ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'So Are They All, All Honourable Men'

The Bhandara court's ruling in the Khairlanji murders case raises a number of questions.

The Bhandara district and sessions court’s recent ruling on the murder of four members of the dalit Bhotmange family in Khairlanji on September 29, 2006 has generated a number of questions that will surely, at the least, lead to an appeal against part of the verdict. Of the 11 accused, the court convicted eight of murder (at the time of going to press the sentences were yet to be handed out) but acquitted the remaining three defendants for lack of evidence. The court however did not find any e xpression of caste hatred, thus absolving all the accused of charges under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (in short, the Atrocities Act). Further, the court did not come across any conspiracy to murder. And, the bench dismissed the charges of molestation and rape of Surekha Bhotmange and her teenage daughter Priyanka for lack of e vidence thereof. According to the prosecution, Surekha Bhotmange and her 17-year-old daughter Priyanka were stripped and raped, their bodies found in a nearby canal the next day; Surekha’s two sons, 19-year-old Roshan and 21-year-old Sudhir were lynched.

The court’s non-acceptance of the prosecution’s argument that the killings were the outcome of caste hatred has left the dalit community outraged. The incidents leading up to the killings all c arried deep overtones of casteism – the refusal of the village authorities to allow the Bhotmange family to build a pucca home on their fi veacre land, the wresting away of two acres for a common path for the villagers, and the villagers’ overt hostility at the fact that S urekha’s well-off cousin and the police patil of a neighbouring v illage were helping them to deal with the daily harassment and police neglect of their complaints. None of the complaints made by the B hotmanges over the years were registered by the police under the Atrocities Act, not even Surekha and Priyanka’s police complaint about the beating of the former’s cousin by a large group of villagers. The most serious lapse was not registering the first information r eport by the sole survivor, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, under the Atrocities Act. Indeed, well until the end of October 2006, the k illings were being falsely depicted as resulting from the villagers’ ire at S urekha’s “illicit” relations with her cousin!

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