the Bajrang Dal for the past six years,” says Avidhya’s mother, Santoshi (65).

On his Facebook account, Avidhya has shared videos of anti-cattle smuggling operations carried out by local vigilante outfits. “He used to get tip-offs from informers and inform the police. He would go out on night raids and spend the day housing the rescued cattle at local gaushalas,” said his brother-in-law, Manjeet.

The other five accused with alleged links to the Dal are Ajay Sahu (27), Shersingh (28), Anshul Chaurasiya (22), Basant Raghuvanshi (32) and Shivraj (23).

Sahu is Avidhya’s neighbor. His family said he has been associated with the local Dal unit for over five years and has Avidhya on raids against cattle smugglers. “He studied till Class 8 before dropping out to help the family. He used to sell kirana store items, like oil and sugar, before losing interest in the family business, and started devoting time to Bajrang Dal meetings,” his father Shiv Prasad Sahu said.

Shiv Prasad said that in the days leading to the arrest, his son was “busy catching tempo trucks transporting cattle”. Sahu used to also help bury local cattle in the district, his family said.

Around 10 km away, Badalpar village has several gaushalas. Shersingh, a Class 10 dropout, worked at a small pan shop in Seoni, supporting his two children, his family said.

Rameshwar (21), his younger brother, said Shersingh was working on “Love Jihad cases”. “My brother is at a high post in the Bajrang Dal and had helped poor people during the Covid lockdown,” he said.

Nearby, Anshul Chaurasiya’s father Sunil Kumar Chaurasiya said his son told the family that he was going to work as a DJ at the wedding on Monday. “He landed up in jail instead. He was a member of the Bajrang Dal and I asked him to leave the organisation. It has brought us a bad name. I want him to come back and work in the wheat fields and make samosas for the family business,” the father said.

Anshul’s neighbor Basant Raghuvanshi (32) worked as a farmer growing wheat on his one-acre field. The father of two, his family said he joined the Dal six months ago after a “local leader visited the area asking us to be alert to cattle smuggling and provide tip-offs”. “The minute Basant comes out of jail, I will ask him to leave all this. We grow crops and don’t even have a proper water connection,” his father, Revaram (55), said.

According to Shivraj’s family, he was woken up by Raghuvanshi, who is his relative, to join the raid. The family, including his newly wed wife, is dependent on Shivraj. “He joined the Bajrang Dal after a Gau raksha samiti event in this village around six months ago and mostly gave tip-offs,” his father Gajraj said.

Then there were those who were guests at the local wedding and, according to their families, found themselves in the police net. They include Balram Rathor (24), a laborer; Neelam (27), a farm worker; Raghunandan Raghuvanshi (20), a landless farmer; Keval Chauhan (30); and, Avinash Rathor (27). Chauhan and Rathore are jobless graduates who work on farms.

On Thursday, their family members staged a protest, demanding a “fair investigation”.

Another of those arrested in the case is a minor, his family claimed. “He had attended this wedding and was later asked by the others to join them in the raid. We want a CBI investigation,” the accused’s sister said.

At the tribal-dominated Pathari village, Chameri Bai does not know much about the arrest of her son, Mankoj (23), the sole tribal accused. Chameri’s elder son is a construction worker in Bengaluru. “I told him (Mankoj), ‘do household work, don’t leave home’. He left home and was betrayed,” the mother said.

On Thursday, a contingent of BJP leaders reached Seoni to try and cool tempers. Flanked by senior leaders from the district, former BJP MP Dr Dhal Singh Bisen sat outside the house of Dhansai Invati and said: “Everyone has come to play politics. Think about it, who has really helped the tribals.”

Inside, the two grieving wives of Vatti and Invati refused to come out. “No one should be killed for what they eat,” said Phoolwati, Invati’s wife.

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