visits the “cancer village” of Sakras in south Haryana. Located in newly renamed but as-poor-as-before Nuh district, Sakras has the air of death over it. The stench too, from an open drain leading out of the village. Cancer may the reason for the infamy of the village, but it’s no better or worse than those dotting the dry countryside for miles around. Mohamad Irshad does not understand who, or what, to blame for the death of his father from lung cancer. He lives with seven other members of his family in Sakras village of Haryana’s most backward district of Nuh, earlier known as Mewat. This southwestern part of Haryana is an arid region with a history soaked in the blood of many battles, its sand-and-rock margins blending into Rajasthan’s Alwar and Bharatpur districts. In this district where Muslims make up almost 80 per cent of the population, Sakras, about 75 km from Delhi, is known as the ‘cancer village’— over 45 cancer deaths have been reported here in just the last three years, and 100-odd in the last decade. “It is hard to pinpoint the reason for many cancer deaths, including that of my father. We live in constant fear after my father Abdul Razzaq died on May 1 this year. Earlier, his three brothers Bashir, Shahabuddin and Qayyam Ali also died due to cancer in chest, mouth and throat respectively over the last two-and-a-half years,” Irshad says. “My father had undergone chemo therapy for one-and-a-half year, including nine months at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi, but he did not survive.” Sakras residents say life in the village is harsh as it is, with a crushing lack basic amenities like drinking water, proper drainage system and sanitation. Most blame the ground water, their sole source of drinking water, as responsible for the frequent cancers. It’s contaminated, they say. Niyamat Ali Khan says even the taste of the water in the village is different. “Our village has a population of about 28,000 and is considered one of the largest in Ferozpur Jhirka tehsil of the district. We have sunk borewells at several places in the village to extract groundwater for drinking. Apart from the area near the drain, the entire village gets salty water to drink. Hence, the villagers have installed half a dozen submersible pumps next to drain to fulfill their daily needs,” Khan says. It is clear he believes the drain to be the culprit. Other Sakras residents share his suspicions. Most say that the sewage water in the drain is being sucked up by the surrounding soil and subsequently contaminating groundwater. But there’s no choice, they say. Then again, the pipes used by the submersible pumps to extract groundwater are also variously immersed in the drain as they snake the shortest way to their user destinations in the village. Fazaluddin Beser, the former sarpanch (village head) says the village has been witnessed deaths due to illness for a “long time”, but the numbers have gone up alarmingly only in the last three years. “We have noticed several deaths due to illness in the last two-and-a-half years that reveal an alarming trend of cancer in the village. I have immediately brought it to the notice of the district administration so they can find out the reason behind these frequent deaths. Officials took samples of water from the village a month ago and their test results are awaited,” Beser says. The former sarpanch, too, subscribes to the groundwater theory. “We have strong suspicion that the groundwater the villagers are using for their domestic needs is contaminated in some way. That the public health department of Nuh has not revealed the result of water sample testing is only adding to the fear here,” Beser says, pointing his finger at the district administration of Nuh for not coming up with a proper action plan like installation of a common water purification system in the village. “It’s not the mobile transmission towers,” he says. “If that be the case, patients would have brain cancer which is not the case here with most patients dying due to lung cancer and some to cancers of the mouth and throat. Cancer experts from different states, including Punjab, Delhi and Rajasthan, came here but none could pinpoint the cause of the high cancer rate here.” What does the government-appointed civil surgeon have to say? Shri Ram Siwach calls the situation “really alarming”, adding that the health department of Haryana is deeply concerned with it. “We have collected water samples and analysis continues. We are also taking help of prominent cancer experts,” he says. Meanwhile, cancer continues to stalk the untidy streets and warrens of Sakras.]]>
The June 22 murder of a Class 9 boy by another one from Class 10 at a Vadodara school is eerily similar to Gurugram’s Ryan School murder of last year. While the focus remains on the schoolboys accused of murder in both cases, the bus conductor accused of the Gurugram horror has been largely forgotten. Lokmarg went to meet 42-year-old Ashok Kumar at his home in Ghamroj village of Sohna Tehsil in Gurugram district. This is what we found.Barun Chand Thakur’s agony will never end. Not even after justice is served for the brutal, wanton murder of his seven-year-old son Pradyuman in Gurugram’s Ryan International School on September 8, 2017. But what of 42-year-old Ashok Kumar, the man wrongly accused of the murder, propped up and sashayed before baying television camera packs, and subjected to interrogation and imprisonment on the basis of what now has been swept aside as a murder probe gone terribly, horribly wrong? This is a tale of our times, and that it has been forgotten till major developments take place in the unfolding prosecution of the case is largely a function of the unpeopleness of the family torn apart by botched police work. For Ashok Kumar is no Deepak Talwar. Kumar, a slightly built bus conductor with all the meekness that his poverty marks him with, was freed on November 22 after the Central Bureau of Investigation that took over the probe on September 22 said he was not an accused any more. He lives in Ghamroj village, a settlement of less than 5,000 people in a rocky barenness that stays sandwiched between the millenial development of Gurugram and the aridity of Mewat district. Ghamroj clings to the nearby forested haven of Bhondsi village for survival, be it a functioning ATM or the nearest post office. As the first anniversary of the beginning of his ordeal approaches, Kumar is not well. He hasn’t restarted the life his innocence provides. He’s practically bedridden, suffering from severe lower back pain. Laying down in a cot in his little single storey house, he points to the region between his lower spine and hip.
