A Dalit couple in Madhya Pradesh's Guna district drank pesticide in a suicide attempt on Tuesday after being forced to watch as their crops were bulldozed by revenue department officials.
In disturbing visuals, the husband and wife were also assaulted by police officers as they dragged them into an ambulance. The couple - Ram Kumar Ahirwar (38) and Savitri Devi (35) - are in a government-run hospital and in stable condition.
According to the government, in 2018 20 bighas (around 5.5 acres) of public land had been set aside for building a college. This land was allegedly encroached on by Ram Kumar Ahirwar and Savitri Devi, who claim they had been farming there for years.
"We don't know whose land it is. We've been farming on it for long time. When our standing crop has been destroyed, we don't have other option, but to kill ourselves," Savitri Devi said.
The couple is Rs 3 lakh in debt. "Who will pay it, the government?" she asked.
On Tuesday a team from the state revenue department, accompanied by cops, visited the land to evict the couple and prepare it for the construction of a boundary wall. The couple attempted to resist and, when faced with the devastation of their crops, drank pesticide in an attempt to kill themselves.
The cops responded by brutally assaulting them; some of the visuals show Savitri Devi clinging to her husband while uniformed police officers rain blows with lathis.
Ram Ahirwar and his wife have been charged by the police. The cops who assaulted them have been given a clean chit.
"We've probed the entire episode and checked footage. Our team had to act only after the couple consumed pesticide and had to be rushed to hospital," S Vishwanath, Guna District Collector, said, adding, "Had the team not acted, the couple could have died and more cases could have taken place".
Guna collector gave a clean chit to police - Our team had to act only after the couple consumed pesticide and had to be rushed to hospital, Had the team not acted, the couple could have died and more such cases could have taken place. @ndtv@ndtvindia#Guna@GargiRawatpic.twitter.com/8v0R1d0H2T— Anurag Dwary (@Anurag_Dwary) July 15, 2020
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has since ordered the removal of the District Collector and the Superintendent of Police. A high-level inquiry has been ordered.
The shocking treatment of a Dalit couple who were forced to watch as their labour was. literally, levelled before their eyes, was compounded by the cops' treatment of their children.
When the kids tried to save their parents, they were verbally abused and pushed aside by the police.
Meanwhile, former Chief Minister Kamal Nath lashed out at the "jungle raj" in the state.
He tweeted: "A Dalit couple was mercilessly beaten up by the cops. What kind of jungle raj is this? If it was related to government land, it (the issue) can be legally resolved...but beating him, his wife and a kid
is not justified....stern action should be taken against those responsible".
The Guna district administration has said that around 45 bighas (around 12.5 acres) had been grabbed by a local gangster, who used Ram Ahirwar and his debt-burdened family as a front to stop the government from reclaiming the land.
Ram Ahirwar had paid the gangster Rs 3 lakh for the land.