Jai Bhim in Bolpur

Raju Thandar

In the town of  Bolpur, in the land of Tagore’s Shantiniketan, there lived a  28-year-old Raju Thandar from Dalit (Dom) Community at his in-laws’ house at Muchipara/ Darjipara with his wife and a girl child. Raju was a native of Durgapur in Burdwan district, 60 km away from Bolpur. Since 2006, Raju settled in Bolpur and made his living through various menial jobs like cleaner of trucks or rickshaw pulling.

The legend says that Bolpur derives its name from Bolipur that commemorate the phenomenal sacrifice (Bali / Boli) of one lakh goats to Goddess Bhabani by King Surath who believed that it was the blessings of Goddess Bhavani that he could regain the lost kingdom while he went out for conquest.

Highly acclaimed Tamil film ‘Jai Bhim’, directed by T J Gnanavel is based on the real-life struggle of Sengani to secure justice for custodial death of her husband Rajakannu, arrested and tortured in police custody in a false theft case. Movies based on real-life struggles of marginalized are rare and those engage with sincerity on the issues of identity and institutionalized discrimination are even rarer. It is not that such atrocities are not in public knowledge, but the way these incidents are being made normal is infurating.

Raju Thandar of Bolpur is Rajakannu of the movie Jai Bhim. On the night of 11th August 2016, Raju was picked up from his residence of ten years by the Bolpur police suspecting his involvement in a theft. His wife Anna Thandar was not allowed to meet him when she reached the PS in the morning of following day. Anna waited for hours, pleaded with police, cried but in vain. Anna went to Bolpur PS next day as well, waited whole day but could not get a glimpse of her husband Raju.

Anna saw Raju on the night of 13/ 14 August with hands tied when he was brought home by the police, continuously hitting him with the baton and asking him to hand over the stolen goods. Anna stated in front of press that Raju  had injuries in his elbow and was unable to walk or move his hands properly. Raju had also informed her that he was severely tortured for the last two days in the police custody. During the search,  police ransacked the house and took him back with them after finding nothing in the house. Raju was then severely tortured and succumbed to death. Next day morning on 14th August at 10am Anna was informed by the police that her husband Raju Thandar has been admitted in Bolpur Sub Divisional Hospital. When she along with her father and some neighbors reached the hospital, found Raju’s body lying in front of the emergency ward of the hospital guarded by a civic volunteer. It was surprising that the hospital record mentioned that one Prashanta Das brought the body of a person named ‘Raju Shekh’ son of Unknown of Mokrampur (2km away from both Bolpur PS as well as from his home) to the hospital at 9.56am on 14th August and was declared ‘brought dead’ by the doctor of emergency ward and that Dr Maloy Mishra conducted the autopsy. The people who saw the dead body did notice prominent injury marks all over the body and brain hemorrhage too. In the meantime, information of custodial death of Raju Thandar spreaded and reached to all the local activists along with those associated with the Association of Protection for Democratic Rights (APDR).

When the body of Raju reached his home after the post-mortem, the neighbors and relatives got furious. Mr Shailen Misra, Secretary at Birbhum branch of APDR too was present with four young student members from Shantiniketan. A demand for insaf was raised. The infuriated public of Bolpur brought the dead body to the police station and demanded punishment for those responsible for Raju’s death. Half a dozen policemen present in the PS closed the gate. Angry public hurled stones at the police station. Many of the cops escaped through a rear gate. The angry protesters broke the police station gate. A larger police contingent then arrived and  resorted to lathi-charge. They also fired rubber bullets on the protestors injuring six persons including two women. Raju’s father-in-law was amongst the injured and was hospitalised. Police claimed injuries at their end too. A senior officer later informed that a probe had been ordered into Raju’s death.

The Bolpur Police had earned a notoriety  for  custodial murder in the past and it appears that they carry on their shoulders the legacy to live up with its mythical image of Bolipur.  The locals have not forgotten earlier lock-up deaths in Bolpur and knew the power of protest.

