A Dalit lawyer and activist in Gujarat's Kutch district was allegedly murdered, following which an employee of a stationery shop in Malad West, Mumbai, was arrested on Saturday, September 26.
Devji Maheshwari, the deceased, was a senior activist of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and of the Indian Legal Professionals Association.
According to the police, the accused, Bharat Raval, also from Rapar, had a clash with Maheshwari over his views on Brahminism. "Maheshwari wrote and shared posts critical of Brahminism on his Facebook page. Raval disagreed with those views and warned Maheshwari on several occasions to refrain from writing such posts publicly," The Indian Express quoted a Crime Branch official as saying.
Raval and Maheshwari had allegedly clashed repeatedly over the issue for a month. "Raval, who is Brahmin, had asked Maheshwari not to create trouble since both of them are from the same village. He also threatened him at his office once. But Maheshwari told him that he would not back down and challenged him to do what he liked," said the official.
On his Facebook timeline, the last thing Maheshwari had posted was a video of BAMCEF National President Waman Meshram saying that members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes are not Hindus.
Raval then travelled to Rapar from Malad with the intention of killing Maheshwari. Maheshwari was seen in CCTV footage entering his office, and a man wearing a red T-shirt following him inside. A few seconds later, the man can be seen running out of the building and fleeing.
Raval was booked at Rapar police station under charges of murder and criminal conspiracy and under sections of the SC/ST Act.
The Gujarat police have reportedly registered an FIR against nine accused, including Raval. After the Dalit community in Rapar took to the streets on Saturday, police arrested five of the nine accused, besides Raval. The others are absconding.
Seeking a CBI probe into the murder, V L Matang, National President of the Bahujan Mukti Party, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. "The (Kutch) district police registered an FIR at 1 am on Saturday, eight hours after the murder took place, and named nine people as accused… The police's behaviour seems suspicious and we suspect that the district administration is attempting to shield the accused. We expect you to issue an order for a CBI probe within 24 hours of this letter reaching your office," he wrote.
Mahesgwari's body has been left at a government hospital because his family has refused to accept it until all the accused are arrested.
Inspector General of Police (Border Range) J R Mothaliya said, "The victim belonged to a Scheduled Caste… It is their demand that they will accept the body and perform the last rites only after all nine are arrested."
Besides Raval, the other accused named in the FIR are – Jaysukh Luhar, Khimji Luhar, Dhaval Luhar, Devubha Sodha, Vijaysinh Sodha, Mayursinh Sodha, Pravinsinh Sodha and Arjansinh Sodha.
Mothaliya claimed that the motive behind the killing was yet to be ascertained. However, the victim's family, as well as local Dalit activists, said that the murder was over a property case that Maheshwari was fighting.
In her complaint, Minaxiben, the victim's wife, said, "No lawyer was ready to take the case of the community hall, and my husband did, and he kept the files related to the case with him and had tried in vain several times to lodge an FIR (related to the dispute) in the police station. Because he had the files, the rival party used to threaten to kill my husband, and it is my suspicion that they hired Bharat Jayantilal Raval to kill him."