Khairlanji: Ground zero for Dalit protests

Bhayyalal Bhotmange, lone survivor of Khairlanji Dalit killings, leads a lonely life in a government-allotted house in Bhandara, where he works as a security guard at a boys' hostel

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil
Updated28 Sep 2016, 12:17 PM IST
Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, who lost four members of his family in the Khairlanji massacre in 2006. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint<br />
Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, who lost four members of his family in the Khairlanji massacre in 2006. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Nagpur: An iron cot stands in a corner of an open plot, the only surviving piece of furniture in the dwelling in Khairlanji village of Bhandara district, Maharashtra, burnt down 10 years ago by upper caste villagers; the only survivor was Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, the family head, who wasn’t home that fateful day.

The incident kicked off a peaceful protest by Dalits demanding justice and later escalated into a confrontation with the police. Dalit rage then snowballed, for the first time, into a protest which spread outside the state. It turned Bhotmange’s home into ground zero for Dalit protests against social oppression.

In his book, The persistence of Caste, Anand Teltumbde, writes, “Both the Khairlanji incident and the state complicity that a series of fact-finding efforts uncovered infuriated Dalits across the state. That such an atrocity could take place in Vidarbha, particularly the Nagpur-Bhandara belt with a Dalit movement whose history predated even Ambedkar, galvanized Dalits.”

The tenth anniversary of this benchmark moment in contemporary Dalit history falls on 29 September. Coincidentally at a time when the debate on Dalit atrocities has acquired a new narrative.

Bhotmange, now 61 years old, claims he has deliberately retained the cot as a sign of the lives that were snuffed out. He will revisit his former home on Thursday along with Dalit activists.

Bhotmange leads a lonely life in a government-allotted house in Bhandara, 40km away, where he works as a security guard in a boys hostel.

Although atrocities against Dalits are common in India, the brutality of the Khairlanji killings shocked the nation. The killers were the men identified by Surekha, Bhotmange’s wife, in a police complaint as participants in an assault on the village policeman, another Dalit, Siddharth Gajbhiye.

Based on Gajbhiye’s complaint, filed under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and Surekha’s statement, police arrested the suspects on 29 September but let them off on bail the same day. They returned to the village and lynched the Bhotmange family.

Police arrested 38 people, booking them under various Sections, including the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. A fast-track court convicted eight for the crime in 2008, awarding the death penalty to six, but did not identify it as “caste rivalry”, instead arguing it was “revenge killings”.

In 2010, the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court commuted the death penalties to life imprisonment, and ruled out the applicability of the Atrocities Act. A petition challenging the ruling is pending before the Supreme Court.

“The fact that the caste angle has not been applied in an outrageous caste killing like Khairlanji proves the very inefficiency and complicity of the administrative and legal apparatus,” Teltumbde said.

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First Published:28 Sep 2016, 12:17 PM IST
HomepoliticspolicyKhairlanji: Ground zero for Dalit protests

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