  1. Back in 1984/85 a sweeper employed with the Municipal Corporation was chased by Bolpur PS. He fell on the railway lines and was severely injured. Instead of taking the injured to the hospital for treatment, the corporation employee was taken to PS and brutally tortured till death in the lockup on the same night.
  2. On 18th March 1994 one Ananda Roy was tortured and killed in the lock-up of Bolpur PS. On the basis of the enquiry one SI named Kamal Krishan Das was arrested and the warrant for CI Amiya Shekhar Mondal is repeatedly issued, but no arrest was made. Rumour is that Kamal Krishan Das has died by suicide.
  3. It was in 1998/99 one Ajay of Katihar, Bihar went to Delhi to work in a factory. The owner of the factory accused Ajay of stealing lakhs of Rupees while he went on leave for a visit in Bolpur. Ajay was arrested in Bolpur and a sum of more than 2/ lakhs was recovered from him. The corrupt IO Shithil Sarkar showed only a part of the money seized and pocketed the rest. As the story of embezzlement of the recovered money came out in public, Ajay was tortured brutally on the suspicion that the story might have been leaked by him and succumbed to death in the police lockup . The matter was taken to court and the Calcutta High Court fined the duty officer ASI Asis Kar. SI Shithil Sarkar, said to be the most corrupt police officer, could not be punished as he was dead by the time the judgment in Ajay’s custodial death was pronounced.
  4. On 19th June,2000 one 25-year-old Lalan Chakraborti died in the police custody of the Bolpur police station. A judicial investigation was ordered by Calcutta High Court. In both the above incidents the case of unnatural death was initiated under the public pressure.

In the case of Raju Thandar, all the rules were flouted to the extent that even the post-mortem on Raju’s body was not made as per guidelines. Executive magistrate instead of a judicial magistrate conducted the inquest over the body (Sec 176(1A) CrPC) in the presence of Investigating Officer Arindam Chakroborty. Neither the video of post-mortem examination was made nor any of the family member was present during the autopsy, though they were waiting outside the mortuary.

Initially police refused to confirm the arrest and detention of Raju Thandar, but later one Sub-Inspector said that Raju was arrested in an NGR case (non registered case) and was released on bail. But the police could not provide any case number in this respect. What the police did was after Raju’s death in the same night police called one Arun Sarkar, law clerk of ACJM, well known for substance addiction and forced him to put his signature on a forged bail bond.  Probably this was the bail bond the above Sub-Inspector was referring to.

The protest against the custodial death and demand for punishment of erring officers did not die. Anna, Raju’s wife along with the members of APDR continued with protest campaign which was joined by the locals. The first visible sign of police accepting atrocities on Raju was the replacement of IC Prabir Kumar Dutta with Kalyan Mitra, IC Illambazar.  Finally, police were forced to initiate an unnatural death case at Bolpur PS UD Case No 172/16 dated 14th Aug,2016 and Arindam Chakroborty; Sub Inspector was appointed as Investigating Officer.

In the meantime, activists of APDR through some well-wisher in police-force got hold a copy of email authored by the then IC Bolpur PS, Prabir Kumar Dutta sent to the district superintendent of police and other senior officers saying Raju Thandar was arrested. Activists lost no time in circulating the above. The police could not deny the authenticity of the circulated mail. The fact was that Raju’s name was replaced by one Babar Shekh of Nanoor in Birbhum in the case filed following his arrest. However, the cops could not change exchanged e-mails. On continuous protest demonstrations, the case was then handed over to CID.

