Bhola Sah’s son Shivlal died on September 6. The next day, the police in Maniyari police station in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district filed an FIR for culpable homicide not amounting to murder against Neelam Devi, Shivlal’s 25-year-old wife, and Sanjay Sahni and Mandeshri Devi of the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghatan, an organisation that fights for the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in that district.
Three months later, Bhola Sah, in whose name the complaint has been filed, and Neelam Devi joined Sahni, Mandeshri Devi and around 5,000 others at a rally on Friday to demand that this and five other cases against Sahni be withdrawn. Bhola Sah, Neelam Dev and Sahni met the District Magistrate and Inspector-General of Police after the rally,
“This is a false case,” Neelam Devi told Scroll.in. “Why would I cause the death of my husband?”
According to Neelam Devi, her husband died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital, after he had complained of sudden severe stomach pain. Three months before his death, he had undergone an appendicitis operation. While he seemed to be recovering, on September 5, the pain returned.
“Though we are from a poor family, we managed to arrange for a car to take him to the hospital,” Neelam Devi said. “But he died on the road itself.”
This is only one of six cases filed against Sanjay Sahni, founder of the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghatan, though it is perhaps the most serious. Since 2011, Sahni, an electrician in Delhi, has been working to increase transparency in the implementation of the job guarantee scheme, using Right to Information Act applications and online data to ensure that work goes to the people it was intended for. Most members of his organisation, which has now spread its reach to around 300 villages in Muzaffarpur district, are women.
“Whenever there is any violence in the villages where this organisation is, my name is added to the FIR,” Sahni told Scroll.in. “With me, some 15 to 20 people from our organisation have been named in these FIRs. One is blind, another has TB. These are the people accused of violence. Because we raise our voices for our rights, they are trying to break our unity by targeting members.”
The District Magistrate promised the group after the rally that he would look into this case and the others filed again Sahni.
In an affidavit Bhola Sah submitted to a Muzaffarpur court during an appeal for Sahni’s anticipatory bail in this case, which Scroll.in has accessed, Sah corroborates the account of narrated by his daughter-in-law, Neelam Devi, about Shivlal’s death. Sah says that Kumod Singh, the current mukhiya and the current sarpanch of the village, summoned him on the day of his son’s last rites and told him that if he put his thumb print on a blank piece of paper, he would get Rs 4 lakh as compensation for the death of his son. Sah said that though he initially refused to do so, Singh threatened to have him and his family jailed. He eventually put his thumb print on a paper in the presence of a police official from Maniyari police station, he said.
Sah said that he only found out the next day that Singh and the others had used this paper to file a case against his own daughter-in-law Neelam Devi, Sanjay Sahni and Mandeshri Devi, all of whom he says are entirely innocent of his son’s death
The court reportedly asked how it could know that Bhola Sah was not making this statement because he had been threatened by Sahni and rejected anticipatory bail for him. Sahni has not yet been arrested.
History of false cases
Sahni said that as the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghatan has grown in popularity, so too have the threats against him,. In July 2017, a fact-finding team investigated what were then five cases against him of violence, obstructing government officials, and caste atrocities. The team found these cases to be false. In several of the cases, Sahni was not even in the scene of the incident.
Sahni said that he was in Ranchi for work at the time Shivlal Sah died and returned only on September 21. He has provided the police with details of ATM withdrawals to prove he was indeed in Ranchi.
On Saturday, the District Magistrate visited Sahni’s village to hold a public meeting and enquire about the FIRs and instructed the police to look into them. He also assured the villagers at the meeting that their job demands would be completed and assigned an officer to look into the case of two people who were close to starvation deaths because they were not receiving rations, Sahni said.
Mukesh Kumar, sub inspector of Maniyari thana, where five of the six cases have been filed, said that he had only recently been transferred to this station and could not comment on the cases until he examined the files closely.
Said Kumar, “The SP and SSP will look into these cases and then take a decision about them.”