A group of men from an Other Backward Caste community assaulted a 21-year-old Dalit man in Rajasthan, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. Vinod Bamnia succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in Sriganganagar on June 7, two days after the assault, said the police.

The attack on Bamnia, who was a member of the Bhim Army, took place two weeks after some of the attackers allegedly tore posters of BR Ambedkar outside his home. The June 5 assault, which happened near Bamnia’s home in Kikraliya village of Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh district, is believed to have been triggered by the poster incident.

Four men have been arrested so far. Among them are Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag who were also named by Bamnia’s family in the poster incident.

The first information report in the June 5 assault states that the accused allegedly shouted casteist slurs during the attack. “We will make you remember your Ambedkarite ideology today,” The Indian Express cited from the FIR. The accused were booked under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) and 143 (punishment for unlawful Assembly) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. After Bamnia’s death, the charge of attempt to murder was changed to murder.

Bamnia’s cousin Mukesh, who is the complainant in the murder case and a witness to the assault, told The Indian Express that the attack on June 5 was “an act of revenge” after the poster incident. “Recently, some men including Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag, who also live in our village, had torn the banners of Babasaheb Ambedkar, which were put up outside our home since Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14,” he told the newspaper. “After we identified them, we complained to their families. The matter was sorted with the mediation of the panchayat, and their family members apologised on their behalf.”

Recalling the June 5 assault, Mukesh said it was planned.

“On June 5, Vinod and I were on our way to our fields in the village when we were attacked by Rakesh, Anil and a few others, who were waiting for us with sticks,” he said. “I managed to escape with minor injuries. But they beat up Vinod with hockey sticks about 20-30 times. He was taken to Rawatsar and referred to hospitals in Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries.”

Hanumangarh Superintendent of Police Preeti Jain corroborated what Mukesh said about the poster incident and also supported the revenge angle. “Posters of BR Ambedkar were put at the house of Vinod,” the superintendent of police told The Indian Express. “On May 24, some men from the village tore them. Following this, their family members apologised on the directions of the panchayat. Nobody contacted the police. But the accused who tore the posters didn’t forget the incident and carried out the assault on June 5, which led to his death.”

The police said that Bamnia had registered complaints twice earlier this year. An FIR was lodged in April after Bamnia alleged that he was receiving threat calls for objecting to copies of the Hanuman Chalisa being distributed at a school. On May 25, Bamnia filed another FIR in which he named several village residents and accused them of attacking him and his family for objecting to a road block.

Bhim Army’s accusations

The Bhim Army staged a protest against the alleged police inaction in the case. Satyavan Indasar, the state president of the Bhim Army, remembered Bamnia as a very active member. “The reason behind his murder is casteism,” he told The Indian Express. “We demand action against local police officials. Had timely action been taken in the earlier FIRs and arrests made, Vinod would have been alive. The accused in the FIRs belong to the same community.”

Indasar said Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was likely to meet Bamnia’s family.

However, Superintendent of Police Jain defended the force. “It is wrong to say there was police inaction as the arrests were made promptly after the incident,” she added. “The FIR pertaining to the assault on the fields was because of a land dispute in which both sides sustained injuries and lodged cross FIRs. As for the FIR pertaining to the threat calls, it was found to be that of abuse, which is a non-cognisable offence.”