What Happened at Ryan International School?Pradyuman Thakur was found murdered in a bathroom of his school on September 8 last year. The police zeroed in on Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kumar has alleged intimidation and torture by the cops who are also at the receiving end of a supplementary chargesheet that the CBI has filed against them, officers named and included. It took the CBI two days of investigating the crime to conclude Kumar was innocent and that a teenager who reported the dead boy in the bathroom to a school gardener was the real culprit. The Class 11 boy was kept in a juvenile home as per the law but a court last month allowed his prosecution as an adult. The prosecution continues, at a surprisingly good pace by Indian standards.
“There is severe pain in my lower back. It is very hard for me to sit on the floor or to stand up quickly. The doctors have referred me for immediate surgery but I do not have enough money for it. So I am staying home,” he says as the sun beats down on the earthern courtyard of his simple but clean dwelling, a guava tree in the centre providing the only island of shade. Kumar walked free on bail on November 22, a day after it was granted. In the runup to the bail hearing, residents of Ghamroj started a collection for Kumar’s bail, hundreds and fifties and some thousands adding up to all of ₹2 lakh. He was finally acquitted of all charges on February 28 this year. “Almost six months of hell,” says Kumar. The most difficult phase was Kumar’s remand period with the Gurugram police when they “injected sedatives and brutally assaulted me for a crime that I had not committed”. Kumar’s skills are limited; he can drive a van or work as a bus conductor. Only, he can’t even do that anymore. “The third degree torture of Gurugram police is responsible for this pain in my lower back and therefore I am unable to do any physical work. I am completely dependent on my father and wife who are employed in village’s Vivek Bharti public school and earning for our livelihood,” he says. Kumar’s father Amichand enters the conversation: “My son had faced police torture and jail but it has disrupted the entire family. We suspect any stranger we see coming to our house,” he says. “We hope the trial concludes as soon as possible and that the real culprit is proven guilty in court.” Kumar’s father makes about ₹4,000 a month; about the same as his daughter-in-law. “Besides, there’s ₹1,600 coming in every month because of the old age pension that Ashok’s grandmother is entitled to,” he explains. That’s a total of ₹9,600 to run a seven-member household, including Kumar’s two schoolgoing sons. “The low earnings of our family does not allow us to get Ashok’s lower back surgery done despite its immediate recommendation by doctors,” says Amichand. Kumar’s lawyer, a man who’s fought heroically to save his client, has said he will move court for compensation. But that remains far away, and Kumar remains stricken.
The Ryan School Murder Case on Lokmarg
Ryan International School bus conductor Ashok Kumar, arrested on September 8 on charges of murdering class 2 student Pradyuman Thakur, was on Wednesday released from jail and returned home after 76 days in custody after the CBI found who was behind the crime. “I am thankful to God for delivering justice to me,” he told media after being released. His family said that it was a great reliefas their innocent family member is back home. “Haryana Police forced him to confess to the crime by using third degree force on him.. they also drugged him,” said a family member. His bail orders were provided by lawyers to the jail authority after 3 p.m. on Wednesday and after completing formalities, Kumar was released from the jail late in the evening. “After examination of the legal papers, Kumar was released around 8 p.m.,” a senior jail official told IANS. Prominent persons from his Ghamroj village near Sohna were present the whole day at Bhondsi jail to welcome Kumar when he walked out. The 42-year-old Kumar was arrested on the same day that seven-year-old Pradyuman’s body was found in the washroom of school with throat slit. The Haryana Police had claimed that the child was murdered by the bus conductor allegedly after he failed to sodomise the boy. However, two school employees — bus driver Saurav Raghav and gardener Harpal as well as Kumar’s father Amichand had alleged that he was being made a scapegoat in the child’s murder since he is poor. Amichand said his son was drugged and brutally tortured by police to own up the crime. The state police claim was being questioned right from the very beginning – and more so after the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The agency had, on November 8, taken a Class 11 student of the same school in custody for the murder. As per the agency, the senior student killed his junior just to postpone a parent-teacher meeting and unit test that day. Although the CBI has not granted clean chit to the bus conductor, it has also not found any clinching evidence against him. A court on Tuesday had granted bail to Ashok Kumar after his lawyer Mohit Verma filed an application on November 16. Additional District and Session Judge Rajni Yadav granted him bail on Rs 50,000 bond. The CBI was asked to submit the status report in the court after arguments by all parties on November 20, and the judge had reserved the decision for Tuesday. “There was no proof against Kumar and the court granted bail under Article 21 that ensures right to life and liberty to every citizen. There was major conflict between theories of the CBI and the Haryana Police and he was granted bail on the ground of benefit of doubt,” said Verma, adding the decision proved that police probe was shielding the real culprit and Kumar was implicated in the crime.(IANS) // ]]>