Two people were arrested and three others booked by Dholpur police in Rajasthan for burning down shops of people belonging to the Muslim community after the latter apparently did not vote for their “preferred candidate” in the panchayat elections.
The Indian Express reported that the incident took place in the district’s Sepau town in the early hours of October 6. According to the FIR, the arson took place because the shop owners, most of who are Muslims, did not vote for Jitendra, the candidate in elections for Sepau sarpanch seat.
The FIR was registered on the basis of a complaint by Saurabh Shah, 30, brother of deputy sarpanch Bhura Shah and owner of one of the stores burnt down. He claimed that the accused set fire to a row of shops around 1 AM on Tuesday.
The FIR names Narad, Harendra, Rabba, Chhotu and Narayan Singh and invokes IPC Sections 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy a house, etc), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 143 (unlawful assembly).
Saurabh’s complaint stated that five men had threatened to burn down the shops unless “your community” votes “for us”. The FIR states, “On October 5, Narad told Alimuddin (a store-owner) to remove wares from his shop, as…they will set fire. Narad, Rabba, Chhotu, Harendra (and) Narayan Singh set fire to the shops around 1 am. We saw them running away from the spot. We tried to douse the flames but by the time a fire-tender came, everything had burnt to ashes.”
It states, “Money earned from the shops is used to run two mosques and a (local) madrasa, and protect the graveyard.”
Stating that the accused are “powerful people”, Bhura Shah claimed that they are “threatening and pressuring us for a raazinama (agreement) and offering Rs 2 lakh – at the rate of Rs 10,000 per shop. We declined, as the total losses are around Rs 20-25 lakh.”
Dozens of local residents submitted a memorandum to the sub-divisional magistrate, stating that their source of livelihood has been destroyed. They sought compensation and demanded the arrest of all the accused within five days.
Dholpur SP Keshar Singh Shekhawat said, “There were 10-12 khokhas (stalls) and temporary shops of sweets, vegetables and fruit by the (Sepau) graveyard. They (victims) claimed that they did not vote for the candidate (that the accused wanted them to vote for), which led to a dispute.”
SP Shekhawat said, “An examination of the site was conducted by Forensic Science Laboratory to determine whether it was an accident — since two or three exploded cylinders were found — or a case of arson. It remained inconclusive. We examined the location of the accused (on the night of the incident), which was found around that locality.”
Jitendra has condemned the incident and demanded punishment for those found guilty. His brothers Narad and Harendra are among the five accused. According to police, Narad is among the two arrested.
A first-time candidate, Jitendra posted on Facebook on Wednesday that the incident was “sad and unfortunate. Neither I nor anyone in my family supports such violence. A report has been filed and the accused – they may be from my family or my supporter, but they should be punished as per law. Only then will the victims get justice in the true sense.”