Monday, November 20, 2006

Hindutva Terrorists massacre Budhist Family in Mumbai, India

Hindutva Terrorists massacre Buddhist family in India

Milind Reporting from India

Small village in Bhandara district in Maharashtra has been focus of attention when four member of one dalit family was slaughtered on 29th September 29th, 2006 in bhandara district. Victims are Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange’s wife surekha, 44, his daughter priyanka, 18, sons, roshan, 23, and sudhir, 21.The fact finding team of vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti visited on 6th October to village kherlanji to know the details of this barbaric killing and they were shocked to learn that , 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 meters away and hacked to death by the entire village of the so called upper-castes. vJAS has moved with the fact finding committee report to national human rights commission(nhrc) for independent probe of this dalit massacred as all political parties and local administration are covering up the matter as till date 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 higher-ups, 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. Neighboring villages are living with fear and terror, especially the minority lower castes dalit to dared to demand the right of land were slaughtered in order to give other dalit in villages of Mowadi taluka of bhandara district .

As per the fact finding report dispute of dalit killing is portion land owned by Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange’s wife “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,” as told by 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. As per details provided all relatives to the fact finding committee the barbaric details are 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 meters 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.

VJAS has drawn the attention of NHRC toward the fact that “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 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 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 Bhotmange’s were one of the two Mahar families of the village that is dominated by the OBC`s, 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 Bhotmange’s 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 laborers. “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 neighboring Dhusala village Siddhartha Gajbhiye, who was actually her cousin. Siddhartha, 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 Siddhartha.hE admits the andhalgaon police did not attend to the calls of the Bhotmanges, or investigate the crime immediately after the incident. Siddhartha had in fact made a desperate call to the police station when he learnt that the Bhotmange’s were being slaughtered. “the call was made around 6.15 pm,” says Bhaiyyalal.32 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 Bhotmange’s 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 Siddhartha 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.

Siddhartha’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 Siddhartha’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 Siddhartha. But when they did not find them, they rushed to their village baying for the blood of the Bhotmange’s. When they reached the hut of the dalit family, they found surekha and her children preparing the evening meal; Bhaiyyalal 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. NHRC has been asked to order independent probe of this dalit massacred and sack the collector in charge of the district .Appropriate compensation to tune of Rs.25 lacs is also demanded by VJAS to NHRC.

Khairlanji's shame

The September 29 butchery of four Dalits in Khairlanji village of Maharashtra's Bhandara district by fellow villagers is a heart-breaking reminder of the anti-human nature of caste prejudice. The victims, members of the Bhotmange family, were bludgeoned to death in full view of people of the village. Their mutilated bodies were dumped in a nearby canal. The `provocation' for the bestial killings was that Bhaiyalal Bhotmange's wife, daughter, and two sons were educated and asserted their right to a life of dignity despite their poverty. This was clearly unacceptable to the OBC-dominated village that has only two other Dalit families. When the sole surviving member of the family, Bhaiyalal, reported the crime, the police showed an unserious and even contemptuous attitude to the investigation. The post-mortems were not done in accordance with law. As a result, the desire of Mr. Bhotmange to get justice rather than accept the Maharashtra Government's belated offer of cash and a government job as compensation is likely to remain unfulfilled. The heartlessness of the state, and the intolerance shown by dominant castes towards any signs of progress among Dalits, stand indicted before the bar of humanity. Only political protests and pressure have ensured the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Khairlanji is not an isolated case. Across India, with some exceptions, authorities tend to ignore atrocities sections of dominant castes commit against Dalits as though by social right. "Indifferentism," noted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, "is the worst kind of disease that can affect people." Khairlanji also underlines the absence of a united Dalit leadership in Maharashtra. The recent protests in Nagpur, Yavatmal, and Bhandara were mostly undirected and resulted in violent clashes between protestors and the police. This in turn gave the police the excuse to block attempts by Dalit activists to hold peaceful protests such as the `Long March' planned from Nagpur to Khairlanji. Dalit activists and academics who have spoken out against the atrocity are being targeted and harassed. Such a response by the state is not just grossly unjust; it is also counterproductive. Khairlanji is a tragic reminder of the distance India has to travel in removing caste prejudice and ensuring that the poor and the powerless also get justice. Dr. Ambedkar defined democracy as "primarily a mode of associated living... [and] essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards our fellow men." His searing analysis of the distinction between `political democracy' and `social democracy,' and of the huge social democracy deficit in India, is as truthful and relevant today as it was in his lifetime (1891-1956).

