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Dalits' death in police firing: Gujarat's top cops indifferent towards gross rights violation, alleges senior activist

By Our Representative
Has the Gujarat government adopted a "go slow" tactic vis-a-vis the gruesome incident in Thangarh, Surendrangar district, which took place in September last year, in which three Dalit youths died in police firing? Senior Dalit activist Kirit Rathod of NGO Navsarjan Trust appears to think this is very much the case, "While the Gujarat Human Rights Commission (GHRC) directed, on March 23, 2013, that the director-general of police (DGP) and the CID crime, who sit in Police Bhawan in Gandhinagar, to immediately provide a complete report on the firing incident, even a month after the order the state's top cops have not act", he has said in a statement.
The GHRC order followed the activist's complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that the CBI take over investigation of the case. Yet, the Gujarat government appears not interested in bringing culprits to book. On receiving the complaint, the NHRC asked the GHRC to look into the matter. Based on the NHRC direction, the GHRC asked the DGP and the CID crime to provide full details of the incident, in order to send details of the incident to the NHRC.
In a letter demanding a special investigation team of the CBI take over inquiry, Rathod, asked Justice KG Balakrishnan, chairman, NHRC, that in two separate incidents, on September 22 and 23, 2012, in Thangadh town in Surendrangagar district, "at least four persons" died. Located in Chotila taluka of Surendrangar district, Thangadh is 20 km away from Chotila town and 60 km away from Surendranagar city. With a population of Thangadh of 1,25,000, out of which around 30,000 are Dalits, Thangadh is known for ceramic industry which the main enterprise. Majority of the people staying in Thangadh are dependant on ceramic industry.
On September 21, 2012, Bharwads and Dalits came face-to-face after a petty fight at a local fair organized by the Thangadh municipality. It snowballed into a major clash with both sides using sticks and sharp weapons. Police officials said they lobbed teargas shells to disperse the rampaging crowds. When this did not work, they fired at the crowd. Seventeen-year-old Pankaj Sumra was seriously injured in the firing and later died in a hospital in Rajkot.
News of the death sparked outrage among Dalits in Thangadh who took to the streets demanding that a complaint be filed against police officials responsible for the death. With tension in the town, police officials called in reinforcements. However, on Sunday afternoon a group of Dalit youths clashed with the police at Dholeshwar area. The police again opened fire in which three people received bullet injuries. They were rushed to the Rajkot civil hospital where Mehul Rathod, 17, and Prakash Parmar, 21, died.
Rathod said, the first police firing in which the 16-year-old youth died "was done without any order by Raghvedran Vatsa, Senior Superintended of police, Surendranagar." After the firing Vatsa came to Thangadh, yet "did not take any action" against those who had fired.
"Hari Krishan Patel, Senior Suprintendent of Police, Jamnagar district, was in charge of Thangadh Police Station area and was presented in the second incident. His commandos fired on dalit mob with AK-47 and other policemen also participated in the firing. Mr. Hari krishna Patel was on duty as Senior Superintendent of Police, because during that time Raghvendra Vatsa was busy in organizing bandobast for the Chief Minister's Swami Vivekanand Yatra", Rathod alleged, adding, "Three complaints have been lodged in the Thangadh police station, under IPC sections and under relevant sections of Prevention of Atrocities Act against the police but no action was taken against the accused police officers."
While the three cops were held in February this year, Rathod believes, the incident should be treated as a serious human rights violation. "The three victims were killed by the accused, and one was seriously injured in the police firing without any order or permission of the senior rank police officer. This is violation of Article 21 (right to life) of the Indian Constitution. It is also violation of Prevention of Atrocity Act, 1989, sections 3(1)5 and 3(1)7. The families of the victims live in constant fear of further attacks from the dominant caste police officers", he said.

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