The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Father drowned to wash curse of leprosy

Datia (Madhya Pradesh), June 26: The “curse of God” is upon Jhandu Baghel, ordained the village gods, else why should he be stricken with leprosy' Drown him in the nearest river, wash away the curse, “save future generations”…

And dutifully, Baghel’s son Hari Mohan ferried him to the Sindh in a jeep, tied a large stone round him and plonked him into the swirling river waters without betraying even the slightest twinge of pity at his father’s frantic screams.

Onlookers are believed to have tried to rescue the man as Hari and four comrades — alleged to be family — carried out the orders of the village panchayat to the letter two days ago. But the will of the sarpanch and the village panchs prevailed.

Baghel’s drowning in Sewnda village in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh is not the first shocker in a state that has never tired of showcasing its panchayati raj “successes”. There have been at least two earlier incidents ordered by the “representatives of grassroots democracy”.

In February 2003, a Bheel woman who was abandoned by her husband was auctioned at a fair on the orders of a panchayat in a tribal district. The panchayat had assembled on the request of a man who had begun to fancy her, but proceedings took the form of an auction after other men began to express interest. Finally, she was handed to the highest bidder on the condition that he would throw a feast — with meat and liquor — for the entire village.

In another incident, a panchayat ordered the gangrape of a woman it thought to be “of easy virtue” and deputed five men to carry out its orders. Madhya Pradesh High Court was forced to step in and penalise the panchayat for the inhuman order.

Five persons, including Hari, are in police custody over Baghel’s drowning. Police sources said Hari could not decide what he should do with his father after the panchayat ordered his drowning. So he told his father he would take him for a “holy dip” and dumped the unsuspecting man into the river.

Villagers said the quintet displayed little remorse as they went about the drowning because they believed people contracted leprosy only if they were cursed. Datia is one of the most backward districts of Bundelkhand.

Datia superintendent of police Yogesh Chandra said: “We have arrested five persons. We are examining the entire case which appears to be shocking.” Baghel’s body has been fished out.

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