The Hindu Editorial, Nov 20, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dalit blood on village square : Lyla Bavadam, The Frontline

LYLA BAVADAM , Front Line Magzine, Volume 23 - Issue 23 :: Nov. 18-Dec. 01, 2006
in Nagpur, Bhandara and Gondhia districts.

The murder of four Dalits in Khairlanji village illustrate that casteism still flourishes in Maharashtra.


BHAIYYALAL BHOTMANGE, WHO has lost his family to caste prejudice.

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.

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.

The details of the story vary but the essence is clear - these were caste-related murders of the Dalit family. "Upper-caste" Kunbis deny any knowledge of the murders and possible rape. They do not know Bhaiyyalal's family or house. No one knew anything about the murders, until the next day, when Priyanka's body was accidentally found some kilometres downstream. Their claim flies in the face of the reality of a typical village where everyone knows everyone else by name.

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.

BHAIYYALAL'S WIFE AND three children were dragged out of their house, stripped and paraded to the village square where they were beaten to death.

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.

Casteism still flourishes in Maharashtra. This has hampered the investigation in Khairlanji from the start. Immediately after the murders the local police station was informed of trouble in the village. A constable arrived but said it was too dark to conduct any investigations. Dalit activists contend that the complaint of people missing and rioting was not taken seriously because the victims were Scheduled Caste people. Suresh Sagar admits: "No cognisance was taken of the complaint and the local police were lax in conducting an immediate investigation." A search could have helped preserve crucial evidence of rape, especially. The first information report was registered after 24 hours.

The post-mortem was handled in a slipshod manner. Dr. K.D. Ramteke, Civil Surgeon at Bhandara Civil Hospital, said: "The most basic post-mortem calls for preservation of viscera. This was not done by the doctor-in-charge." The doctor who conducted the post-mortem was dismissed but he claimed that the police did not ask for a test for rape. However, Dr. Ramteke said, "Finding a violently beaten and naked body of a young girl automatically calls for vaginal swabs as well as the usual procedure to remove the uterus and other internal organs."

The post-mortem report said that the cause of death was through intracranial haemorrhages. Incensed, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, demanded a second post mortem. "I always suspected rape," he said, recalling the scene of his family being dragged out of the hut. When the bodies were exhumed they were in an advanced state of decomposition. Dr. Ramteke has recommended that "on the basis of circumstantial evidence, [the probability of] rape should be considered".

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official said that the case was being blocked at all levels by a pervading "casteist mentality" in the local administration. A Dalit woman told a fact-finding team that she knew of plans to assault and kill the Bhotmange family but did not report them because of the likely complications she would face from the police and her upper-caste neighbours. Subodh More, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who was part of the high-profile fact-finding team led by retired Justice B.G Kolse-Patil, said their primary observation was that "it is possible that pressures from higher levels might sabotage justice and divert investigations away from the main issue." The team is yet to release its full report. The case has been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and national vice-president of the Akhil Bharatiya Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana (AIDWA), led a CPI(M) team to Khairlanji. They met Bhaiyyala and Siddharth Gajbiye. In a statement, the party demanded "the immediate prosecution and arrest of all police officers and doctors concerned who have connived in helping the accused. The photographs of the two women show that there is no single inch on their body that has not suffered some injury and the post-mortem request does not reflect it at all. Clearly, the investigation is contaminated and polluted with crass anti-Dalit prejudices. Evidence has been destroyed, the post-mortem report fudged, the accused given time to build their alibis and witnesses threatened. Even a month later, the State government has not intervened to prevent this grave assault on justice and the constitutional provisions for Scheduled Castes."

The party also condemned the statement of Home Minister R.R. Patil that the Dalit protests are motivated by the extremist elements. It indicated the insensitivity of the State government to the violence, the party said. The delegation expressed shock that the complaints made by the victims prior to the incident were ignored by the police.

In this situation the work of political parties like the CPI(M), civil rights organisations, web sites and Internet discussion groups has kept the case alive. All through October democratic and peaceful means were used to demand justice. By November patience wore thin and anger was expressed at the manner in which the investigation was handled. Photographs of the victims' bodies after they were pulled out of the canal were printed and pasted on the walls of Dalit bastis. Members of Buddha vihars across Vidarbha (of which Nagpur has more than 300) met to discuss protest marches and a silent dharna. From the first week of November some protests became violent.

