Gang wars in showpiece town colour Diwali blood red

By Rana Ajit, IANS

Hirnauti (Uttar Pradesh) : The walls have been left half painted, spring cleaning jobs have stopped midway and no plans are being made for the big day – the Diwali spirit has been abruptly stilled in this village behind new-age Greater Noida after old-style gang wars left four people dead.

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It could have been out of a film, but the eerie silence looming over this village just behind the glittering high rises of Greater Noida, a booming suburb of New Delhi, is deafening in its anguish. The violence and the family enmity that have lasted through three decades are only too real – even if it is the stuff of fiction.

It will be another dark Diwali for the residents of Rajput village of Hirnauti, divided between the Harpal Singh and Raghuraj Singh clans.

On Oct 31, Harbir and Sanjay of the Harpal Singh group were gunned down allegedly by the rival Raghuraj Singh clan while returning from a court hearing in Greater Noida. Police were tipped off and two of the fleeing assailants, Devi Sharan and Kiran Pal, were killed by police soon after.

The bodies lay sprawled across the road – the latest victims in the rivalry between the two clans that has claimed 11 lives since June and over 30 since the late 1970s.

“How can we celebrate Diwali amid the wails of so many people here?” asked Chibban Sharma, an elderly resident, who said the festival hadn’t been celebrated last year either.

The clan war dates back to 1978 when the families of Raghuraj Singh and Harpal Singh fought a pitched gun battle after some misunderstanding during the Holi celebrations.

“In that gunfight, around five men of Raghuraj Singh’s family, including some of his distant relatives visiting him at Hirnauti, had been shot dead. Two men of Harpal Singh’s family too lost their lives in the gun battle,” Chibban Sharma, who is in his early seventies, told IANS.

Time dulled the bitter enmity though the element of mistrust remained. But in 2002, old rivalries were rekindled when the government divested the Harpal Singh family of some land they had been cultivating.

Raghuraj Singh was then the village headman and Harpal Singh suspected that he had instigated the local revenue officials in taking over government land from his family’s possession.

The lurking suspicion surged into violence in June 2006, when Raghuraj Singh was shot dead by Harpal Singh’s relatives Sher Singh, Hoshiar Singh and Kalu, said Inspector R.V. Kaul, who has been transferred out of the Kokar police station near the village for his alleged failure in preventing the Oct 31 shootout.

The cycle of bloodshed continued relentlessly.

In retaliation for the June 2006 killing, Raguraj Singh’s relatives ganged up and gunned down Harpal Singh in September that year.

While all the seven were arrested by the police and sent up for murder trial, three other relatives of Raghuraj Singh shot dead Harpal Singh’s son Man Singh on Nov 11, 2006.

Within minutes of Man Singh’s killing, Harpal Singh’s supporters, including a womanl, Usha Singh, and her husband, Amar Singh, gunned two other brothers of the rival group.

And so it goes. Oct 31 was just another chapter in this saga of gore that started one Holi 29 years ago and continues its bloody trail till one more silent Diwali.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at [email protected])