A fact-finding team — comprised of Kuldeep Verma, Birbal (Dalit Vikas Sangathan Sirmaur), Sukhdev Vishwapremi (Centre for Mountain Dalit Rights), Advocate Sanjay, Rajkumar (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & National Dalit Movement for Justice), Raja Velu from Human Rights Defenders Alert and Manshi Asher from Kangra Citizens Rights Group — is in the process of finalizing a report on the murder of Himachal Pradesh RTI activist Kedar Singh Jindan. Following is a note based on the team’s observations during its visit to Sirmaur to probe the brutal murder:
While the police claim to have solved the case and that the accused have confessed their crime, the matter is getting a political color as it relates to the murder of a person who belonged to the SC community and was raising their voices. Amid this, some shocking revelations were made by a seven-member team of state and national level human rights defenders, social workers and activists.
Not only the team rejected the media reports saying that it was not a caste-based vendetta but also alleged that caste discrimination was quite prevalent in the Shillai region.
The findings of the team said that Jindan was even brutally beaten for supporting an inter-caste marriage in the region. The murder was a planned one as it was committed in a public view, it said. Despite being a public scene, only two witnesses have come forward due to the fear of the people involved.
The team visited Sirmaur on the September 13 and 14 to probe the brutal killing of an activist. The team also met the family of the deceased.
The team in no uncertain words condemned the heinous murder of Kedar Singh Jindan, which they said was intended to target the activist who was uncovering corruption and speaking against injustice at the local level.
On September 13, 2018, we visited Paab, the village in Shilai block from where Jindan hailed and interacted with his family members to give our condolences and also let them know that the issue of the murder was being condemned widely, a team member said.
The team interacted with a large number of people belonging to various communities including the Pradhaan of the Gundaha Panchayat. The team also visited members of the administration and the police.
Kedar Singh Jindan aged 43 years was also a lawyer and had struggled tremendously to complete his education, the team said. He used to run an educational academy at Shilai to train young students. Over the years, he emerged as a voice of the ‘Koli’ (Scheduled Caste) community in the region. He used the RTI Act to uncover information related to local development issues, the team said.
As per the team, in June this year, Jindan had held a press conference in Shimla, in which he had exposed irregularities in providing Below Poverty Line (BPL) certificates in his village and alleged that Jaiprakash (the prime accused in the murder, who also drove the Scorpio over Jindan) had illegally obtained BPL certificates for his well-to-do relatives. Through these certificated, they had also managed to get appointed in government jobs. Jindan obtained all of these details using the RTI Act 2005.
The team further said that after this expose, Jaiprakash’s relatives lost their jobs, which they held against Jindan apart from his other exposes in public services in the area.
On the morning of September 7, Jindan was murdered. Following this, the police had first nabbed two persons on the same day while the third arrest was made a few days later. A Special Investigation Teamheaded by ASP Nahaan) Virender Thakur was investigating the matter. An FIR was registered under Section 302 (Murder) as well as the section 3(2)(5) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The Superintendent of Police, Rohit Malpani and ASP assured the team that the documentary and forensic evidence in the matter was strong. The police was doing a thorough job to ensure justice for Jindan, they further told the team. The officials appeared confident about solving the case.
The fact-finding team, however, expressed concern that the police had not responded adequately to the repeated threats received by Jindan from different members of the community who were irked by his work. Last year too there was an attack on Jindan at Sattaun where he was pulled out of a bus and beaten up badly by people for supporting an inter-caste marriage in the area, the team members said.
Jindan’s family informed us that he was left buried in a heap of sand and left there to die. While he survived that attack, he had exposed that a large number of people from the area were out to get him and they are all complicit in the murder according to the kin of Jindan. This needs to be investigated, the team said.
As per the team, the observations from various discussions make it obvious that this was not just an incident of a personal vendetta as it’s being claimed in some media reports. Rather, it was a planned targeting of an activist by the dominant community because he was a member of the Dalit community.
The demand to withdraw the charges under the SC-ST Act is baseless, the team said.
The team said this remote area of Himachal is known for deep-seated caste discriminatory practices. The fact that the dominant caste groups were defending the murder was a clear sign of the same.
The Khumri Panchayats in the area are like Khap system here where the so-called upper castes take the decisions about everything. Exclusion and discrimination are seen in all spheres here – economic, social, and cultural, the team alleged.
Further, the team claimed that the manner in which the incident took place in broad daylight at Bakras on a working day close to the premises of the Block Primary Education Office located next to a school where he was run over by an SUV reveals that this was a case of a murder in full public view.
The fact that there are only two people who have come forward to testify to the murder proves that there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the area, the team said. The protests by Rajput Sabha in favor of the accused have also polarised the community making it difficult for people to stand up for the truth.
We are shocked that such an incident could occur in a state like Himachal but this also shows that there is an increasing normalization of violence in the society around us. Also shows the vulnerability of people who challenge the status quo or expose those who are powerful even at the village level, the team further added.
Kedar Singh Jindan is the 73rd person to be killed for using the RTI Act for exposing corruption in the country, the team said.
The team also expressed concern that the ruling government in the state and the local MLA were silent on the matter. They have not issued any statement of condemnation of this brutal killing. This is a time when we all should speak up against this kind of violence, the team said.
The team will be preparing a detailed report with recommendations which it will present to state and national level authorities and commissions.