CID after taking charge, one Nantu Jash @ Baban Jash driver of the vehicle of Prabir Kumar Dutta, the then Inspector-in-Charge was arrested on Sept11, 2016. He was examined under Sec 161 of CrPC and had stated that Prabir Kumar Dutta, IC of Bolpur PS was directly involved in the crime. After conclusion of investigation, CID filed the charge sheet implicating only Nantu Jash @ Baban Jash. However,  on conclusion of the investigation the Additional Director General of Police, CID made a prayer before the Additional Chief Secretary, Home and Hill Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal for sanction under Sec 197 of CrPC to prosecute Prabir Kumar Dutta came in public knowledge when Nantu Jash @ Baban Jash applied for bail in Calcutta High Court on Aug18, 2020. Prabir Kumar Dutta, being in service could not be prosecuted unless the said sanction was obtained. Court requested above Additional Chief Secretary to act promptly on request by the Additional Director General of Police, CID, West Bengal vide memo no. 1930/CS dated 15th May, 2020 granting sanction to prosecute Prabir Kumar Dutta. CID filed a supplementary charge sheet on Oct5, 2020 including Prabir Kumar Dutta’s name as main accused. An arrest warrant was issued. Dutta who was posted as an inspector in East Burdwan surrendered at Narendrapur PS on Nov8,2020. He was then brought to Bolpur court and since then is in judicial custody along with Nantu Jash in Bolpur Sub Division Jail. Apart from being accused of Culpable homicide (sec 304), he is also charged with disappearance of evidence (sec 201). Dutta had also been charged with Sections 166 (public servant disobeying law, with intent to cause injury to any person), 167 (public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury), 323 (voluntary causing hurt), 325 (voluntary causing grievous hurt), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 343 (wrongful confinement for three or four days).

Raju like Rajakannu in the film, Jai Bhim was killed in police custody and was confined in police custody illegally for four days. Police denied his arrest and claimed that he was rescued from near the Bolpur sub-divisional hospital with head injuries and was taken to the hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival.

The courage and determination of Anna, Raju’s wife, against all odd must be applauded like Rajakannu’s wife Sengeni in the movie. She waited in front of Bolpur PS, while Raju was in lockup. She participated in each protest program. Faced the press with conviction. Never failed to attend court. It is difficult to imagine how she would have survived with her teenage daughter in pecuniary and hostility without fall prey to any temptation that the people in power offered. After her husband’s death, she worked in Bolpur municipal Corporation as a part time for few months, later she was left on her own as she demanded justice for custodial death of Raju Thandar. However, she is very happy that Prabir Kumar Dutta is arrested and is waiting to see him punished by law.

Same is with, Shailen Mishra. Shailen Mishra, secretary APDR at Birbhum has many similarities with the lawyer Chandru, played by popular Tamil actor Suriya in the film. Mishra obtained his law degree in 1996. He too is an example of how ordinary people can fight for the cause of others. Shailenda, as he is popularly known, has authored three books on his experiences in Naxalbari movement and activism. Since 1980, Shailenda is  working relentlessly in APDR. APDR through Shailen Mishra has played a very important role to get the erring officials punished and the victim families get justice in all the above mentioned incidents of custodial deaths. On many occasions he had to lie low  to avoid unjustified arrest from the erring officials. He had to hide himself tactically after an APDR member posted about the protest in front of Bolpur PS in Facebook. Not many young people can match with Shailen Mishra’s energy and perseverance that he has even in his mid-seventies.

The society divided along caste and class lines is, in general, a mute spectator of the everyday spectacle of violence on the marginalised, be it farmers, tribes, economically weak, Dalit or women. Nothing abnormal or unjust is noticed in the violence perpetrated by the dominant group either directly or through the state machinery. Therefore, it is normal to acquire the lands of tribal, poor and marginalised farmers for the development of the dominant group. And the best tool in the hands of powerful or dominant groups to subjugate the marginalised groups is the police machinery, which has always worked for the rich and powerful and rewarded for doing so. Polarization has further enhanced the perception of ‘nothing unusual’ in the society and consequent atrocities against the marginalized. The stories of Rajakannu and Raju are exceptions and are needed to be told. The small group of people, called Andolanjivi in Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s language, must be having many many such stories from cities, towns, villages and jungles which need to be narrated again and again.

Nisha Biswas is an activist

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