Many unanswered questions in the custodial death of a tribal in Garhwa district

Jharkhand police picked Pala Manjhi, who had no criminal history without citing any reason and returned his body on the same day claiming that he had got mirgi attack and would regain conscious

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Ranchi: Family of tribal, Pala Manjhi (45) in Garhwa district, Jharkhand have accused the police of beating Manjhi to death.

According to the family, Bhandaria police took Manjhi in custody on 30 May. The same day, Manjhi’s dead body was handed over to the family.

Police took the middle-aged man from his house on Sunday morning. He had returned from the forest with firewood around 7 am. After breakfast, he was sitting on the ‘chabutra’ outside his house.

“A chowkidar named Joginder came with other police personnel on a motorbike. He asked Pala Manjhi to come to Bhandaria Police station for inquiry. Bhandaria station is around three kilometers away,” informed Ramnandan Manjhi (Pala Manjhi’s brother). Ramnandan inquired the chowkidar in which case were they taking his brother? To which Joginder replied “Whatever it is, we will talk about it at the police station”, Ramnandan told eNewsroom.

He claimed that his brother Manjhi never had any criminal record. It was for the first time that the police had came to their house. On Sunday morning police took Pala Manjhi for inquiry and after one and half hours, his dead body returned, according to the family. The police claimed that the death was due to an epileptic (mirgi) attack, however, the family has denied of the victim having any such health condition.

Countering the police claim of epilepsy, Ramnandan mentioned that his brother was in good health with no disease or ailments. If he was ill he would not have been able to carry woods from the forest.

“Around 8 am they took Pala (Manjhi) on a bike with them to Bhandaria station. After one and half hours I received a call from the police to reach the station immediately. Upon reaching I could not find the constable there. Before I had reached there they had already taken him to hospital in a van,” Ramnandan said.

He further added, “After a while, the chowkidar came on his motorbike and took me to Samudayik Swastha Kendra. There I found my brother lying unconscious. At the community health centre doctor said that he had given Pala an injection for mirgi and he would be sleeping for six hours. The doctor also said that Pala would be fine and told us to take him home. “I think he was already dead there,” pointed out Ramnandan. Their police took him from the hospital around 11 am and put him outside his home on the same chabutra. “If the doctor had referred us we would have taken him somewhere else. But he asked us to take him home,” rued the brother.

Koshila Devi (20), daughter-in-law of Pala said, “My father-in-law had no health ailments. He was perfectly fine before the police took him. They killed him and said he was already sick. They are saying he had mirgi but since I got married, I never witnessed anything as such. When the police brought the body here I saw the dark patches on his stomach. When I saw those marks I started crying. There were marks on his buttock as well. After such beating how could he survive?” laments Koshila.

Manjhi is survived by his four children – two sons and two daughters, who are now orphaned after his death, as his wife had died 10 years ago. The family depends on daily wages. However, in lockdown, they have been struggling to find work. Koshila says that there is no work to do now. Sometimes I collect and sell mahua to get some ration. But its season has also ended. When we get some money we eat, otherwise there is no other option but to sleep hungry.

Koshila asks, “There are two young and unmarried children of Pala Manjhi who will take care of them now? Will I look after my children or them?.”

She recalls the fateful day, “They brought the dead body and lied to us saying he will sleep for six hours”. Koshila added. “Why did they (police) do this? Now there is no one to look after us. I have never seen such brutality.”

After a few hours when Pala Manjhi did not wake up the relatives called the Bhandaria Police demanding answers. Thereafter Police arrived and took the body for postmortem to Sadar Hospital Garhwa. Postmortem was done on the second day, 31 May around 2 pm. Pala Manjhi’s last rites were performed on 31 May at 8 pm by his relatives.

The family also alleges that Bhandaria SI Shravan Kumar forcibly made them sign a blank paper.

“We were scared we did not question anything. We had already lost our brother. We simply did what we were asked to do. We were four people there, Tulsidas Manjhi, Jageshwar Manjhi son of Pala Manjhi, Devnarayan Manjhi and myself”, Ramnandan said.

Policemen of Bhandaria station refused to comment on the issue. Numerous calls to SP Garhwa, Shreekant Khotre went unanswered.

Speaking to eNewsroom, Deputy Commissioner of Garhwah Rajesh Kumar Pathak said “The magistrate inquiry on the matter has begun headed by SDO Rajesh Kumar Linda. SDO has already met the family and inquired about the incident. Now we are waiting for the report.”

The relatives demand justice. “And we also want compensation for the family as well as job for one of his children,” added Ramnandan. 

However, in the recent past there have been several custodial death cases in Jharkhand, especially with Muslims, tribal and dalits and families have not got justice.

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