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Caste & Communal Dimensions of Death Penalty – Tsunduru vs Chilakaluripeta

Caste & Communal Dimensions of Death Penalty – Tsunduru vs Chilakaluripeta

rakta kshetram tsunduru


Dr. B Karthik Navayan

(This article is the updated version of my speech delivered in the meeting organised by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Alternative Law Forum (ALF) in Bangalore on 28 July 2018)

rakta kshetram tsunduru

‘Raktakshetram’, the place where nine of the Tsunduru martyrs were buried, right in the heart of the village to serve as a constant reminder

Let us begin with what Dr Ambedkar says about death penalty.“This country by and large believes in the principle of non-violence. It has been its ancient tradition, and although people may not be following it in actual practice, they certainly adhere to the principle of non-violence as a moral mandate… the proper thing for this country to do is to abolish the death sentence altogether.” – Dr B R Ambedkar, (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 13, V. Moon ed., Govt. of Maharashtra, 1994, pp. 639-640.)

I am happy to see that the subject of caste and communal dimensions of death penalty is being discussed by non-Dalit organisations. When non-Dalits speak about the reality of caste, in some way, (if not always) it helps to get the issue to enter into public debates in mainstream discourse.


Dr Ambedkar was an authority in articulating anti-caste discourse and the issue of human rights. There are many scholars today. Balagopal, was a genuine scholar and activist who worked in the Telugu states. He once said, “Secularism means annihilation of caste”. I was reminded of this when reading the title of this meeting, the caste and communal dimensions of death penalty. We cannot have secularism without annihilation of caste, as caste is also communalism. However, the words, communalism and secularism are limited to the Hindu–Muslim religious binary. The secularism discourse has hardly spoken about caste, and its communal nature and its annihilation. Further, the most marginalised among Muslims, Christians, Sikh minority religions are converts from so-called lower castes. It may be less, but they too face problems of caste. Let me reiterate, there will be no secularism without annihilation of caste.

Caste is not a rumor, it is a reality of life for all of us. However, it is not simply notional. It is an ideology which is, is alive and kicking. Some of us are so-called lower castes and some of us are so-called upper castes and some of us are middle castes. Almost all of us have one caste below us and one caste above us, except Brahmins. Brahmins have only lower castes below them; there is no one above Brahmins, strange right? Yes. It is a complex social system.

Caste is an ideology of hierarchy that exists in the mind. Ideas have material existence, so caste has material existence. The caste notion of hierarchy has resulted (or results) in creating physical boundaries. We can see those physical boundaries everyday around us, but we may not pay attention and try to understand them. Look at the villages, towns and cities; they are constructed along caste lines.

Look at the posh colonies and slums and the people living there. Majorly, we may not find so-called lower castes in posh colonies, nor the so-called upper castes in the slums. It is not a sweeping generalization, it is the truth. That is why real estate business in this country thrives, running according to caste lines. There are specific real estate firms, specific ventures exclusively for some caste groups. Others cannot buy flats or plots there. In addition, the individuals who belong to so-called lower castes of any religion will not get rented houses or flats to buy in so-called upper caste and upper class, posh localities. Our intellectual academic discourses never tend to inquire into these caste realities because ‘academic intellectualism’ too has caste as a notional and physical boundary. Stinking casteism!

Caste is a problem for the so-called lower castes and it is a comfort for so-called upper castes. Caste is vulnerability for so-called lower castes and it is a protection for so-called upper castes. Caste is marginalization for so-called lower castes and it is a privilege for so-called upper castes.

Understanding these basic instincts of caste are important before we get into the subject of caste dimensions of death penalty. So, there is caste, every one of us has caste, every individual carries their caste including judges of district courts, high courts and supreme courts. There was some news, a few years ago of how a judge who was newly transferred to the High Court of Allahabad, sprinkled ‘ganga jal’ and conducted a purification ritual in the judge’s chamber before he assumed office, as the chamber was previously occupied by a so-called lower caste judge.

Further, please remind yourself of the statue of Manu in the premises of the Rajasthan Hhigh Ccourt. It is still standing there today. Also, please remind yourself for a minute about what you have heard about the Manusmriti. I will not recite the verses from Manusmriti and I am not an expert. But you know that, Manusmriti gives minor punishments to Brahmins and so-called upper castes for their severe crimes and severe punishments for minor crimes committed by the so-called lower castes. The same Manu is well regarded and his statue stands tall in the high court premises. Can we say that Manu put the so-called upper castes in upper socioeconomic power positions as judges etc. and the so-called upper castes in return put Manu’s statue in Rajasthan High court?

