Field Notes: In MP, A Great Silence Around A Hate Crime Against A Dalit Family


In August, a group of Thakur men attacked Nitin Ahirwar, a 22-year-old Dalit man, in Barodia Naunagir village in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, 150 km northeast of Bhopal. His family said he was attacked because they refused to withdraw a four-year-old sexual assault case that Nitin’s sister was pursuing against one of the men from the dominant Thakur community.

I have reported many hate crimes, but this was particularly disturbing because of the lack of empathy over Nitin’s death that I sensed everywhere, not just in the Thakur community, and a fear of expressing sympathy in his own community. 

The crime occurred on 24 August, but it garnered attention on social media on the 27th when a video of Nitin's sister went viral. In the video, she was seen crying inside an ambulance next to her brother's body.

The atmosphere was sombre when I arrived at the victim's house on 3 September.  The family was busy with Nitin's last rites, which lasted more than ten days in their community. 

Nitin's mother, who was also beaten by the mob that thrashed Nitin, needed assistance to move. 

None of the neighbours participated in Nitin's funeral; only relatives were present. 

When I asked Vishnu, Nitin's brother, he explained that villagers didn't want to be associated with them. Even Dalits avoided them because the Ahirwar brothers had frequent run-ins with the Thakur men, and other Dalit villagers did not want to be associated with them, given that they worked in the fields owned by the dominant community. Crucially, Dalits needed them to be included as beneficiaries in government schemes. 

Four years ago, Nitin and Vishnu’s sister filed a complaint of sexual assault against Vikram and three other Thakur men and refused to withdraw the case despite the sustained pressure that Nitin's family alleged culminated in his murder. Nitin and Vishnu also had multiple cases against them, including trespassing, criminal intimidation and theft. Villagers, including people from their community, said, “Logon ko jeena durbar kar rakha tha." (They had made life difficult for people.)

These incidents involved confrontations with the Thakur community, where they stood up for themselves, and people did not like them because they were rebellious and did not kowtow before the powerful people, family members said.

Vikram Singh and his associates also vandalised Nitin's home. In response, the local administration provided his family with a refrigerator and kitchen utensils. They said they would not accept these items until they received justice. 

Almost 21% of the population in Madhya Pradesh is Adivasi, while 16% is Dalit. While all political parties claim to prioritise the well-being of Dalits and Adivasis in Madhya Pradesh, the ground reality is starkly different. In 2021, Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of cases against tribals and the third-highest against Dalits, according to the latest available National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.

I saw a few police officers stationed at Ahirwar’s house, where the local administration had installed cameras for security. 

Naresh Banpuriya, a relative of Nitin, said that the security was making the family uneasy because they feared the police were in cahoots with the Thakur community, especially Vikram Singh, and spying on them. 

I decided to visit the area where Nitin had been attacked. As I talked to a shopkeeper, I became aware of two individuals trailing me. During an earlier visit to the victim's house, I noticed these two people asking the police officers stationed there about me.

Later, I went to Vikram's house to understand their perspective. In Vikram's neighbourhood, inhabited mainly by Thakurs, I was appalled to hear many people, including young people, using casteist language like "chamar," "chamara", and "ghamar" in almost every sentence while speaking about Nitin and laughing. 

While going to Sagar city, I received a call from a Thakur, asking why I had visited the Ahirwar family and where I was at that moment. 

In the village, people either supported Vikram Singh or stayed silent.  

“The media will stop covering the issue soon, but they have to live with the accused in the village, so they cannot risk their safety,” said Naresh, Nitin’s relative. “This is why no one is speaking against the Thakurs.” 

Read Anil Kumar Tiwari’s full story here

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