The siege of Saanvrad: How death of a gangster has turned a small Rajasthan village into a war zone
A fortnight after the death of gangster Anandpal Singh, his native village of Saanvrad is seeing unprecedented deployment of security forces.
A fortnight after the death of dreaded gangster Anandpal Singh, his native village of Saanvrad in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district has turned into a warzone, with the deployment of security forces at an unprecedented scale.
“Every day, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to bring in supplies for shops as we are subjected to stringent checks and are often treated like criminals. The entire village is suffering because of this siege-like situation,” Prakash Singh, a shopkeeper, told HT.
Anandpal Singh, who carried a ₹5 lakh bounty on him, was gunned down in a police encounter on June 24 in Churu district.
Unlike the general atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in other villages, the situation in Saanvrad is almost like strife-torn Kashmir. A loose cluster of police and emergency services vehicles remain parked at the entrance of the village. Police commandoes sit under trees sipping tea and keeping an eye on each person going in and out of the village.
As one enters the village, it bears a deserted look, except gun-wielding men-in-khaki. Apart from Nagaur police, battalions of the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary, riot control force and quick response teams have also been stationed at the village.
“The police are treating Anandpal as if he is someone as bad as Kasab. We have to go through stringent checks even while going to the nearest dispensary with patients,” said Mool Singh.
“We have to answer a thousand questions just to get in or out of the village. The cops are everywhere and it has resulted into severe discomfort for the villagers. It has become difficult to even get ration,” said Mahaveer Singh, another villager.
A few hundred meters from the entrance of the village is the house of Anandpal Singh, which has become the epicentre of dissent and the reason behind the almost-paranoiac deployment of security in the village.
A motley group of men sit in the courtyard as incense sticks burn near the photo of the slain gangster. A deep freezer is in a corner, inside is the body of the dreaded gangster, who has still not been cremated.
“We won’t relent until a CBI probe is ordered by the government in his encounter. The police are violating basic human rights with this siege,” said Ajay Singh, one of the men at the house.
Singh has come from Hanumangarh district to protest against the police “injustice”.
Another protester chips in with a seemingly baffling claim. “The police are even searching women to see if they are not carrying bombs strapped to their legs. Tell us…If we really want to bring bombs, who can stop us?”
Strangely, most of the men assembled in the village in the aftermath of the incident seem to be outsiders, coming from various districts of Rajasthan and even other states such as Haryana.
At a clearing in the centre of the village, another group of men has been sitting on an indefinite dharna since the day of the encounter. “I have come from Chapara village. I am not a Rajput but knew Anandpal since he was a child. The police are harassing us every day and didn’t even let us put up a tent. But we won’t buckle down anytime soon,” said Roopdas Swami, a man in his sixties.
Ever since the protests began, internet services in the district have been suspended to put a stop to social media messages that can incite violence.
Singh’s notoriety is immaterial for the people of Saanvrad. “We accept that he was a gangster but what was the need to eliminate him in a fake encounter?” asked Bhawani Singh, another protestor.
Nobody in the village seems to buy the police version of events that Singh fired more than 100 rounds from an AK 47 and didn’t respond to police calls for surrender. An elderly man, Kan Nath, talks about a time when Anandpal Singh gave money to get his daughters married.
The police seem wary of the villagers as they patrol the streets amidst yellow barricades even as the impasse continues.