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Rajasthan: Dalit Govt Officer Dies by Suicide After Filing Corruption Case Against Sarpanch

Lalit Kumar Beniwal, a 25-year-old village development officer, took his own life on February 18, just three days after he had filed an FIR alleging corruption against the sarpanch of Cheeplata village, where he was stationed.
Lalit Kumar Beniwal. Photo by Special Arrangement.

Jaipur: A somber scene unfolds outside a house in Jharli village of Rajasthan’s Neem Ka Thana district, where a group of men sits in silence, their heads bowed and faces marked by grief.

Their discomfort is palpable amidst the mournful cries emanating from within the house. It is here that Lalit Kumar Beniwal, a 25-year-old village development officer (VDO) hailing from the Dalit Regar community, tragically took his own life on Sunday, February 18.

Family members of Lalit – an IIT graduate with aspirations to become an IAS officer – allege that he had been subjected to threats. Merely three days before his death, he had filed a first information report (FIR) alleging corruption against the sarpanch of Cheeplata village in Neem Ka Thana district, where he was stationed.

“The sarpanch and other officers kept putting pressure on Lalit to get work done. Manoj Gurjar, the sarpanch, his father and former sarpanch, Birbalram Gurjar, and the then Gram Sevak, Narendra Pratap Singh, were also harassing him a lot because he filed a report on embezzlement by Singh and Gurjar in the gram panchayat,” read the FIR lodged by Lalit’s family after his death.

His family members allege that ever since Lalit got his first posting in Cheeplata, after securing the government job of the village development officer in April 2023, he was stressed as he was being harassed by the sarpanch and local panchayat officials because of his honest nature.

“Due to his honest nature, Lalit never agreed to do anything illegal and would stop others from doing wrong. Ever since he had started working [as the village development officer], he was being harassed by the accused. Recently, it was found that the incumbent sarpanch and previous gram sevak in Cheeplata were allegedly involved in corruption to the tune of more than Rs 5 lakh,” they said.

“On February 15, Lalit went to meet the Block Development Officer of Ajeetgarh and said he wanted to resign. But the BDO pressured and told him that before resigning, he will have to register a corruption FIR against the sarpanch of Cheeplata and others,” Pramod Kumar Regar, Lalit’s cousin, told The Wire.

“After Lalit registered the FIR, the sarpanch, his father and others started threatening him. They even threatened to kill him if he didn’t take back the case. As a result of the stress, Lalit took his own life,” said Regar.

The FIR lodged by Lalit on February 15 says that the local fund audit department had discovered that Rs 5.2 lakh was siphoned off in 2022 from the funds allocated for the gram panchayat development.

The FIR was registered under sections of cheating and criminal breach of trust by a public servant under the Indian Penal Code.

Cheeplata sarpanch Manoj Gurjar and Narendra Pratap Singh were named as accused in the FIR filed by Lalit.

A scene from outside Lalit’s house, where villagers have assembled. Photo by Special Arrangement.

A brilliant student with dreams of becoming an IAS officer

Lalit’s relatives say that ever since he registered the FIR, Lalit was stressed as he started receiving threats to withdraw the case. He also told his family about it.

“Lalit, a brilliant student who attended IIT and aspired to become an IAS officer, hailed from a family where his parents worked as labourers to sustain the household. On Saturday night [February 17], his mother observed him writing on a piece of paper and assumed he was studying. Unaware, she didn’t realise that Lalit was writing his suicide note,” said Regar.

“Early on Sunday morning [February 18], when his sister looked through the window of his room, she saw Lalit hanging from the ceiling fan. My cousin has been a victim of caste-based oppression. When someone like Lalit, who comes from a poor Dalit family, excels in their career, it doesn’t go down well with people. He was subjected to mental torture. Lalit was an inspiration for the Dalit families in our village,” he said.

Lalit was the sole breadwinner of his family, which now stares at an uncertain future, Regar added.

He said that the family is demanding a compensation of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for a family member.

