The Bharatiya Janata Party-government in Madhya Pradesh has come under attack by the state’s Opposition Congress after two members of a Dalit family died last week, in Sagar district’s Barodiya Nainagir village.

On Sunday, Anjana Ahirwar, a 21-year-old Bachelor of Arts student, died after she allegedly jumped from a moving ambulance that was carrying the body of her 28-year-old uncle Rajendra Ahirwar, who had allegedly been beaten to death a day earlier by five men.

Ahirwar’s body was being transported from a government hospital in Sagar to Barodiya Nainagir village in Khurai town, where he lived. Sagar district is part of the larger Bundelkhand region from where caste atrocities are frequently reported.

Nitin Ahirwar, Anjana’s brother, had been killed nine months ago.

Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who met with the Ahirwar family earlier this week, has demanded that the district superintendent of police and district collector be removed from their posts.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav visited the family on Wednesday and assured them that his government would open a police station in their village.

Days before Anjana and Rajendra’s deaths, the Ahirwar family alleged, the police had withdrawn the security they had been providing to family after Nitin’s murder and also removed the CCTV cameras installed near their home.

On the night of May 25, Rajendra, a daily-wage labourer, had been brutally assaulted in Barodiya Nainagir at the home of one Pappu Razak. The police’s first information report, seen by Scroll, says that five persons – Ashiq Qureshi, Bena, Israil Bena, Faheem Khan, and Tantu Qureshi – assaulted Rajendra on the head, back, hands and legs with axes and sticks.

The Madhya Pradesh Police has since arrested Ashiq Qureshi. The others are absconding.

Dharmendra Dhairwar, district head of the Dalit rights group Bhim Army, said that Rajendra had been assaulted “at the behest of the Thakur family that was involved in molesting Anjana and killing her brother”.

“The Thakurs are closely related to BJP MLA Bhupendra Singh,” Dhairwar alleged. “A demand by locals to demolish their house as punishment has also been stalled by the district administration. The collector had agreed to demolish their house in writing.”

Bhupendra Singh did not respond to Scroll’s request for comment.

Case of molestation, murder and trial

Akash Ahirwar, Anjana’s cousin, claimed that she had been molested in 2019 by a few men from the Thakur family while walking to school.

“She came home and told her parents who registered a complaint against the men,” Akash told Scroll.

“Since then, there has been a lot of pressure on us,” Akash added. “The Thakurs are related to Bhupendra Singh. They kept pressurising us to withdraw the complaint.”

Singh is currently the MLA from Khurai. He had served as the urban development and housing minister under the previous BJP-led government in Madhya Pradesh. In 2019, he became an MP from the Sagar Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket.

Akash also claimed that in August 2023, three members of the Thakur family – Komal Thakur, Azad Thakur and Vikram Thakur – threatened the Ahirwar family at their home and demanded that they withdraw their complaint. “The family refused to do so,” Akash said.

On August 24, according to a report registered with the Khurai police, Vikram Thakur, Komal Thakur, and Vijay Thakur arrived at the Ahirwar family home armed with sticks. They broke down the front door and proceeded to destroy the family’s belongings.

The first information report, filed on a complaint by Anjana, alleged that the Thakurs were looking for her brother Nitin. They then left the house and found Nitin at a nearby bus stand.

The Thakurs, and some of their family’s helpers, allegedly assaulted Nitin repeteadly and injured his hands, legs, head and back. He died the following day, after which members of the Bhim Army protested by blocking the arterial road that runs through Barodiya Nainagir and staging a sit-in with his body.

“The way he was brutally murdered showed complete lawlessness,” Dhairwar told Scroll. “We had to stage a protest to make the administration take some action.”

Thirteen people, including Vikram Thakur, Vijay Thakur, Azad Thakur, Komal Thakur and nine of their friends and helpers were arrested by the police for Nitin’s murder.

The matter is being heard by a special court in Sagar district, which is in the process of examining the evidence in the case. The next hearing is scheduled for June 5.

Of the 13 persons accused of in Nitin’s murder, Vijay Thakur received bail earlier this month.

“After he came out, the pressure on us to withdraw the complaint began again,” Akash said, adding that Rajendra Ahirwar, Anjana and her mother were prime witnesses in Nitin’s murder case. They were yet to give their statements in court.

Rajendra Ahirwar’s murder

According to a first information report registered by the Khurai police, Rajendra was picked up from his home by a group of men on May 25. Akash alleged that they were associates of the Thakur family.

Rajendra was then allegedly taken to the house of Pappu Razak, where he was pressured to not depose against the Thakurs in Nitin’s murder case, Akash said.

Ramsevak Ahirwar, Rajendra’s nephew, said that he had received a call from his uncle who informed him that a fight had broken out between him and the other men.

“I called the police and the police took Rajendra chacha to government hospital for treatment,” Ramsevak later said in a statement to the police. Rajendra was referred to a hospital in Sagar for treatment where he died of injuries to his head, back, hands and legs.

A case has been registered against five men under sections of the Indian Penal code dealing with attempt-to-murder, rioting and possession of an armed weapon, as well as sections of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Rajendra’s autopsy was conducted at the hopsital in Sagar. His parents, Anjana, a police escort and a driver were bringing his body back to Barodiya Nainagir in an ambulance on May 26 when Anjana allegedly jumped from the moving vehicle. Ahirwar’s parents were asleep at the time.

“She had been fighting so bravely for so many years…Why would she jump from the ambulance?” Akash questioned. “We believe her death is caused by something else. Her head had an injury. We want an inquiry into this.”

According to Dhairwal, Anjana had wanted to stage a protest with Rajendra’s body. “But we had not got permission to do so by the district administration,” he said.