Indian society is a caste-based society, caste determines the life of individuals, caste determines the behavior of individuals and caste determines the behaviors and decisions of judges. Judges do not fall from the sky, they are part of their caste groups, and their caste groups are part of this caste society. If we are open, understanding caste and its ideological operations would not be beyond our commonsense.

Let us go to the High Court of Karnataka and examine the caste background of judges who are deciding cases, and the caste background of scavengers and sanitation workers who are cleaning toilets and keeping the high court premises clean and livable. You will see that the so-called upper castes are underrepresented in scavenging and sanitation work and the so-called lowercastes are underrepresented in the positions of judges. This is an important dimension of caste when we talk about death penalty.

Death penalty

The state killing someone for his or her crime is death penalty. Then it is important to understand the nature of the state in our country. What formed the state? Who formed the state? What is the nature of ‘state’ in India? In addition, we can ask further questions, what is the nature of judiciary? What is the nature of the police? What is the nature of administration and what is the nature of the parliament? The state and its structures are not different from society; they are an extension of the society, extension of caste society.

Indian society is a caste society and a brahmanical criminal society; and the state, which is an extension of this caste society, is as brahmanical and as casteist and criminal as the society is. The state and the society are anti-marginalized, specifically anti-Dalit, and the justice system, police and the administration are no different.

I hope people gathered here all are against death penalty, because death penalty, I believe, is a crime committed by the state against the individuals of marginalised communities, who are less privileged and can’t afford costly lawyers and face a dearth of defense mechanisms. Many human rights organisations argue that death penalty cannot work as a deterrent; it is against humanity, and therefore it should be removed from the law books. Death penalty is cruel and inhuman, to put it in Balagopal’s words (not verbatim) “if crimes are cruel, why should judgements be cruel?”; “why does the state require to kill someone to say that killing is wrong?”

No ideology is required to oppose death penalty. Opposing death penalty itself is an ideology. No religion is required to oppose death penalty, as religions are mostly for death penalty. However, Buddhism as a principle is against violence and Buddhist teachings shows no sympathy for physical punishment, no matter how bad the crime. The spiritual argument opposing death penalty is simple and easy to understand. “It is god who give life, only god should be eligible to take it away. Who is the government to take a life since it cannot give a life?” I do not believe in something like god, but I do not hesitate to use this argument as it can convince more people against the death penalty.

Caste and death penalty

Caste is bad and death penalty is bad. Then who are at the receiving end of these both these bad things? Certainly, it is Dalits, Bahujan, Adivasis and religious minorities. All so-called lower castes – those who are lower than the Brahmins in the notional order of caste hierarchy. These social groups are targeted and awarded death sentence. Death sentence as it exists in the law books will disproportionately affect the individuals from marginalized communities, particularity the Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes and religious minorities. When I say religious minorities, it means the so-called lower castes of those minority religions.

The caste and communalism of judiciary disproportionately affects and kills the individuals of marginalized communities more. One way to prove this is to look at numbers – the numbers of death sentences awarded, and number of number of executions, and the caste, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds of the people who are sent to the hangman. Some studies in this regard proved that the people who are awarded death sentences come are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. They are mostly scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, Bahujans and religious minorities. I hope none of us here has any difference of opinion on this fact.The other way to understand caste and communal dimensions of death penalty could be by contrasting judicial responses when the so-called upper-castes commit crimes against the so-called lower castes and when the so-called lower-castes commit crimes against people in general.

I would like to examine the conduct of the justice system in the context of two such cases – one is the Tsunduru massacre of Dalits, where eight Dalits, seven Malas and one Madiga were chased and brutally murdered by Reddy caste people on 6 August 1991.

Another is the Chilakaluripeta bus burning case, where two Dalit youth, Ghantela Vijayavardhana Rao and Sathuluru Chalapathi Rao burnt a public transport bus and caused the death of 23 people in an attempt to commit theft, on 8 March 1993.

Before getting into the details of both these cases, let me tell you that all the Reddy caste culprits who murdered the eight 8 Dalits and caused death of another four in Tsunduru were released by the High Court of Hyderabad in 2014 by a Reddy caste judge, Lingala Narasimha Reddy. It is important to mention the timeline here, please remember this timeline. The massacre on Tsunduru happened in 1991, the charge sheet was filed against the 219 accused, and the trial started in 2004, and the Special Court delivered its judgment in 2007, convicting 21 culprits for life sentence, 35 culprits for 1-year sentence and released the rest of the culprits.