The protests have two broad aims, first to get justice for the Bhotmanges, and second to highlight the fact that the murders were caste-related. The administration has unfortunately missed the point. The "long march" from Nagpur to Khairlanji, which was planned by Ambedkarite organisations on November 12, was denied permission by the authorities. Worse, Khairlanji was turned into a fortress with four Central Reserve Police Force check posts en route, and two units patrolling the village. The rationale was that Khairlanji would be torched in retribution. However, the arrangements inflamed Dalit sensitivities even more. If something as obvious as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, had been invoked when Siddharth Gajbiye was first assaulted by the Kunbi villagers, the entire sequence of events could have been avoided.

GATHERINGS SUCH AS this one in a Buddha vihar in Nagpur are a way for Dalits to discuss the discrimination against them. Members of this group and many others in the area were held by the police to prevent protests.

The administration that was so lax initially in handling the case showed a great deal of energy when it came to dealing with public protests. Pre-emptive arrests were made of a wide cross-section of people. Random arrests were made for reasons ranging from a visit to a Buddha vihar or sitting in silent support at a dharna. Forcible entry into the homes of activists, pre-dawn arrests of social workers, arrest and detention of women without the presence of women constables were all part of its strategy. Furthermore, through some inexplicable logic it was concluded that naxalites were behind the sporadic violence at the dharnas.

Politics and other concerns of the government (such as the fight against naxalites) are being used to divert attention from the Dalit cause. "Political opportunism is rife. The Congress claims to be closer to the Dalits than the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]. And the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] says Dalits should be allowed to be priests in temples. Local politicians have been trying to jump onto the bandwagon by saying they were behind the protests even though all these were organised by Ambedkarite organisations. In the final analysis, they are all casteist regardless of their political affiliations," says Prashant Tambe, a social worker with the Nagpur-based Youth For Social Justice.

While the widespread protests will fuel the fight for justice, the main concern is that other issues should not sideline justice for the Bhotmanges.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Flag over the dead : Dilip D'souza



The writer travels to Kherlanji in Vidarbha to find cynical caste and political games being played on a horrific massacre


The first time I see Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, he’s one in a crowd knotted around Bhalchandra Mungekar, once-Vice Chancellor of the University of Bombay and now Member of the Planning Commission. He is listening to him — Mungekar — speak, right outside his — Bhotmange’s — house. He is a slender nondescript sort in a striped shirt and grey pants, just another face that you might see in a typical day but hardly register. In this crowd, he might be a media-droid like me, or a police-droid like others here, or just another hanger-on-droid like most of the rest in the crowd.

Dilip D’Souza
Which, in fact, now that I think about it, he is: a hanger-on in this great whirligig that has, starting with the murder of his family, spiralled relentlessly outward.

I mean, this is the man’s own house. From this house, his own fellow villagers dragged his wife Surekha and teenage daughter Priyanka and slightly older sons Roshan and Sudhir, beat and mutilated and finally killed them, all while he hid and watched, terrified for his own life. Inside his house are the remains of lives snuffed out: spit-and-polished steel plates on a rack, cup hanging from a hook, belt lying on the ground, 12th standard Samaj Shasan Navnit textbook on a cot, bundles of fading clothes here and there, stickers on the front door of a pretty film star on a bicycle and Sanjay Dutt holding a gun to his temple.

A month and a half after it happened, he has returned to his own house in a car carrying the once-Vice Chancellor, trailed by other cars full of cameramen and journalists and policemen and even a fellow with a sinister machine-gun at the ready. Most of these people squeeze into his own house with him, and the cameramen film every movement Mungekar makes in there, looking at the plates, leafing through a book, asking gentle questions about the family that once lived here. And when Mungekar steps back into the sunlight, ndtv and e-TV and wxyz TV set him up to be one of their talking heads for the evening news. They ask him many grave questions. What does this mean for dalits? Why are our laws not applied? Are caste crimes on the increase? How could this happen in the land of Phule and Ambedkar?

And that’s when I first see Bhaiyyalal, wedged in the crush somewhere in the land of Phule and Ambedkar, somewhere between his own front door and Mungekar.

I sidle through the crowd, behind the cameras, under the sinister gun brushing my neck on it, under a too-low branch of a tree on which my shirt catches, to Bhaiyyalal’s side. Too late. lmno TV has him in front of their camera now. From behind it, a man asks: Will you take the job the chief minister offered you? Will you take the compensation, will you come back to live in Kherlanji, what do you want done now? pqrs TV takes over, asks much the same questions but in a different language. Will you won’t you why how where who what?

