Vijayapura: Shantavva Nimbargi’s loud cries echoed around her tiny tin hut at Balaganur village of Sindagi taluk in Karnataka’s Vijayapura district Monday, after she finally buried her 34-year-old son Ravi Nimbargi, who had been murdered last Thursday.
Ravi’s killing is the latest hate crime over an interfaith relationship in Karnataka, after Arbaz Aftab Mullah, a Muslim youth from Belagavi, was allegedly killed over his relationship with a Hindu woman in late September.
Ravi was in love with a Muslim woman, whose brother and uncle (who is also her brother-in-law) have been arrested for the murder. The local police are in pursuit of three more accused in the case — all family members of the woman.
“Ravi was the smartest of my three sons,” Shantavva, 65, told ThePrint.
Ravi held a diploma from an Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Sindagi. His elder brother Basavaraj and younger brother Shashidhar never completed high school.
Sitting outside their hut, surrounded by their five-acre farm where they grow tur (dal), cotton and sugarcane, Ravi’s family members said they neither had a copy of the FIR nor the names of those arrested for his murder.
“He worked in Bengaluru for five years and then took up a job at a sugarcane factory in Vijayapura. He quit that job and came back home only nine months ago,” a teary-eyed Basavaraj Nimbargi told ThePrint.
Ravi, who had stepped out of the house to buy groceries Thursday evening, never returned. His body was found in a well Sunday.
What happened after he left home
Ravi had been in a relationship with the Muslim woman for the last four years, though both his family and her relatives claim to have had no knowledge of it.
“The families claim to have no knowledge but they were told of the relationship. The two even told them that they wanted to marry but the families didn’t agree. Both of them remained unmarried despite their younger siblings going ahead and marrying,” a senior police officer investigating the case told ThePrint.
According to the police, Ravi was speaking to the woman on the phone Thursday evening when he was waylaid by her kin, who allegedly began assaulting him. Police said that while on the phone, Ravi told her that her brothers and uncle were attacking him before the phone line snapped.
“The girl ran to the spot where Ravi said he was, but couldn’t find him. She then called the police control room,” the senior officer quoted above said.
“At around 7.30 pm, she came to our house and said Ravi was being attacked. We searched for him everywhere but couldn’t find him,” Shashidhar, Ravi’s younger brother, told ThePrint.
The local police arrived at the spot but couldn’t find a trace of either family’s members.
“The woman was taken to the police station to record her statement following which we suspected that Ravi may have been murdered. We sent her to a women’s shelter to protect her from her family,” the police officer said.
The next morning, Ravi’s family filed a missing person’s complaint.
“Her uncle and brother were apprehended near the state border,” the senior police officer said, adding that details of their confessions shocked the police.
“They confronted and started attacking him. The two accused tied a rope around Ravi’s neck and pulled it on either side, suffocating him. They then tied a boulder onto him and threw him into a well nearby,” the investigating officer told ThePrint, insisting that the crime was not premeditated.
Family disowns girl, rejects allegations
The woman’s family lives just a few metres from Ravi’s home. Her mother Najibunnissa identified the two arrested accused as her fifth son Imam Chand Saab and brother Bandenawaz. Her eldest daughter is married to Bandenawaz.
The police are on the lookout for her other sons: Ismail, Ashfaq, Altaf and Ibrahim.
“Thursday was the last time I saw my sons. They were going on business,” Najibunnissa told ThePrint. “Only Imam and Bandenawaz were in the village and they have confessed to the murder. I don’t understand why the police are looking for my other sons.”
“My other sons were out on work that day. They weren’t in the village. My daughter is deliberately framing them,” Najibunnissa added.
The family owns five acres of land and two Tempo Travellers that are used for the transportation of crops.
The family has not spoken to the woman since the day of the murder. “She is as good as dead to us,” Najibunnissa said, as another daughter and two daughters-in-law nodded in agreement.
Intolerance in a communally sensitive village
The village Balaganur is still recovering from clashes between Muslims and Hindus from two years ago, villagers told ThePrint.
“Two years ago, members of the Muslim community built a ‘Tipu Circle’ without anyone’s permission. Hindus were irate and they too built a ‘Shivaji Circle’ a few metres away. Soon, clashes erupted and police filed FIRs against 25 people on each side. The superintendent of police, district commissioner and politicians had to come and hold peace talks to defuse the situation,” Devappavar Patil, a village resident, told ThePrint.
Sindagi’s local police did not deny the clashes, but insisted that “small sparks” such as that are common in the village. “Except that they are from different religions, there was no other issue here. Even the village has been calm over it. On the first day after the incident, we anticipated clashes and had deployed additional police personnel near both families’ residences. Thankfully, no such incident happened,” the police officer quoted above said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)