29 Sept 2006. 15 years of the most cruel, heinous and barbarian act that took place in Khairlanji village of Mohadi taluka of Bhandara district in Maharashtra where a Dalit family was raped, murdered and killed at the village square and disposed of in a canal.
These incidents are a new normal in India, as caste based violence is rooted at the gangrenous heart of the Indian society and in its social institutions.
A Khairlanji and a new Bhotmange happen everyday. The state and its machinery don’t care, neither do they have any sympathy for the Dalits and Adivasis, as their own data provides prima facie evidence that it has never served justice. The famous Nirbhaya case, in which the accused were hanged to death recently, took 8 years for justice to take its course. But when will justice be done in Khairlanji, which took place almost 15 years ago, or will caste take precedence over the life of a human being?
Whenever I write or speak about Khairlanji, many youngsters seem unaware about that barbaric act. So let me elaborate now, Bhotmange family lived in Khairlanji and was one of the most assertive families among the Dalits in the village. There were five members in the family: Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, Surekha (Bhaiyalal’s wife), Priyanka (Bhaiyalal’s Daughter), Sudhir and Roshan (two sons).
On September 13, 2006, Siddharth Gajbhiye, a Mahar, slapped Sakru Binjeswar, one of the accused in the case later; this was followed by a brawl between the two over non-payment of a part of some wages that Siddharth owed to Sakru. Later in the day, when some people assaulted Siddharth, Surekha and Priyanka went to rescue Siddharth. A couple of days later, Siddharth lodged a complaint with the police that he was assaulted, and Surekha gave the police a statement in which she identified the attackers. Those identified were arrested and released on bail on September 29th and on the same evening about 40 to 60 people, including Sakru and his men, encircled the Bhotmanges’ hut.
They shouted at Surekha for identifying them to the police and for ‘implicating’ them in an assault case. They also abused the Bhotmange family. Sakru’s men gangraped, murdered and killed Surekha (40), her daughter Priyanka (18) too was gangraped and killed; Sudhir (22) and Roshan (18, blind), her two sons, were also killed.
The only member to survive was Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange who was in the field and hid from the mob. There was strong evidence against the accused but since the institutions themselves are caste-ridden they tried to make the case more attenuated. Right from the investigation at the site, where the bodies were thrown near the canal, the following facts were weakening the case.
Things that weakened and compromised the case
1) Proper investigation at site was not done and there was delay in carrying out necessary medical tests in time on the alleged victims of rape.
2) No application of Atrocity Act in the case.
3) Sudden exchange of Advocates in the case by the government was made to weaken the case where Ad. Ujjwal Nikam kept the Atrocity Act aside and made many points that eventually went in the favour of the accused.
4) The accused party gained strength as cross-examination of the accused was not done properly.
5) There was no application of Section 376 of rape; instead they used the Sections of Humiliation and Insult which resulted in the complete fall of the case.
6) Political affiliations of the accused and strong support made it easy for them; some of them publicly supported the accused by organising rallies.
Khairlanji village was known for it’s deep-rooted prejudices among caste hindus and dalits. OBCs and upper caste Kunbi families (who were accused in the case) were in majority in the village . State authorities tried to project the brutal killing of Dalits as a Naxalite effort to mislead the people. Right from the CM to Ministers, and from the state machinery to political leaders– all tried their best to destroy evidences and acted accordingly.
This resulted further in the judgement of High Court bench of Nagpur which diluted the judgement of the Fast Track Trial Court in 2008 awarding six of the eight accused, who were charged with brutally wiping out all but one of the Dalit family, with the death penalty. The High Court, on appeal, commuted the death sentence on the grounds that it was ‘not the rarest of the rare cases’ warranting the death penalty. The appeal court modified the sentence on the six main accused and two others, who were given life terms by the lower court, to a 25-year imprisonment, which is hardly commensurate with the crime committed.
Bhaiyalal Bhotmange the lone survivor of the Bhotmange family, in a press conference held by Khairlanji Action Committee (KAC) said, “Entire village was involved sir, Entire village”.
He further said, “before the incident took place there was a meeting held by the MLA, MP and the villagers who had conspired to have us attacked. I saw the attack from a distance were they abused and beat my wife, daughter and two sons. You Mahars, Dheds, you have chadhle [things have gone to your head].They were stripped naked and carried to the village square. I ran from the site when they started to search for me”. Later, Bhaiyalal was given compensation and a job which was an attempt to shut him up. Bhaiyalal Bhotmange (62) died on 20th January 2017 due to a heart attack and since 2008 the case has been awaiting the final hearing in the Supreme Court.
On the same day as the Khairlanji massacre, after 15 years, a gangrape survivor dies in Hathras of Uttar Pradesh. Manisha Valmiki (19) who was a Dalit girl was gangraped on 14 Sept 2020. She was tortured with her tongue cut and spine broken by the upper caste men (Thakurs). Rape is a tool used against Dalit women. This is just one incident that has been noticed. There are approximately 10 rapes everyday on Dalit women; this is a sharp rise over 2019 and earlier figures where 4 to 5 rapes of Dalit women were reported everyday.
NCRB data shows the conviction rate for crimes against Dalits and Adivasis is much lower than for the rest. What else is this if not institutional, structural bias built around caste solidarities between criminals, police and judiciary? What happened in Khairlanji will be repeated again in the Hathras case, right from the investigation to the court verdicts; everything will be diluted and the case will be compromised and weakened by the state machinery.
There were 47,064 atrocities in 2014, out of which 794 were murders and 2,388 were rapes. How may of them were hanged? Was there any act of justice? How many headlines/editorial’s were written on these atrocities. how many panel discussions?
Atrocity act must be more strict, accountable and the legal process of all these atrocities must be transparent, unambiguous and there should be speedy trials and justice. We can’t wait for decades to get justice, we are losing our people, we are losing precious lives, we are draining our whole lives in fighting this disease. This delayed justice is nothing but strengthening of the barbaric and gangrenous social system.
This is how the system has been working since the last 75 years and there is little hope from the system that justice will be served, because hope is a dangerous thing. There are upper caste liberals who say rapes have nothing to do with caste atrocities but the simple fact is that there is never a news or an incident where a Dalit has raped and killed UC women and even if there is any case there would be a fake encounter of those accused or the case will be served swift justice and the accused would be hanged.
One must analyse rape cases from the caste perspective and try to compare things to get the answer. We have to revolt against the social system everyday and every minute to fight against these hegemonic social institutions. We have to discuss caste and caste atrocities vociferously in public domains. There are many Khairlanjis taking place everyday and there is a new Bhotmange who has to suffer these atrocities.
Many Khairlanjis are awaiting justice. Stop the rhetoric of ‘kill the rapist, hang the rapist, shoot the rapist’. Because that’s never a solution, because people support the rapist and his caste so be anti-caste first and overthrow your privilege, overthrow the brahmnic order that’s the root of the problem. Anyway, no hope from the inhuman, barbaric and gangrenous heart of this society.
Revolt! Revolt!! Revolt!!!
Milind Thokal completed his B.A in English Literature from SPPU, Pune. He is currently a law student at DES SNFLC, Pune.