Saturday, October 07, 2006

They dared to speak up; were slaughtered

“Surekha’s only fault was that she’d challenged the village upper-castes and that too the landlords. And she’d dared to crave for self-esteem and dignity,” says a broken Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, 50, a dalit farmer, a shadow of himself today. Last week, he helplessly saw brutality and barbarism knock on his door and wipe off his family – his wife and three children. His worst fears came true September 29.
As Kherlanji wears ghostly silence, ostensibly sheltering injustice, Bhaiyyalal packs up his house – a cramped hut with nothing in it actually – to move in with his in-laws at Deulgaon village, 20 km away. But fear and terror emanates from his swollen eyes, mirroring the truth that the entire government administration, the police and the political class are fighting hard to cover up for a week now.
But the Kherlanji’s bestiality is too hard to be suppressed.
Bhaiyyalal’s wife Surekha, 44, his daughter Priyanka, 18, sons, Roshan, 23, and Sudhir, 21, were first stripped naked, dragged from their hut to the choupal 500 metres away and hacked to death by the entire village of the so called upper-castes, but not before demonstrating the savagery that sends shivers down the spine of a mauled Bhaiyyalal, the lone survivor and fallen family’s headman.
The meek farmer is yet to come to terms with the incident that he witnessed from some distance hiding behind a hut. He’s broken and shudders every moment, uncertain of his life, confused and fearful. It has been a week but nobody has spoken to him from the government administration about the mass killing.
Surekha and her daughter Priyanka were humiliated, bitten, beaten black and blue and then gang-raped in full public view for an hour before they fell dead. “The marauders had pushed sticks into their private parts,” says a policeman, asking not to be named. The two sons were kicked and stabbed repeatedly. The assaulters then mutilated their private parts too, disfigured their faces and tossed them in air before the twosome lay dead on the ground. “When the dusk had settled, four bodies of this dalit family lay strewn at the village choupal, with the killers pumping their fists and still kicking the bodies. The rage was not over. Some angry men even raped the badly mutilated corpses of the two women.”
“Not a single woman, save one, from the village tried to intervene or stop their men from doing it,” cries Bhaiyyalal. “I was too terrified to run to their help.”
Intriguingly, the post-mortem report says Surekha and Priyanka were not raped.
“Doctors were managed, and the police bribed,” alleges Rashtrapal Narnaware, Surekha’s nephew. “Every one in Kherlanji knows what happened with my aunt and cousins, every one was a witness to the heinous crime,” he says furiously.
The police now await the report of second autopsy that was done on October 5 by a team of doctors after exhuming the bodies buried at Deulgaon following mounting pressure. Police admit the bodies were without even a shred of cloth.
Bhaiyyalal says the Kherlanji villagers, who perpetrated the crime, called for a village meeting an hour after the incident with bodies still lying on the road and issued a ‘fatwa’ that nobody would open their mouth about the incident.
In Kherlanji, villagers don’t speak. “They won’t,” says a policeman sent here to maintain ‘law and order’ situation. “But frankly,” he says, “the incident shows that there was no law and no order for years; there isn’t any even today.”
Police say the assaulters threw the bodies at different places in the periphery of the village. Priyanka’s body was recovered from a canal only the next afternoon, and that was how the matter came to light. But the police and administration, dictated by a political regime that sensed deep trouble, saw to it that even the Dalit leaders kept mum, as the incident would have been explosive during the October 2 Dhammakranti anniversary programme at Nagpur’s Deekshabhoomi.
Kherlanji is a village of 780 people – about 170 households, some 50 km north of Bhandara town off the Tumsar road. From Nagpur, it would be about 120 km. It falls in Mohadi tehsil. The Bhotmanges were one of the two Mahar families of the village that is dominated by the OBCs, the landlord clans here. Bhaiyyalal had moved to this village to farm his mother’s 5-acre land about 18 years ago. But it was Surekha, who tilled her farm and fought for regaining the hold over a portion grabbed by the upper castes, which is a decisive political force in this part.
A cramped hut of the Bhotmanges stands proof of their abject poverty. Despite that, Surekha toiled hard to send her children to school and then colleges.
Priyanka, a NCC cadet who dreamt of joining the armed forces, was preparing for her HSC this year, Bhaiyyalal wails. “My wife saved some money last year and bought her a bicycle,” he tells us. “She was very intelligent.”
The two sons helped them in farming and earned extra money by working as labourers. “Routinely the villagers drove tractors over our standing crop.”
“Surekha,” says her inconsolable sister Sudan Raul, “was taught a lesson because she fought for her land. She feared their end was nearing.” Just a week ago, says Sudan, Surekha came with her daughter to visit us, and said the villagers would not spare them. But no one had ever imagined such a shocking end.
“Not one of her children could survive,” says Drupata bai, Surekha’s old mother, with her eyes fixed on the ground. “Did the murderers not have a heart?”
The plot was meticulously planned. First, the village heads tarnished her character. They propagated that she had illicit relation with the Police-Patil of neighbouring Dhusala village Siddharth Gajbhiye, who was actually her cousin. Siddharth, a dalit too, was the only person who stood by this family.