In Chilakaluripeta bus burning case, the two Dalit youth who caused death of 23 people by setting a burning a bus on fire were sentenced to death. See the timeline here. The bus-burning incident happened in 1993. Trial started immediately and they were sentenced to death in 1995 by the District Court. The death sentence was confirmed by the High Court and Supreme Court in 1997 and their mercy petition also rejected by the then President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1997 itself. Is this not an example of so quick – speedy delivery of death to Dalits?

Why did the Tsunduru case, where Dalits were massacred by Reddy, move so slowly? It took close to two decades for the first judgment. And why did the Chilakaluripeta case, where Dalits set ablaze a bus, move so quickly? Every court and authority was ready with a hanging rope, all within a period of four years? This is caste, the caste dimension of the death penalty.When the convicted Dalit youngsters were youth about to be killed, a second mercy petition was submitted to Shankar Dayal Sharma by Mahasweta Devi- a day prior to their scheduled hanging, on the dais where she was receiving the Jnanapith award from the hands of Nelson Mandela. Nitya Ramakrishna approached the then chief justice, got a stay order in the middle of the night, and communicated the same to the jail authorities. Later the then cabinet of Deve Gowda government granted an indefinite stay. It was only when K R Narayanan became the President of India that he granted them clemency and reduced their sentence to life imprisonment. Please note this; a Dalit has to become the President of India to grant clemency to Dalit youth.

That is why I said in the beginning, “caste is vulnerability for the so-called lower castes and it is a protection for for the so-called upper castes”. The culprits of the Tsunduru massacre know that the state, judiciary and police are on their side. Just to note here, in 1991, when this Dalit massacre had happened, Nedurumalli Janardhan Reddy was the Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, M V Mysoora Reddy was the Ttransport Minister and the Judge who acquitted all culprits is Lingala Narsimha Reddy. Do you see the connection like a thread in a garland? I can see it.

Death sentence is no way to be justified, but our system justified it for rarest of rare cases. Let us see which among the above cases falls under the category of ‘rarest of rare’intentionally committed crime case and why Tsunduru Dalit massacre is more brutal and cruel.

While the massacre of Dalits in Tsunduru was planned by the Reddy and Telaga castes in nexus with police and politicians with the intention to kill Dalits. If at all, the justice system needs to consider a crime as’rarest of the rare’ to be awarded the death sentence, it should have been the Tsunduru Dalit massacre case. (Remember, I am completely against death penalty. I am only drawing a comparison). Nevertheless, it took 16 years to convict the culprits, in 2007, the Special Court convicted 21 for life and 35 for one-year sentence and acquitted and released the remaining 163 culprits. Finally, all the convicted were also acquitted by their High Court judge, Lingala Narasimha Reddy in 2014. The message is very clear – there will be no punishment for Reddy culprits for killing Dalits?

However, The Chilakaluripeta bus burning by two Dalit youth was an unintentional and unplanned mishap as they aimed to rob the passengers travelling in the bus instead of killing them. The youngsters who caused the death of 23 people were awarded death sentence and that was confirmed by every authority, including the President of India within 4 years. Again, the message is very clear – even when Dalits commit a crime and cause a mishap unintentionally, they should be sent to the hangman.

What happened in Tsunduru?

This information is gathered from Duddu Prabhakar and Jaladi Moses. They are anti-caste activists and participants of struggle for justice for Tsunduru Dalits. Their video interviews are available on Dalit Camera YouTube channel. I am briefly describing the incident to underline the severity and brutality of this mass murder of Dalits.In Andhra Pradesh, Kammas and Reddis are the Sudra upper castes; they enjoy state patronage and own lands, industry, cinema and educational institutions. Kammas are the Sudra caste who killed Madigas in Karamchedu in 1985 in Prakasam district and Reddys killed Malas in Tsunduru in 1991 – it is like whoever wants to show their power and domination, they need to kill Dalits to prove that. Later, that role of killing Dalits to show power and domination shifted to Thurpu Kapu, another agricultural landed caste, they killed Dalits in Laxmipet village, in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh in 2012.

