For the last 57 days, a dead body has been allegedly decomposing in a tribal village in Sabarkantha district, as relatives demand justice for what they say was murder. Police believe the man died in an accident — and say that holding on to the body is in fact a local tribal custom. A police team that went to the village could neither find the body nor detect any smell of decomposition.
On December 4, Jivabhai Bhurabhai Bhumbadia of Chikhla village in Sabarkantha’s Khedbrahma taluka was found dead beside his tractor at Jaswantpura village under Hadad police station area. Local police concluded he had died in an accident, registered an FIR against the tractor driver under IPC sections 279 (rash driving) and 304A (causing death by negligence) and, after the autopsy, handed the body to relatives.
But Navjibhai, Jivabhai's younger brother, alleged that Jivabhai had been killed by neighbours over rivalry arising out of Jivabhai’s ownership of the tractor.
“There was only one tractor in the village before Jivabhai bought his, and started earning money. This led to rivalry between him and the people who own the other tractor. Everyone knows that my brother was killed somewhere else and the body was dumped at Jaswantpura,” Navjibhai said over the phone.
“But when we tried to lodge an FIR against the suspects the police didn’t listen to us and instead recorded that my brother was killed in a road accident,” he said.
Sabarkantha police say the refusal to cremate the body is a local tribal custom called “chadotaru”. Any unnatural death leads to demands for money from the accused, and the entire village of the victim throngs the village of the accused with the body until they are paid, they say. Whatever price is recovered is distributed among the victims' family, tribal leaders and the local police.
Sabarkantha superintendent of police Chirag Karodia said, “We sent out police teams to know the problem but couldn’t find the body or the smell that comes from decomposition.”
Ashwin Kotwal, the Congress MLA from Khedbrahma, however, blamed the police and administration. He said Jivabhai's daughter Sumiben had written to the chief minister, state police chief and other senior officials on December 27, attaching affidavits of her complaint and witnesses’ accounts of her father’s alleged murder, but had received no response.
“This is not new in the region. Such cases keep happening but the administration hasn't learnt anything. In 2008, a dead body was kept for a year and four months before the matter was resolved. The police have no interaction with local people, and they are afraid to approach the police directly,” Kotwal said.