A Dalit man was beaten to death and his mother was allegedly stripped by a mob in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district on August 24 after they refused to withdraw a sexual harassment case filed in 2019, reported The Hindu.

The deceased man identified as Nitin Ahirwar was attacked by a mob led by prime accused Vikram Singh Thakur, who was booked for sexually harassing his sister in 2019, Sagar Additional Superintendent of Police Lokesh Sinha told the Hindustan Times.

“He [Thakur] was pressuring Ahirwar’s family to withdraw the case,” Sinha said. “On Thursday, Singh fought with Ahirwar. He called his family members and thrashed Nitin Ahirwar.”

The mob had first threatened Ahirwar’s sister and mother to withdraw the complaint on Thursday. When they did not relent, Thakur, who belongs to the upper caste, left the house and found Ahirwar near a bus stand, where the assault took place, the police said, reported The Indian Express.

“The accused persons, who are all upper caste, had sexually harassed my sister,” Ahirwar’s brother told the newspaper. “They come from a family of former sarpanches.”

After assaulting Ahirwar, the mob vandalised his home, damaging the roof and some portions of a wall, the police said, reported NDTV. The mob also went to another house in search of Ahirwar’s two brothers.

A first information report was filed against nine men under sections 302 (murder), 353 (sexual harassment) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code. They were arrested on Saturday.

The Congress has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for Ahirwar’s murder. In a video shared by the party on August 25, Ahirwar’s brother named Vikram Singh Thakur and Azad Singh for murdering his brother.

The party also claimed that the arrested men were associated with state Cabinet Minister Bhupendra Singh, citing some purported photos of them together. However, Singh claimed that being an MLA from Sagar’s Khurai, where the incident happened, he meets several people, reported The Hindu.

“This should not be given a political colour,” he said. “The Congress is trying to spread poison in the society which is not right.”

He also said that although the incident was unfortunate, it cannot be termed as caste atrocity.

“I want to say that this is a dispute between two sides which had been going on for some time,” Singh said reported The Hindu. “The matter was in the court and to view it in any other way is not appropriate.”

Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Kamal Nath said that his party would “fight for justice and for strict action against those responsible for this tragic incident”.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati also accused Khurai Assembly MLA and minister’s “henchmen” of molesting a Dalit girl, beating Ahirwar to death, disrobing his mother and breaking her hand for not withdrawing their complaint.

“Such a horrific crime is happening under BJP rule,” she said. “More such heinous incidents have been happening continuously in the Madhya Pradesh government, but neither the BJP nor their government seems serious about their prevention, this is very sad, condemnable and worrying.”

Meanwhile, the BJP government has said that it is following the principles of law and order and that the Congress was trying to divide people on the basis of caste, reported The Indian Express.

“They have been taking up issues of Dalits and Adivasis, but have been doing this for political gains,” BJP spokesperson Narendra Saluja said. “Action is being taken against the accused and none of the accused will be spared.”