Moses quoted three incidents of Dalit assertion as a reason that led to the brutal murder of dalits in Tsunduru. One incident is that of a class seven Telugu schoolteacher from Reddy caste, who asked his students to memorize a poem by heart. The poem read Chandaludu – Malavadu. When the students were reciting this poem in the Dalit colony, Ambedkar Youth Association opposed and enquired as to who asked them to memorize this poem. They suggested that Malavadu be replaced with Murukivadu (dirty man). As Mala is the caste they belonged to. Next day, the children recited the poem as suggested by activists of Ambedkar Youth Association. The teacher objected to this and complained to the headmaster. Then, Ambedkar youth activists reached the school and questioned the teacher and headmaster. The schoolteacher and headmaster argued with the young Dalit youth activists. There was some tension as the former communicated this incident to the Reddies of other villages.

The second incident happened in a the cinema hall. A Dalit girl was watching a movie. A Reddy person was seated in the front of the Dalit girl. Instead of watching the movie, he was constantly turning back, staring at the face of Dalit girl. She objected and confronted him saying that the screen was in the front and not on her side. He used a derogatory word against her. This led to a small fight between the Dalits and Reddis, which added to the first incident.

The third incident was a case of ragging in a nearby college, where a Reddy caste girl was harassed by a Kamma caste youth. The Dalit youth actually tried to protect the Reddy girl. However, given the earlier incidents, the Reddy youth instead attacked the Dalit youth.

In Tsunduru, Dalits were educated; some had employment in railways. While parents were working in the fields of landowners, their children got education, employment, and did not become agricultural labourer in the farms of the landowners. This change was indigestible for the Reddy caste landowners. This indigestion developed into grudges against Dalits which consequently led to the mass murder of Dalits.

Some cases were registered against Dalits regarding the above incidents but no arrests were made. Regarding these three incidents, Reddies in that area decided that they should teach the Dalits a lesson as they were crossing their boundaries and there was no respect for Reddies. This issue was discussed with M V Mysoora Reddy on 4th August 1991 in Samrat Hotel in Guntur, where he allegedly said that it is okay to kill two or three Dalits to discipline all of them. Accordingly, Reddy caste families mobilized money and allegedly distributed it to the police department on 5th August, 1991. Reddies along with Telagas mobilized weapons to attack and kill Dalits.On the morning of 6th August, the police entered into the Malapally of Tsunduru and told the Dalits that Reddies and Telagas are coming in tractors with weapons, and there is no sufficient police force, therefore the Dalits should run away. Many Dalits ran away from homes to the fields, but some Reddies were already waiting there with axes, knives. They attacked and killed Dalits whom they found in the farms. Two Dalits were murdered in the village while they were running and hiding in a cattle shed, as one Reddy woman called Reddy caste men and told them where they were hiding.

tsunduru martyrs

The Tsunduru Martyrs

Two Dalits who were innocent and uninvolved any of the above incidents, and were working in the farms of Reddies were killed by the Reddy caste mob in the farm. They were confidently doing their work as they were not involved in any issues with Reddies. They were actually working in the farm of a Reddy landowner. Others Dalits were killed in different places. The dead bodies of the Dalits were cut into pieces packed, shoved in bags and dumped in the Tungabhadra canal. These bodies were found after 10 August as they had floated 10 to 15 kilometers downstream.

After seeing the pieces of dead bodies of Mandru Ramesh, his elder brother, Mandru Parishudda Rao, died of heart attack. This was the ninth murder. After performing post-mortem of the eight dead bodies in the Guntur area hospital Dr Ravi, who was also a Dalit, cried for two days and committed suicide. This was the tenth murder. When Dalits organised a Dharna, the police attacked them and the Superintendent of Police, RP Meena, shot and killed a Dalit youth Kommerla Anil Kumar. This was the eleventh murder. On the call of Dalit Mahasabha, Dalits went for a Chalo Delhi programme; Guduru Leyamma a Dalit woman, died in a road accident while crossing the road in Delhi. This was the twelfth murder.

Dalits demanded a Special Court in Tsunduru and it was set up. Dalits also demanded a special public prosecutor and named advocate Chandrasekhar to argue the case. The Chargesheet was filed against 219 culprits. The names of seven main accused were not included, as Dalits did not mention their full names.

A total of five judges came to this special court, Balayogi and Prabhakar Rao were transferred on the complaint of Reddy accused saying that, these judges are Dalits and they will give judgment against Reddies. Finally, 21 were convicted with life sentence and 35 were convicted with 1-year punishment and rest 163 were acquitted by a Muslim woman judge.