Tell us Mr bhotmange, how do you feel? Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, whose family was lynched in Kherlanji
Bhaiyyalal can’t or won’t answer questions as he stands at the spot where his family was butchered
Bhaiyyalal is mute. He cannot or will not answer these questions as he stands at the spot where his own family was slaughtered. Head down, eyes closed, silent. Yes, occasionally he says something of no particular consequence. Then he returns to silence.

Years ago in Orissa’s Erasama devastated by a cyclone, I watched a similar TV crew try to get an orphan to talk. (Delhi’s told us to find an orphan, the reporter told me). Similar results. I try now what I tried then. Look, I say quietly to Bhaiyyalal when the TV crews have given up and returned to Mungekar, I have no camera, I’m by myself, I just want to sit with you and talk. I won’t even write down anything if you’d like it that way.

He nods his head. There outside his home, we chat for a while, then arrange to meet again. Which doesn’t happen. Twenty-four hours later, he begins vomiting and is admitted to the icu in the Bhandara Government Hospital. Doctor’s orders: no visitors for a week.

Approaching Kherlanji earlier that day, a lady cop flags us down. Having heard reports of the climate here now, I’m worried that she’s stopping us to say we can go no further. But no, she just wants a lift the last few kilometres to the village, where she is supposed to join the “police point” (her words). She is inordinately grateful for the lift, sits in the back humming to herself. At the police point — the square in the centre of Kherlanji — she leaps out, directs me to a line of sitting cops and vanishes into a building.

A cop in a purple vest strolls over to a desk with a large notebook, to take down my name and such. My driver says he will take care of this while I go meet some of the villagers. I’m nearly at the other end of the square with one villager when there’s a shout from behind and I have to run back to submit the vital detail all Kherlanji visitors must submit to the police.

Father’s name? asks the cop.

Tea with a clump of Kherlanji’s residents, and they begin to talk. Slow and guarded at first, but more and more voluble as the minutes pass. They want to talk, they want someone to listen. There’s a lot of fear in the village. The “sangathan-waale” (members of organisations) come every day and shout slogans here, threaten us in front of our homes! What sangathan, I ask, though I know what they mean. Shrugs.

Who knows? People with big blue flags, been coming now for a month. Right, we had passed such a group soon after picking up the lady cop. Then they ease into their story of Kherlanji, the telling kicked off by Urkuda Khurpe.

This police patil Siddharth Gajbhiye — you know, Surekha Bhotmange’s relative — he used to come often to the village. He owed some money to Sakhru Bhinjewar, so one day Sakhru went to him and “lovingly” (Khurpe actually says “pyaar se”) asked for it back. Gajbhiye did not return it. Two or three days later Sakhru tried again. This time Gajbhiye was drunk, shouted “What money?” and slapped him twice. Suresh Khandate told Gajbhiye to go back to his village, Dhusala.

Gajbhiye left, but not before running into Jagdish Mandlekar in the square and telling him, you wait, in a couple of days I’ll do an “operation” on you! Sakhru’s and Jagdish’s sons, enraged by Gajbhiye’s behaviour, threatened to beat him. Gajbhiye took off on his motorbike towards Kandre village, but fell off it near a stream on the way. That’s where the sons caught up with him and, Khandate says guilelessly, “there must have been some fight there.” Convoluted? Certainly. But this approximates what happened on September 3, the trigger for the events that culminated in the murders of the Bhotmange family.

For Gajbhiye’s brother Rajan filed a police complaint about the assault near the stream, and Surekha identified 12 (some say 15) villagers who were taken into custody. On September 29, Tulsiram Titirmare went to a bank for a crop loan where he met Rajan, who asked Ramprasad Khurpe to have tea with him. When they sat down, Rajan took out a sword and threatened Ramprasad with it. Ramprasad was very frightened by this so he sat quietly in the bank. Later that day, the 15 villagers were released on bail and came back to Kherlanji.

At which point Urkuda and Suresh and Tulsiram — who have taken it in turns to tell me this Mahabharat of a story — all disappeared into their homes and have no idea what happened next.

Though of course we know what happened, as they certainly do even if they don’t want to say so to the Bombay journalist. That evening, a mob swarmed the Bhotmange’s hut and killed the family.