The District Superintendent of Police, Suresha Sagar, holds: “This incident is the height of brutality.” He clears Surekha had no illicit relations with Siddharth.
He admits the Andhalgaon police did not attend to the calls of the Bhotmanges, or investigate the crime immediately after the incident. Siddharth had in fact made a desperate call to the police station when he learnt that the Bhotmanges were being slaughtered. “The call was made around 6.15 pm,” says Bhaiyyalal.
Thirty-two persons have been arrested so far. Many more arrests would follow. As of now, the main perpetrators are still free, say the Deulgaon villagers.
The SP reveals he is issuing the suspension orders to a PSI and a head constable at Andhalgaon police station, under which the village falls.
But the police lapses seem far more and too grave. The police had refused to lodge the complaints of the Bhotmanges for over a decade now. That is since the woman took up the cudgels to recover the lost portion of land. They clearly sided with the landlords, says Rashtrapal, and that was the reason why even Siddharth went to Kamptee and got himself admitted to a private hospital after being beaten almost fatally by the Kherlanji village lords on September 3. That was the provocation of the latest tension that culminated into the September 29 mayhem.
The things had come to a boil. “The villagers had pronounced that killing a mere Mahar family of the village wouldn’t harm any of them,” alleges Bhaiyyalal, fighting hard his tears, as he recounts living in years of the village-regression.
Siddharth’s younger brother Rajendra took him to Kamptee in Nagpur district, 100 km from the village, because he knew it was safer.
“Here, it would have been too risky for him,” says Siddharth’s son Rahul, who’s doing his engineering from a private college at Ramtek.
The doctors at the private hospital realized that this was a police case, and then referred him to the government hospital at Kamptee. The Kamptee police lodged an offence and referred the case back to the Bhandara police for investigation.
That was when the offences were registered against 14 persons of Kherlanji, and when the police paraded the accused for identification, Surekha and Bhaiyyalal identified them, notwithstanding the reigning threat of a village-goon and one of the masterminds of the heinous crime. On the morning of September 29 the 14 persons were arrested and produced before a Mohadi court and released on bail. No sooner had they been set free than the persons first drove down to Kandri, a village ten km from Kherlanji, in search of Rajendra and Siddharth. But when they did not find them, they rushed to their village baying for the blood of the Bhotmanges. When they reached the hut of the dalit family, they found Surekha and her children preparing the evening meal; Bhiayyalal was not at home. They were armed with sharp weapons and sticks, informs Bhaiyyalal, who was at a stone’s throw away distance when the assaulters were dragging his children and wife having stripped them off their clothes. Rajendra was with him. And they both witnessed the murderous assault unfurl before them over the next one-and-a-half hour or more, before the two slipped out in to darkness to safety.
(Post script: No MLA or MP from Bhandara has visited the village or Bhaiyyalal, more than a week after the gruesome killing took place. Two MLAs from Nagpur, ostensibly sent by the Congress higherups, visited Kherlanji, but did not make any noise. The police are not acting fast and the only two prime witnesses are under threat. Not a single villager's statement has been recorded. Neighbouring villages are living with fear and terror, especially the minority lower castes.)


Askinstoo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Inkk said...

came here looking for more information on this. very well written. keep up the great reporting.

Unknown said...

Very good work on reporting the issue!

Did any convictions happen or like other cases this one is going to go in the drain?