Father of Dalit youth who died in police custody claims he was forced to change complaint at the behest of a local leaderThe father of the deceased was promised monetary compensation and martyrdom for his son if he agreed to receive his body and change his statement.
Panilal Mahara, the father of 19-year-old Bijay Mahara who died on August 26 after allegedly being tortured in police custody, has said that he was forced to change his statement and was made to accept his son’s body against his wishes.
In an interaction programme organised at Chandrapur by Dalit leaders on Wednesday, Panilal claimed that a local leader named Sheikh Karimullaha had told him he would be provided with Rs 2 million compensation and that his son would be declared a martyr if he changed his statement.
“Karimullaha had sent me to Kathmandu assuring me Rs 2 million as compensation. He said my son would be declared a martyr,” said Panilal. “He then asked me to go to Kathmandu and receive my son’s body. But my family has not received the amount nor has my son been declared a martyr. I made a mistake because I was thinking about my family and how much the money would help us.”
According to Panilal, who is in his late forties and is a resident of Garuda Municipality Ward No. 8, he was taken to Kathmandu in an ambulance in September second week. “I went to Kathmandu with two of my neighbours and a relative and signed the papers. I was asked to sign them in the presence of four police officers and since I can’t read and write, I didn’t know the contents of that letter,” he said.
Bijay and six others had been arrested on August 19 in connection to the murder of Niranjan Ram, a local teenager, in Garuda Municipality. Bijay died on August 26 at National Medical College in Birgunj. His family members have claimed that he was tortured in custody.
Meanwhile, police have been saying that Bijay died in the course of treatment for a kidney ailment. However, a video of Bijay, which was taken in hospital prior to his death, shows him saying that he was indeed tortured by plainclothes police and was forced to confess to the August 16 murder of 17-year-old Niranjan.
In Kathmandu, Panilal had received Bijay’s body, which was kept at TU Teaching Hospital for postmortem, and performed his final rites at the Pashupati Arya Ghat.
Panilal had gone to Kathmandu while Dalit leaders, rights activists and the locals had been staging demonstrations by forming the Niranjan-Bijay Murder Struggle Committee. And a case had been registered at the Office of District Attorney against the then Superintendent of Police at the District Police Office in Rautahat Rabiraj Khadka and five other officers on torture and murder charges.
Panilal’s departure to Kathmandu and his agreement to receive Bijay’s body ended the protest programme in Rautahat.
Upon his return home, Panilal says he contacted Karimullaha for the amount that was promised to him but his calls went unanswered.
“Panilal, an innocent and uneducated man, has been deceived. He received the body and changed the complaint after being lured with Rs 2 million. The demonstrations demanding justice for Bijaya and Niranjan ended inconclusively,” said Dharmendra Pasawan, a Rautahat-based Dalit leader. “Discussions are underway to plan the next course of action. We will not remain silent.”
On September 9, Panilal had filed a complaint at the Office of the District Attorney against SP Khadka, the then DSP Gyan Kumar Mahato, the then Inspector Nabin Kumar Singh, SI Birendra Yadav and two head constables Hiroj Miya Dhuniya and Munna Singh and sought investigation into the alleged torture of Bijay in police custody.
Family members and friends of Bijay have claimed that Police Inspector Singh and the head constable duo Singh and Dhuniya had tortured Bijay when he was in the custody of the Area Police Office in Garuda at the instruction of the District Police Office.
But the complaint has been changed now. Panilal says that he now knows what the contents of the letter he was made to sign in Kathmandu were.
“It was a five-page document. I signed the document without knowing what was in it but now I know,” he said.
In the changed complaint sent to the District Police Office through the postal service a few days ago, only inspector Singh and the head constable duo Singh and Dhuniya have been charged. Names of SP Khadka, DSP Mahato and SI Yadav have been removed from the complaint.
DSP Bharat Shrestha confirmed receiving another complaint through the post office. According to him, names of SP Khadka, DSP Mahato and SI Yadav have been removed from the complaint signed by Panilal.
When asked, Karimullaha denied any wrongdoing. He claimed that he had not promised Panilal anything and was not aware that Panilal had left for Kathmandu upon his instructions.
“Panilal came to me and urged me to take initiative for compensation stating that he was ready to settle the case. I have not promised him anything,” said Karimullaha.