Rambharose Meena had hoped that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Alwar for the election campaign, he would address their distress. A 53-year-old father, Meena is yet to overcome the calamity that struck him and three other Meena families of the same district on November 20, 2018, when his son Manoj, along with three other friends, had committed mass suicide by falling under a train. All that Rambharose is looking for is the reason why his son committed suicide.
It didn’t take long for the local media to swing into action, and for the mainstream media to pick up the story. Within hours, the narrative had changed; the multiple suicides were now being viewed as something that was triggered due to unemployment. During a press meet, Rajasthan State Congress President Sachin Pilot took on the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and emphasised that the youth were resorting to such actions since they were distressed due to the unemployment situation. The BJP has been on the backfoot on the issue, so much so that the families of the deceased claim no saffron leader has yet come to visit them.
On November 20, 2018, six friends—all belonging to the Meena community and studying in Alwar—assembled near the railway tracks, to honour a suicide pact made between them. According to the families of the deceased as well as the police, the incident is reported to have taken place between 7-8.30 pm. A few of the friends spoke to their respective families over the phone while waiting for the train to arrive.
The next morning, Alwar woke up to the gruesome news of three suicides. Manoj Meena (24), son of Rambharose and a resident of Baharkokala village in Alwar’s Rajgarh administrative division, along with Bairer resident Rituraj Meena and Buchpuri village’s Satyanarayan were run over by the train. Abhishek Meena—the fourth friend—was critically injured, but still alive and, at that point, was the police’s best and only hope at finding out what exactly had triggered this mass suicide pact.
However, Abhishek succumbed to his injuries last Saturday. The remaining two out of the six, Rahul Meena and Santosh Meena, are witnesses of the incident. But both their versions of what transpired that night—something that they have shared with the police—are different from each other’s, thereby making it even more difficult to pinpoint a particular reason for the coordinated suicide of their friends.
The police are yet to ascertain a concrete reason for these suicides. But how credible is the unemployment angle that was played out on multiple TV news channels as being the reason behind the mass suicide? Could the youth of different ages and belonging to a different economic background truly choose to end their lives in this manner?
Back in Baharkokala, not a single member of Manoj’s family is ready to accept the unemployment theory. Irrespective of the prevailing financial conditions at home, Rambharose, a farmer with limited financial resources, had never let both his sons, Manoj and Santosh (not the eyewitness), face the burden of his financial crisis. “Our family has lived in poverty,” he said. “I have taken loans on KCC and from private moneylenders but not once have I put any pressure on my children.” If anything, Rambharose has ensured that despite his financial constraints, all three of his children completed their education. Manoj was a graduate, Santosh had completed his BTech, and their sister had completed her MA-BEd. However, all three were still looking for a job.
Manoj Meena and his brother Santosh used to live together in Alwar. Manoj completed his graduation from Alwar in 2011 and then moved to Jaipur for preparatory exams, and later to Dausa for two years, where his younger brother Santosh was pursuing his BTech. In 2017, the duo returned to Alwar. Despite trying his luck in various competitive exams for nearly six years, Manoj was yet to taste success in the realm of employment.
All that Rambharose is looking for is the reason why his son committed suicide.
Rambharose fails to understand any possible reason for Manoj to take such a drastic step of ending his own life. “I can’t trust that he can commit suicide because of joblessness,” he said. Manoj’s brother Santosh told Newslaundry that since Manoj didn’t have a phone, his SIM card was inserted into Satyanarayan’s (alias Duty) phone since the two of them used to hang out together. “I never sensed any tension or pressure that would lead him to commit suicide,” said Santosh.
Satyanarayan’s house in Buchpuri village is a few kilometres away from Rambharose’s village. Satyanarayan’s oldest brother, Namichand, is a Sashastra Seema Bak (SSB) jawan and was posted on election duty in Chattisgarh’s Maoist-affected areas when he received the news of his brother’s demise.
“Tell me, how can I trust the unemployment angle?” asked Namichand. “He had completed his graduation barely a year back and had sat for hardly two to three competitive exams. Ese mein koi berozgari feel hoti hai kya?” Recalling his days prior being a jawan, Namichand said he used to break stones and sell them so as to ensure that both his brothers, Surendra and Satyanarayan, got all the resources to study in Alwar.
Satyanarayan had shifted to Alwar city approximately four years back, after having cleared his Class 12. He had been preparing for competitive exams ever since. The two brothers, Satyanarayan and Surendra, lived in a flat in the city along with their sister, who studies in Class 7. Surendra, who prefers to remain silent ever since the demise of his brother, said the family’s finances had considerably improved after their older brother had got a job, which added to the family’s income from agricultural yields. “The family used to live in a kaccha house until a few years. Now, they have a pucca house with five rooms in it.”
When asked whether Satyanarayan was under any sort of stress, he said: “We shared a bond of friendship. If he was stressed, he would have discussed it with me.”
One of the two eyewitnesses, Rahul, had claimed that the deceased had spoken to their family members over the phone before executing their suicide pact. This information was corroborated by Satyanarayan’s sister. “He had called that evening and wanted to speak to our mother. As she was near the fields at the time and it was already getting dark, I asked him to call back in the morning.” This would turn out to be her brother’s last phone call. Surendra, on the other hand, received the news of his brother Duty’s demise through an acquaintance on the night of the incident.
The third student who died on the spot, Rituraj, was the 17-year-old son of head police constable Babulal Meena. Of all the four deceased, his financial background seems to be the strongest. He had moved to Alwar barely a few months back and used to live alone. Like any other boy his age, Rituraj had a fondness for good clothes and fancy mobile phones. Babulal said: “My elder son is mentally unfit. Hence, all that I earn is for Rituraj. We have never stopped him from buying anything. He had not faced scarcity for money or for anything else.” In fact, his sister Kantabai Meena said that her parents had bought Rituraj a mobile phone worth ₹70,000 nearly six months back after which Rituraj purchased another mobile phone about two months ago.
Rituraj’s family say their son had never faced any scarcity with respect to money.
Outrightly rejecting the unemployment theory, his sister said: “Think for yourself, can a 17-year-old join a government job even if he wants to?” Her father added: “We had told him to first complete his studies, after which he would be free to pursue any career.” But like the other grieving parents, the uncertainty of the reason behind son’s death is what troubles him the most. “I want peace. What troubles me is that even after several days [of the incident], we don’t know why my son has died.”
The police’s investigation was badly hit when Abhishek, one of the survivors of the incident who was critically injured, succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. While Rahul has claimed that all five—including Santosh—were a part of the suicide pact, Santosh had backed out. However, this is disputed by Santosh’s narrative, according to which he was not a part of the decision taken by the other four.
Hari Singh, the SHO and investigating officer in the case, told Newslaundry that according to Rahul, the four deceased were depressed about the employment situation and had discussed how neither of them had been able to clear exams, nor are they fit for agriculture. Hence, they were left with no option. “Considering the financial background and age of the four deceased, this argument makes little sense. But we are investigating all possible angles,” said Singh.
Singh also stated that nothing unusual was found in the post-mortem report. “The first two bodies were completely damaged. We didn’t find any substance or alcohol in the third body.”
Unemployment is turning out to be one of the biggest issues during this Rajasthan poll. Irrespective of what triggered these suicides, the politics over it is set to get even more intense in the coming days —specifically in smaller electoral meetings and gatherings.