Eight appeals were filed by both accused and complainants. In the appeal filed by the accused, the hearing was started by Lingala Narasimha Reddy. Bojja Tharakam was the lawyer on behalf of the Dalits. He requested the Judge Narsimha Reddy to give some time as he was suffering with brain tumor. Narasimha Reddy said, “How long would those people live in jail, I want to hear the case”.

Dalits objected against hearing of the case by Narasimha Reddy, saying that the judge is in a hurry to release the culprits. The Judge retorted that Dalits should dare not question the integrity of the judiciary. In the history of the High Court of Hyderabad, no judge dared to hear the case after objections were raised by the parties. However, it was only Narsimha Rreddy who heard the case audaciously. Further, the integrity of judiciary was not considered when the Reddy accused campaigned against two Dalit judges who came to the Special Court – Balayogi and Prabhakar Rao. They were transferred and not allowed to hear the case just because they were Dalits.

As if it was preplanned, Narasimha Reddy completed the hearing of the case in only eight days. First, he wrote a four pages release order as a judgment and released all the culprits as summer vacations were approaching. After one week, he wrote the full judgment and uploaded it to High Court website. Narasimha Reddy was an ABVP activist in his student days in Warangal, having close links to RSS and BJP. After this judgment, he went to Bihar High Court as a Chief Justice. Now, after retirement, he has been appointed as the chancellor of Hyderabad Central University. This is something to think about. That the judges who render regressive and anti-Dalit judgments are promoted immediately. Supreme Court judge AK Goel has been appointed as chairperson of National Green Tribunal (NGT), immediately after retirement. He diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Such promotions for the judges who give regressive judgments seem to be planned for political purposes.

Chilakaluripeta bus burning case

Vijayavardhana Rao and Chalapathi Rao were thieves, but not big thieves like as Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi. Their poverty and hunger forced them into the situations of committing theft. However, they were not experts in committing theft, as in an attempt to rob the passengers of a bus, they poured petrol and lit the fire and caused the death of 23 passengers. Was this incident planned and intentional like the Tsunduru massacre of Dalits? As the case suggests, the convicts intended to commit a theft not to kill the passengers. I am not defending the action of the Dalit youth here. I am only trying to mark a contrast with the degree of severity in the Tsundur case.

This incident happened on March 8, 1993 and both the Dalit youth were sent to remand on March 24, 1993. The II Additional District and Sessions Judge of Guntur sentenced them to death on September 7, 1995, which was confirmed by the High Court. The Supreme Court also upheld the judgment dismissing the appeals filed. Moreover, the clemency petition was rejected by the then president Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1997.

Dalits led a struggle and conducted protests raising slogans, “Is capital punishment only for Dalits – Where are Tsunduru culprits?” After rejection of the clemency petition by Ppresident Shankar Dayal Sharma, the Dalits raised another slogan, “Dalit issues can be understood only by Dalits – We need a Dalit president”. Human rights activists and many people’s organisations supported the movement of Dalits against death penalty to Vijayavardhanam and Chalapathi.

People like Rajni Kothari and George Fernandes jointly sought clemency. However, Shankar Dayal Sharma declined to grant mercy. Interestingly, the writer Mahasweta Devi signed the mercy petition and handed it over to Dr. Sharma, for a second time on March 28, 1997, when she was taking the Jnanpith Award from Nelson Mandela. S.D.Sharma presided over the function. Lawyer, Nitya Ramakrishna approached the then Chief Justice of India and obtained an order constituting a Division Bench at the residence of a Supreme Court judge in that night.

The convicted Dalit youths were supposed to be hanged the next morning. The lawyer argued at 11 p.m., that the second mercy petition was handed over to the President and the same should be treated as “under consideration of the President” and, therefore, the hanging should be stayed. The Division Bench granted a stay. The decision of the division bench was communicated to the jail authorities overnight.

Meanwhile, the movement against death penalty led by Dalit groups forced the then Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, and the Union Cabinet to grant an indefinite stay on the execution of Vijayavardhanam and Chalapathi. Later, President, K.R. Narayanan, granted clemency and commuted the death penalty into a lifer in May 1998. A Dalit had to become the president of India to grant the mercy petition of two Dalit youth.

The Chilakaluripeta case proves that even when Dalits commit unintentional, unplanned crimes, they will be punished by death and every court and authority will act on a war footing to hang Dalits. The Tsunduru case proves that if Dalits are murdered by the so-called upper castes, the latter shall enjoy impunity from the state; police and courts shall collude with them and protect them. In this kind of a situation, death penalty will result only in killing Dalits and other marginalised sections in India. Death penalty has to be removed from law books.

