26 December 2006

Dalit family stripped naked, beaten and killed by mob-India

Volume 23 - Issue 23 ::
Nov. 18-Dec. 01, 2006
from the publishers of THE HINDU

Dalit blood on village square

IT is about 500 yards from Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange's hut to Khairlanji village square. Like all such villages the square is a hub of activity - the school, the village meeting hall and the common well are clustered at this point. It is surrounded by homes, including that of the sarpanch. It would be extremely difficult for anyone from the village to say they knew nothing about an incident in the square. Yet this is exactly what the people of Khairlanji say.

The Dalit family's Hut

Before sunset on September 29, a mob of about 40 Kunbis from Khairlanji entered Bhotmange's hut and dragged out his wife, daughter and two sons. Forty-year-old Surekha, 17-year-old Priyanka, 19-year-old Roshan and 21-year-old Sudhir were stripped naked and paraded to the village square where the women were probably raped. All of them were beaten with bicycle chains and other implements and their leg bones were broken, presumably to prevent their escape. Finally, they were killed by axe blows. According to the forensic report they died from,"intracranial haemorrhage and neurogenic shock". The bodies were loaded on to a bullock cart and dumped in a canal about two kilometres away.
Since no eyewitnesses have come forward, the sequence of events was reconstructed from forensic evidence and the information given by Rajan Gajbiye, who witnessed the victims being stripped. Gajbiye, a Dalit from neighbouring Dhusala and a friend of the family, was already on his way to Khairlanji when Priyanka called for help from her cell phone. He was fearful of the Bhotmanges being lynched because the same mob had descended on his village earlier that day searching for his cousin Siddharth, a police patil of his village. On September 3, following a land and labour-related dispute the Kunbis in Khairlangi assaulted him. At the time, the women of the Bhotmange family who witnessed the attack filed a police complaint

Photos of the victims at the local newspaper

Panchseela Shendge is a bit more forthcoming in her account, but her story appears to be tempered by fear: "We heard loud sounds from the direction of Bhotmange's house. People were saying `Catch them', `Stop them from running, hold them down' but we thought they were chasing cattle." She is a member of one of the two remaining Dalit families and one can understand why she does not want to say more.

The victims

The Sarpanch, Upasrao Khandate, says he was away in his fields and returned late (a fact challenged by Panchsheela Shendge, a Dalit). Khandate is one of the prime suspects named by Bhaiyyalal, who says he arrived at the moment when he saw his family being dragged out but was too scared to intervene. He hid himself for a while and then ran away to get help. Despite being named, the sarpanch was not among the 44 taken into custody. He denies knowledge of the murder and says no one from his village was involved. Superintendent of Police Bhandara Suresh Sagar told Frontline that many of the accused had confessed to the crime in front of the police, but not in front of a magistrate.


Priyanka strapped to a bullock cart. By now, men allegedly from the entire village of about 150 Powar and Kalar families had collected. Some shouted to the sarpanch to allow them to sexually assault the women. They raped the women and killed all four, even as their womenfolk looked on, mute spectators to a form of justice reserved for castes lower than theirs. One woman, Sudha Dhenge, reportedly did protest but was slapped into silence. She now says she was never there.

Surekha and Priyanka were stripped, paraded naked, beaten black and blue with bicycle chains, axes and bullock cart pokers. They were publicly gang raped until they died. Some raped them even after that, and finally, sticks and rods were shoved into their genitals. In the meantime,

Sudhir managed to contact the police from his mobile phone, but his phone had been smashed. Its pieces are now circumstantial evidence. Roshan and Sudhir were beaten up, their genitals mutilated, faces disfigured and their bodies tossed in the air, before they lay dead on the ground. Hiding behind a hut, Bhaiyyalal helplessly watched his family’s gruesome end. There was no one to call for help. Kherlanji had only two Mahar families; the rest were either perpetrators or spectators. An hour later, a village meeting was called and a diktat issued: no one was to say a word about the massacre.

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