Priest in Rajasthan’s Karauli who was set ablaze had bought petrol an hour earlier, say police

The Rajasthan police claimed on Thursday that the priest in Karauli district who died after being allegedly set ablaze, had purchased petrol in a plastic bottle from a fuel station in Sapotara town, an hour before he was attacked.

However, the investigators are yet to reach any conclusion.

In his dying declaration on October 8, the priest, Babulal Vaishnav, had told the police that five people poured petrol on him before setting him on fire. According to him, one of the accused wanted to grab 15-bigha land at Bukna village, which was the temple property.

A police official on condition of anonymity said, “In the CCTV footage obtained from a petrol pump located in Sapotra town, which is about 4.5 km away from the (crime) spot, the 50-year-old victim is seen purchasing petrol in a plastic bottle at 9.15 am on the day of the incident.”

After that the victim reached Karada Ki Dongri in Bukna village, where his house is located, he said.

“However, this fact is not enough to prove who immolated the priest,” the official added.

Another police official said, “We are yet to find any eyewitness in this case.”

The victim, in his dying declaration, said that the accused – Kailash, Shankar, Namo, Kishan and Ramlakhan – poured petrol on him around 10 am on October 7 and set him on fire. A few unknown villagers had rushed towards him but he fell unconscious. When he opened his eyes, he was in hospital, the priest told the police.

The police official said, “In our investigation one thing is clear that there is no caste conflict between communities. Some leaders, locals and even some media persons tried to create a conflict between two communities, but in his dying declaration the victim said that when his land was encroached, the panchayat members, who gave the decision in his favour, are from the community of the accused,” the police official said.

ML Lather, director general of police (crime), who also holds the additional charge of director general of police, said that a police team is stationed in Karauli district. “It is too early to make a comment or reveal anything related to any evidence in this case as it may hamper the investigation,” he said.

When Lala, the victim’s nephew, was asked about the petrol that his uncle bought, he said, “My uncle in his dying declaration said that he was set on fire by the named accused. Police investigation will reveal the truth.”

On the caste conflict, he said that people from all communities were with his family over their demands. “The villagers extended us their full support,” he said.

The alleged killing of the priest had snowballed into a political row with the Opposition attacking the state government. In a tweet, former chief minister Vasundhara Raje had said that the killing of the priest in Sapotara did not evoke government response. “We cannot express enough grief over it,” she said.

After facing flak, chief minister Ashok Gehlot had tweeted: “The murder of Babulal Vaishnav in Sapotara, Karauli, is extremely unfortunate and condemnable; civil society has no place for such acts. The state government is with the bereaved family in this sad time. The main accused has been arrested and action continues. The culprits shall not be spared.”

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