Dalit rights activist Geegraj Jodli, along with local villagers, staged a dharna on February 18 in Neem Ka Thana, demanding justice for Lalit, whose last rites were conducted later that day.

“The Regar community is traditionally engaged in shoe making and is considered to be among the most marginalised Dalit communities. It is not easy for a youngster from such an underprivileged section of the society to enrol in the IIT or to appear for the UPSC. Lalit’s death shows us the cruel face of the feudalism ingrained in the society as he died because of caste oppression,” said Neem Ka Thana-based activist Kailash Mina.

Also read: Majoritarian Politics and the Plight of Dalits

“I’ve been subjected to mental torture”

In the alleged suicide note reportedly written by Lalit, it has been mentioned that he wanted to clear the UPSC examination.

Deputy superintendent of police Rajendra Singh, circle officer Ajitgarh, and the investigating officer in the case told The Wire that the suicide note has been sent to the forensic science laboratory (FSL) to confirm whether it has been written by Lalit.

“I am an IIT graduate but while doing UPSC, I got trapped in this village development officer job, and now I am not able to do UPSC or anything else. Above all this, they pressurise me too much and nobody supports me,” read the alleged suicide note written in Hindi and English.

The note mentioned several instances wherein Lalit was reportedly harassed in the course of his work. It said that BDO Ajitgarh pressurised him to register the corruption FIR against the sarpanch and others.

“I have not engaged in any corruption, not even a rupee’s worth, yet I was subjected to mental torture. Birbal ji (the father of the current sarpanch of Cheeplata) has created such a hostile environment in this panchayat that anyone wishing to work is unable to do so, and he has never allowed any work to progress,” read the note.

Chaar mahine ho gaye mujhe depression, anxiety se jeete hue, ab nahin jeene. Sab jhuthe hain yaar, koi saath nahi deta. I am sorry, main haar gaya (It’s been four months living with depression and anxiety, I can’t go on anymore… Everybody is a liar. No one supports me. I am sorry, I have lost),” read the note.

Also read: When Mental Health Collides With Caste Identity

FIR registered against sarpanch, his father

After Lalit’s death, his relatives registered an FIR under Sections 306 (abetment of suicide) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and relevant sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, on February 18 at the Thoi police station under Neem ka Thana district.

Seven accused persons have been named in the FIR, including Cheeplata sarpanch Manoj Gurjar, his father Birbal Ram, Narendra Pratap Singh, Jagdev, Pokhar, Panchayat Samiti BDO, and Mangal.

When The Wire contacted Ajay Singh Nathawat, BDO, Ajitgarh Panchayat Samiti, who has been accused by Lalit’s family of pressuring him to register the corruption FIR, he denied the allegations but accepted that Lalit had met him on February 15 and expressed his desire to resign.

“Lalit had met me on February 15 and said he wanted to resign. As the BDO, it is my duty to provide counselling to my staff and find out what is the reason. After I counseled him, he withdrew his resignation and I assured him I alone cannot take the decision of transferring him and told him that once the standing committee of the Panchayat Samiti meets, we will ensure that he is transferred to another gram panchayat. I promised him a solution by Monday. As for Lalit filing the corruption FIR, it is part of the general course of work of the village development officer to register FIRs in matters relating to corruption in gram panchayat,” said Nathawat.

The police said that no persons have been arrested so far.

“The family members of the deceased have alleged that Lalit died by suicide because ever since he had filed the corruption FIR, he was being threatened. Among those booked are the present sarpanch of Cheeplata and his father, who are accused of threatening the deceased. The BDO has also been booked in the FIR because Lalit’s relatives allege he pressured him to register the FIR. So far, no arrests have been made. We are investigating the matter. The family has given us an alleged suicide note, which has been sent to the forensic lab to ascertain whether it was written by Lalit,” said Rajendra Singh, deputy superintendent of police, and circle officer Ajitgarh, who is the investigating officer in the case.

If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers they can call to speak in confidence. Icall, a counselling service run by TISS, has maintained a crowdsourced list of therapists across the country. You could also take them to the nearest hospital.

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