Siwan won’t talk about Rajdeo Ranjan though the journalist’s murder has caused a national outrage. In homes, tea stalls and street corners, the Bihar town’s residents appear to have censored themselves.
Siwan appears to be living in fear after the murder of Ranjan, who worked for the Hindi daily Hindustan. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the lawlessness that prevailed in Siwan during the Lok Sabha elections on the peripheries of the municipal area in 2014.
“The scribe’s death has shattered us all. We all have to rethink on our way of writing,” a local journalist, who did not wish to be named, said.
At Rajdeo’s native village Hakam, his widow Asha Yadav is yet to come out of the shock. She is ‘anguished’ by police action and blames them for being haphazard and not addressing the murder.
Her family claims to ‘know the killer’, but she will not give it away. “My husband was killed because of his writings. If there were some enemies, it was because of his writings,” she tells Hindustan Times.
She is careful and guarded. “How do I know, you are not a killer in the guise of a reporter. I fear for my life today, as well as my lone son and daughter. I have nowhere to go from here,” she says.
Her comments reflect the larger fear stalking the people of the town, who are wary of speaking out about the incident or its possible conspirators.
Needles of suspicion
With the media aggressively pursuing the murder and police investigations pointing the needle of suspicion towards Siwan jail where former Siwan strongman and former Rashtriya Janata Dal legislator Mohammed Shahabuddin is lodged, there is a giant shadow, as it were, over the entire town.
Chirag Paswan, Lok Janshakti Party’s parliamentary party chief, who met Rajdeo’s family, said Shahabuddin should be moved out of Siwan jail where he is serving a life sentence for the murder of two brothers.
“If investigations have found RJD’s former MP Shahabuddin’s role in the murder, it is a fit case for the strongman to be shifted elsewhere. I think, any investigation could be influenced by him, if he stays in Siwan,” the young leader said.
For a change, a group of local RJD workers staged a protest near Rajdeo’s village demanding the immediate arrest of the killers. It was clearly intended to stay clear of the controversy and save their political careers should the investigation throw up links to Shahabuddin or his aides.
Police, however, have not made Singh, who is out on bail, an accused in Rajdeo’s murder and have instead booked him for violation of the Excise Act, indicating how their investigations still are far from any conclusion.
A policeman argued differently saying it could be a strategy to mislead the conspirators. He did not give a name.
“We are interrogating several people. We have got some vital clues and expect to make a breakthrough soon in the case,” Priyaranjan, station house officer of Siwan town police station, said.
He refused to comment when asked whether Singh disclosed during interrogation that Rajdeo’s killing was ordered from Siwan jail. “I will not comment on it. We are working on the case,” he said.
Siwan superintendent of police, Sourabh Kumar Sah, told reporters that seven people have been picked up and were being interrogated. “We are working on some leads,” he said.
People are clearly ‘not convinced’ and it seems it would take a lot of time for them to trust the police.
Reign of fear
For Siwan, diktats from the jail are nothing new.
Locals, on condition of anonymity, recall the days when businessmen, academicians, lawyers and reporters used to get threat calls for speaking against the ‘ruling establishment’ from jail.
“Getting a threat on the phone or just being ticked off by a criminal is intimidating. In last few decades, people who have tried to raise their voice against criminals with political patronage have all paid a big price. It may not happen so frequently in big cities but in Siwan it is common. Hence, the fear,” a senior professor of a local college said.
Locals also allege that the administration’s inability to act on the complaints of threats or extortion from jail has also emboldened criminals. They have managed to set up a parallel administration in the town, which has witnessed many high profile killings, including that of former Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Chandrashekhar and the three sons of Chandrakeshwar Prasad, a businessman associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Two of them were soaked in acid after their abduction, while the third, an eyewitness was shot dead. Shahabuddin’s aides were blamed for all the murders.
“These incidents are still etched in the public memory. The recent murder has only brought the dark memories alive. So, one can fully understand the palpable fear among the people,” a local politician said.