Betul, Sept. 14: Vigilantes have reduced to ash an entire village in Madhya Pradesh, apparently in connivance with officials in the latest manifestation of mob fury sweeping India’s hinterland.
All 62 houses of a village in Betul, 175km from Bhopal, were set on fire after a “criminal” tribe was blamed for the alleged gangrape and murder of an upper caste woman.
Caste sank political differences as local Congress and BJP leaders got together to attack the Pardi tribe, which is still facing social stigma despite being taken off the colonial-era criminal list after Independence.
On Tuesday morning, all the houses in Chothiya village in Betul were demolished and then set on fire. Instances of “mob justice” have been reported with alarming regularity over the past few weeks. Yesterday, 10 alleged thieves were lynched in Bihar.
Betul collector Arun Bhatt said the mob ran wild following news of the atrocity on Ansuai Bai.
Ansuai, 35, was raped and killed on September 9 allegedly by four Pardis of Chothiya. The accused are in jail.
“Villagers in the surrounding areas have always resented the presence of Pardis, accusing them of criminal activities that ranged from stealing crop and cattle to loot and murder,” Betul police chief Sanswal Jagat Singh told The Telegraph.
“The Pardis were given 11 pattas of land in 1996 as part of the Digvijay Singh government’s rehabilitation programme. Over the years, the number of Pardi families swelled to 62,” he added.
Jagat said that following the rape and murder, other villagers held secret conclaves to plot revenge.
“Somehow, the Pardis got wind of their plan and fled just in time. So, no human lives were lost.”
Many of the arsonists are roaming free. “There is no witness. We are investigating the matter and have registered a case of arson against unknown persons,” Jagat said. Social activists Shamim and Anurag Modi, however, gave a different version.
According to them, there have been several incidents in which at least 10 persons of the Pardi community were killed.
Shamim said a random visit to any Pardi locality in Madhya Pradesh would show the tribe wallowing in poverty.
“It is shocking to see sickly, hungry, unwashed, unclothed children in every locality. The question is this: if all members of such communities are merciless robbers, why then does the community live in appalling conditions of poverty'” Shamim asked.
She said the villagers decided to take the law into their hands when they were encouraged by block-level Congress leaders and panchayat members.
“The mob swelled to thousands by around 10am. One Raja Pawar guided a payloader brought by the officials and demolished the pucca house of one Alsiya Pardi. Between 10.30 and 11am, senior officers of the district and police administration had reached the spot and were present till around 4pm but did nothing,” Shamim added.
Pawar, a local Congress leader, could not be contacted for comment. But Jagat refuted Shamim, saying that by the time his force reached the spot, there was nothing that could be saved.
“All that we saw was burnt houses and everyone refusing to testify.”
Shamim said some Pardis were involved in petty offences. Alsiya Pardi was reportedly running a gambling racket. Many Pardis had complained to the authorities about his activities but no action was taken, a villager said.