How judiciary responded to the massacres of Dalits?

Finally, just look back at what has been happening in the cases where Dalits are massacred in this country and how judiciary responded to it. It is chilling that the higher judiciary in the cases of Dalit massacres upheld no convictions and no death sentence until now. This reveals that the death sentence is reserved for only Dalits and marginalised communities.

In Kilvenmani, Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu, forty four Dalit women and children were massacred on 25 December, 1968. The feudal so-called upper caste landowner culprits were convicted of involvement in the event. Ten of them were sentenced to 10 years in jail. However, an appeal court overturned the conviction.

In the Karamchedu massacre, six Dalits were murdered and twenty injured by Kamma caste landowners on 17 July, 1985. The trial court sentenced 159 people to life imprisonment, which was later struck down by the AP High Court. In the Supreme Court, a bench consisting of Justice B N Agarwal and Justice G S Singhvi sentenced the main accused, Anjaiah, to life term and 29 others to three years of jail.

In the Tsunduru Dalit massacre, eight Dalits were murdered on 6 August 1991 by Reddy and Telagas. The trial court punished twenty one for life and thirty five for 1-year sentence and released 168, but the High court acquitted all of them in 2014.

In the Bathani Tola Dalit massacre,the Ranvir Sena in Bihar killed 21 Dalits on 11 July 1996. Among the dead were 11 women, 6 children and 3 infants. The Ranvir Sena mob killed women and children in particular with the intention of deterring any future resistance, which they foresaw. On 17 April 2012, the Patna High Court acquitted 23 men convicted of the murders. A Division Bench of judges Navneeti Prasad Singh and Ashwani Kumar Singh cited “defective evidence” to acquit all of them.

In the Melavalavu Dalits massacre in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district, members of the Kallar caste murdered six Dalits in June 1996. The trial court convicted Alagarsamy and 16 others and sentenced them to undergo life imprisonment. On appeal, the High Court by its judgment dated April 19, 2006, confirmed the trial court’s order. Alagarsamy and others filed appeals against this judgment. Let us see what happens.

In Laxmanpur Bathe Dalit massacre on 1 December 1997, the Ranvir Sena gunned down 58 Dalits. On April 7, 2010, Vijay Prakash Mishra, additional district and sessions judge, Patna, had given the death sentence to 16 convicts and life imprisonment to 10 others. Nineteen others were acquitted. The Patna High Court acquitted all the 26 accused. A Division Bench of Justices V. N. Sinha and A. K. Lal ruled that the prosecution witnesses “are not reliable” and the appellants deserved to given the benefit of the doubt.

In the Kambalapally Dalit massacre, on 11 March 2000, seven Dalits were locked in a house and burnt alive by an upper-caste Reddy mob in Kambalapally, Kolar district of Karnataka state. A division bench of Karnataka High Court acquitted all 46 accused in August 2014. The bench headed by Justice Mohan Shantanagoudar held that a conviction would be “prejudicial” to the interest of the accused given that 14 years had passed since the incident and all the 22 eyewitnesses had since turned hostile. The witnesses in the case, many of whom had narrowly escaped with their lives, had turned hostile; many of the witnesses told the media that they backtracked because of threats from upper-caste groups.

In Khairlanji Dalit massacre, on 29 September 2006, four members of the Bhotmange family belonging to the Mahar community were killed by a mob of 40 people belonging to the Maratha Kunbi caste in Bhandara district of Maharashtra. The Bhotmanges were stripped naked and paraded to the village square by a mob of 40 people. The sons were ordered to rape their mother and sister, and when they refused, their genitals were mutilated before they were murdered. An initial call to the police was ignored, and a search for the bodies was deliberately delayed for 2 days. The bodies were found in a canal, and due to the length of time, much of the physical evidence was contaminated or destroyed. A local court convicted eight people, sentencing six of them to death and the other 2 to life. However, the death sentences were later commuted to life by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. The High Court declared that the murders were motivated by revenge, not caste.

In all the above brutal and rarest of rare cases of Dalit massacres, the death sentence was given to the culprits only in two cases – Laxmanpur Bathe and Khairlanji. However, it was commuted to life immediately by the higher courts. No execution of death sentence when Dalits are massacred: this reveals the Brahmanical casteism of the judiciary.

The death sentence as it exists in law books will be used only against Dalits and other marginalised communities, the death sentence is a crime against humanity, it has to be removed from the law books altogether.



Dr. B Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist, based in Bangalore.

Pictures courtesy: the internet.

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