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Dalit woman, daughter paraded naked, raped and killed in Maharashtra PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 29 September 2006

 

The village of Khairlanji near Nagpur is an unremarkable settlement of brick huts and cement houses. Less than 200 families live here. Dirt roads run between flat farmlands, and the eye sees great sprawling distances.

 

There was always a gaping silence in this village, even before 29 September 2006 when an upper caste mob, according to eyewitnesses, paraded a mother and her 17-year-old daughter naked, raped and killed them. Two other members of the family, brothers aged 19 and 21 also were murdered. Their bodies were dumped in a canal.

 

Thirty-eight men have been arrested and they are being held under police custody. The gruesome incident occurred 780 km from Mumbai. Why this happened is a mystery that readily resolves itself depending on who you are talking to. Some say one Siddharth Gajbhiye, a police patil (village cop) had an affair with 45-year old Surekha, wife of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange and mother of three children.

 

This, apparently, churned the villagers who, after a string of events, took the drastic step. Others say the Bhotmanges, a land-owning Dalit family, were battling a land dispute with the upper castes.

 

They owned five acres of land once, back in 1996, before two acres were taken away to build a road. Then again, when their land was demanded for road construction they objected, and the tensions caused by that defiance resulted in their slaughter.

 

Whatever be the cause, there is not much doubt over what happened on the evening of 29 September 2006. A mob broke down the frail door of a house that is nothing more than a heap of loose bricks without the adhesion of mortar. The mob was armed with bicycle chains, axes and bullock cart pokers.

 

Surekha and 17-year-old Priyanka, a 12th standard topper, were paraded naked through the village. According to eye-witnesses, one of them was even strapped to a bullock cart.

 

They were then taken to a crude open-air theatre stage where, according to villagers, people yelled to the sarpanch to let them sexually assault the women. Meanwhile, Priyanka's brothers, 21-year-old Sudhir and 19-year-old Roshan, were murdered. After Priyanka and her mother were raped, they were also murdered.

 

The body of Priyanka was fished out from a canal on 30 September 2006. The other bodies were recovered a day later. In the hut of the Bhotmanges, a bottle of chilli powder is still spewed all over the dirty floor, supposedly used to disorient the women during their rape.

 

A red underwear is still crumpled in the corner next to the kitchen, and a wrench and a rolling pin lie askew in front of a scattered Buddhist altar. While the carnage was underway, the head of the family, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange had managed to escape.

 

It is not clear what exactly led to this assault. A chain of disconnected events, however, emerge from police records. On 3 September 2006, Siddharth Gajbhiye who was accused of having an affair with Surekha Bhotmange, was beaten up by a mob.

 

Neighbours say Siddharth was a known friend of the Bhotmanges and used to help them during some incidents connected to the land dispute. Gajbhiye filed a police complaint against 15 men, 12 of whom were arrested and released on bail on 29 September 2006, the day of the rape and murder. The 12 men were spotted by eyewitnesses among the rampaging mob.

 

The first photographs of Priyanka's body that were taken by a social organisation showed rods sticking out from her genitals. But when her body was taken to the Mohadi hospital for the post-mortem, the sticks and rods had disappeared.

 

The post-mortem report by Dr AJ Shende dated 30 September 2006 clearly indicates that "no injuries noted to the external genitals" were found on her body, nor was there any decomposition. The pictures showing foreign objects stuffed inside her are the only proof that a sexual assault occurred.

 

The second post-mortem executed on both Surekha and Priyanka, dated 6 October 2006, noted that now, "the bodies of both the deceased were heavily decomposed and the injuries over the perineum region and external genitalia could not be identified." The forensic swabs that were taken to Nagpur to ascertain semen presence have tested negative.

 

Suresh Sagar, police superintendent of Bhandara district in which the village is situated, is one of the few who is overseeing the case. He denies the occurrence of rape, despite the eyewitness accounts. Pankaj Gupta, inspector general of Nagpur, also denies that rape had taken place.

 

He says Surekha and Siddharth were close, that villagers did not approve of their relationship. He also said Siddharth gave emotional and financial support to Surekha. He even bought her a mobile phone. Bhaiyyalal, her husband, says none of this is true. He hints that many things have been misconstrued to paint a bad picture of his family.

 

According to Siddharth Gajbhiye, some of the perpetrators are BJP members. A report issued by the Manuski Advocacy Centre mirrors this statement. Bhaskar Kawad, one of the four main suspects, is said to be related to a local politician.

 

The people of Khairlanji are not very vocal on the matter. V Khandate says he was in a hospital recovering from chikungunya on 29 September 2006. The Khandate household is just two homes away from the main village area where the public beatings and rape allegedly took place.

 

The time was approximately 7 pm (according to Airtel phone records), but they say they were asleep at that time. Upas Rao Khanate, the sarpanch of the village, says he also was sleeping and has no knowledge of the events of that night.

 

Rajendra Gajbhiye is willing to speak as he is the brother of Siddharth. He had called Priyanka that evening after hearing that a mob had been looking for his family but had gone looking for the Bhotmanges instead when they couldn't find them.

 

She told him that her family was being attacked. For his willingness to speak he was beaten and threatened, he says, by AR Rajurkar, the principal investigating police officer.

 

Bhaiyyalal, for his pain and suffering, has been offered a cheque for Rs 450,000 by the Maharashtra Government. The Atrocities Act mandates that Rs 200,000 be paid to the survivors for every family member murdered in mob violence. No offer has been made to refer his case to the CBI to save the investigation from local prejudices.

 

Bhaiyyalal, with his whole family wiped out, wants the perpetrators to hang. His desperate wails, unburdened to anyone who is willing to listen, now echoes in the desolation of Khairlanji's perpetual anonymity. The little media interest that surfaced when the bodies were first fished out from a canal has now almost entirely disappeared.

 

Apparently, this is just another crime story in India today.

 

(Source: The Times of India)
 
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