|Date||29 September 2006|
|Location||Kherlanji located in the Bhandara district|
The Kherlanji massacre (or Khairlanji massacre) refers to the 2006 torture and murders of a Buddhist family by upper Caste Hindus (a term used to describe orthodox Hindus with Casteist mindset), who were members of the politically dominant Hindu Kunbi caste. The killings took place in a small village in India named Kherlanji, located in the Bhandara district of the state of Maharashtra.
On 29 September 2006, four members of the Bhotmange family belonging to the Dalit underclass were murdered. The women of the family, Surekha and Priyanka, were paraded naked in public before being murdered. The Indian media did not cover this incident until the Nagpur riots by the Dalits and then uniformly and wrongly ascribed the killings to "upper castes", a claim picked up by Human Rights organisations and the international media, reinforcing the stereotype of "upper castes" versus "lower castes". Later it was discovered that the criminal act was carried out by assailants from the politically powerful Kunbi caste (classified as Other Backward Castes by Government of India) for "opposing" the requisition of their field to have a road built over it. Initial reports suggested that the women were gang-raped before being murdered. Though CBI investigations concluded that the women were not raped, there were allegations of bribery of doctors who performed the post-mortem, and of corruption.
There were allegations that the local police shielded the alleged perpetrators in the ongoing investigation. A government report on the killings, prepared by the social justice department and YASHADA—the state academy of developmental administration, has implicated top police officers, doctors and even a BJP member of the Legislative Assembly, Madhukar Kukade in an alleged coverup and hindering the investigations. Kukade has denied these charges, saying that he had not even been in Kherlanji in months. The state Home Minister R. R. Patil admitted to initial lapses in police investigation and said that five policemen suspended in the investigation of the killings have been dismissed. In December 2006, CBI filed a chargesheet against 11 persons under charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly with deadly weapons and outraging the modesty of women. CBI also said that it will investigate the role of the 36 people under detention.
The media coverage of the incident was initially weak, but picked up momentum after an investigative feature article by Sabrina Buckwalter in The Times of India provided the first mainstream, in-depth coverage of the massacre.
In September 2008, six people were given the death sentence for the crime. However, on 14 July 2010, the Nagpur bench of the High Court commuted the death penalty awarded to the six convicted to a 25-year rigorous imprisonment jail sentence.
Protests against the killings in the Kherlanji village took place in various parts of Maharashtra. On 19 November 2006, over 4,000 Dalits gathered at the Azad maidan in Mumbai to protest against the Khairlanji incident. On 23 November 2006, several members of the Dalit community in the nearby district of Chandrapur staged a protest over the Khairlanji killings. The protesters allegedly turned violent and threw stones. The police baton-charged the protesters to control the situation. Dalit leaders, however, denied that they had caused any violence and claimed that they were "protesting in peace".
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 600,000 to the next of kin of the victims' family, and housing and job awards to the affected family members. He also assured that his government would give an additional Rs 200,000 to them from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
2006 Dalit protests in Maharashtra
In November and December 2006, the desecration of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh) triggered off violent protests by Buddhists in Maharashtra. Several people, including the Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and the Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy remarked that the protests were fuelled by the Khairlanji killings.
2008 September Verdict by the Bhandara court
The verdict in the 2006 Khairlanji court case was announced on 15 September 2008. Bhandara Sessions court has held eight people guilty of murder and acquitted three.
List of people held guilty of murder:
- Gopal Sakru Binjewar
- Sakru Binjewar
- Shatrughna Dhande
- Vishwanath Dhande
- Prabhakar Mandlekar
- Jagdish Mandlekar
- Ramu Dhande
- Shishupal Dhande
List of acquitted people:
- Mahipal Dhande
- Dharmpal Dhande
- Purshottam Titirmare
The first ad-hoc sessions judge, S S Dass, had heard the arguments of prosecution and defence on the quantum of punishment and had fixed 24 September for his pronouncement. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had made a forceful plea for capital punishment to all the convicts. Defence lawyers Sudip Jaiswal and Neeraj Khandewale pleaded for leniency in view of the act committed in the heat of the moment and clean past record of the convicts.
On 24 September 2008, six people were awarded the death sentence, while two others were given life imprisonment. The ruling was appealed to the Nagpur division bench of the Bombay High Court where hearings began in April 2010. Justices A P Lawande and R C Chavan heard arguments in the case until 21 April 2010, at which point they announced the verdict would be announced on 15 June 2010. However, Justice Lawande on 15 June said the decision would be deferred until 14 July 2010 as Justice Chavan is posted in Bombay.
2010 July verdict by the Bhandara court
On 14 July, the Nagpur bench of the High Court commuted the death penalty awarded to the six convicted to a 25-year rigorous imprisonment jail sentence. The two others who received life sentences received a similar sentence.
The ruling touched off statewide protests and re-kindled the fury of injustice felt by local dalit organizations and the sole survivor, Bhaiyalal Bhotmange. The court ruled that the murders resulted from an act of revenge and was not caste related.
Bhotmange was told that the CBI would appeal the commutation to the Supreme Court, however, after over two weeks of no action, Bhotmange announced he would appeal the decision himself.
- Jaishankar, K. (2011), First International Conference of the South Asian Society [of] Criminology and Victimology (SASCV), 15-17 January 2011, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: SASCV 2011 : Conference Proceedings, South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. International Conference, PP-295
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