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A women's uprising in Rajasthan heartland

Sunny Sebastian

Female wrath over "unnatural" death of a housewife; police post torched, public property destroyed

LAVA SARDARGARH: Women are back to their daily humdrum in Lava Sardargarh, a sleepy township in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, but for some of them have to report at the police station at Amet, 10 km away, at periodic intervals. The same women who vented their feelings on "unnatural" death of a housewife by setting fire to a police post in the town and causing extensive damage to public property about a month ago do not want to talk about it any more.

Lava Sardargarh, or any of its neighbourhood which once formed the territory of the legendry king Maharana Pratap, does not have any history of a women's uprising. Yet this past September 6 some 750 women from the town led an equal number of men and children in a procession to take the law into their hands for a good three hours.

By the time prohibitory orders were brought into force in the town, at around 12-30 p.m., half a dozen strong police personnel posted at the police chowki had fled for their lives while the doctor at the Government hospital and the Naib tehsildar of the area managed to be keep themselves alive only after intervention from some men from the crowd.

Topic for sociologists

Lava Sardargarh has become a topic for the sociologists. Men in this town of about a thousand houses, situated at a distance of 26 km from the district headquarters, are at a loss explaining how it all happened. The women, on the other hand, prefer silence. The only topic the people here discuss now is the reign of terror that followed the episode.

Bhanwar Kanwar, wife of Dharam Singh, went missing on the night of August 31 when the town had various groups of Bhajan Mandlis playing on the eve of pilgrimage to the Ramdeora temple in distant Jaisalmer district. Bhanwar Kanwar and Dharam Singh had reportedly gone to different bhajan programmes. As she did not return home that night, a complaint was lodged at the police chowki even as the whole town went in search for her. Her body was recovered from a well outside the town on September 4.

On a demand from the town's public, a medical board conducted autopsy on the body of Bhanwar Kanwar. All hell broke lose on September 6 when women, who got mobilised apparently under the banner of "Matru Shakti Sangathan", led the "avenging" citizens of the town. According to Jagdish Hada, a local scribe, the women had first assembled at the Charbujha temple before marching through the roads of the town.

According to Mr. Hada, the immediate provocation for the crowd to get violent was the sight of viscera of the deceased at the Government hospital, kept unsealed. This gave the impression that tampering with the post mortem could have been possible. The first target of the mob was the doctor at the hospital, Sangarsh Jain, followed by Naib tehsildar, Parbat Singh Chundawat.

In the wake of the commotion, the Principal of the local Senior Secondary School announced a holiday. The local people say it was a coincidence though the authorities suspect a design; the school children joined the marchers who carried a memorandum to the tehsil office.

Thereafter it was a free-for-all for some time. The police outpost, situated on a hillock, was targeted. The rooms were ransacked, the office material, including files was set on fire. Two motorcycles belonging to the personnel were thrown down from a height of 50 feet and set ablaze.

By afternoon all the station house officers of Rajsamand along with the Collector were in Lava Sardargarh. The police allegedly beat up all those who came across them. The arrested included 11 women besides 41 men. First Information reports were filed by Sangarsh Jain, Parbat Singh Chundawat, the head constable at the chowki, Satyanarain Paliwal and the Sections included 147, 149, 365, 332, 353, 452, 342, 437, 3 PDP and a few others.

Veil of silence

All the women arrested are presently on bail but a veil of silence prevails. If they speak, it is either to explain that they were not involved in the violence or to pass the blame to the Aanganwadi workers, who seemingly had asked them to come out on the streets in protest. "The women were agitated over the manipulation of the post mortem report. However, we did not indulge in violent acts like setting fire to the police station," asserted Manju Devi Jhingar, Panch of Ward I, who was released from jail four days after her arrest.

"The women were ill treated by police during the arrest and while in custody. Even when the women constables were present, the men handled women," Manu Devil said speaking to The Hindu.

"Their claims of innocence are not correct. There were a good number of women among the violent mob which included men from all walks other than the local traders," said ASI Mahipal Singh presently posted at the police post.

The issue has assumed a political colour with the Opposition Congress alleging police handpicking its men for arrest and charging of cases. The Congress also alleged the hand of the Minister from the area, Surendra Singh Rathore, in the police excesses, which followed the incident.

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