DIRTY DRAWING: A police sketch of the spot where Ankita’s body was found
‘Just 125 houses in this village,’ he says, ‘and 44 people in jail for this incident, saheb!’

In the way of several such I’ve heard, this account is an incomprehensible mix of characters and events and extreme villainy met with polite entreaty, pass the pinches of salt won’t you? And it’s these villagers clustered around drinking tea who want me to believe that they are living in terror of the “sanghatan-waale”, the dalit activist groups who have been visiting Kherlanji to protest this killing of lower by upper caste.

Later, Urkuda and Kashiram Khouse take me on a leisurely tour of Kherlanji. It’s an almost pretty place: lush green fields, some brightly painted houses, others (like Tulsiram’s) with flowering creepers on compound walls. But every entry point to the village has a police barrier, some more at random spots inside. There’s a police sign listing various instructions, and a paunchy cop lying asleep on the porch of the Hanuman temple.

People sit in the teashops talking, looking furtively at us as we pass. Slogans are everywhere (sample: “Gharchi izzat nako rastyat, sofa sandas banva sastyat” — Don’t display your home’s self-respect on the road, make sofas and toilets cheaply). Kherlanji, Kashiram says, was working towards winning the government’s “Clean Village” award. Now this incident has spoiled any chance of that.

Apropos of nothing, Urkuda tells me Kashiram is a Chamar, a lower caste. Then both say almost simultaneously, we have always lived in peace. All castes in Kherlanji have always got along perfectly. Using his hands to mime the action, Kashiram says that when he would go to the village well, the higher castes would willingly give him water. I don’t know if he feels the irony in even telling me that much, and in any case I find it hard to believe talk of years of blemishless harmony. Then Urkuda outdoes himself. Just 125 houses in this village, he says — and 44 people in jail for this incident, saheb! Think of it, almost every house has lost someone!

He exaggerates to make his point, yes, but I’m so struck by this attempt to make me feel for the accused that I actually stop in my tracks, struggle to stay poker-faced. We’ve heard about communities in which every family has lost a son to war, we know how poignantly that brings home tragedy. Feel it here in the same way, Urkuda means, because 44 are in jail for a ghastly murder. In a Roald Dahl kind of way, Kherlanji is unsettling. Almost pretty.

The next morning, I am in a government office in Bhandara listening to Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal men argue with a district bureaucrat and a police officer. They want permission to hold morchas to protest a killing a month ago. Naturally, I think: Kherlanji. But no. The bureaucrat underlines this. There is no connection between Kherlanji and this crime, he stresses.

This was the abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Ankita Lanjewar on October 13. The accused is Sudhakar Ramteke, a known history-sheeter with 32 — 32! — cases against him, but he is still at large. No sign of the man’s arrest, so the Sena and Dal people want to shut down Bhandara on November 13 to protest. So what can we expect if we don’t grant you permission, asks the bureaucrat, “tod-phod”? Everyone laughs uncertainly.

Bhaiyyalal is a pawn in great roiling cynical battles he has little knowledge of
Outside, the men say to me: Ankita’s murder had nothing to do with caste, it was just a rape and murder. But the people here have begun to ask questions. They see the fuss over Kherlanji — of course that should never have happened and we want those culprits to be punished — and they see that Ramteke is still free, and they start thinking of caste. Why? Because this is Kherlanji in reverse: the lower killed the upper caste.

The genial Dal man puts me in touch with Ankita’s mother, Kalpana. It takes a while to find our way through crowded narrow Bhandara lanes to her home. A young boy volunteers to lead us the last stretch, and as we walk he says in a quiet voice: But this was something else, wasn’t it? They say she did it for the insurance. He sticks that thought in our heads, points out her house from a distance, and is gone.

Kalpana is distraught. The man took my daughter from right here, she says. But he’s free, and suppose he returns to attack me and my other daughter? All those police in Kherlanji, but don’t I deserve some protection? Shouldn’t at least one of those leaders have come to visit me? And see what he did to my daughter, she says, offering me various papers about Ankita, tears starting to flow down her cheeks.

The post-mortem is graphic about the condition of the girl’s body, found in a pond some 10 km away. But what wrenches is an odd little drawing in the police report.

A few sketched trees, an oval with wavy lines in it to indicate the pond, and at one edge, the outline of a small body. Three small lines inside the outline, indicating panties. That’s how Ankita was found, dead in nothing but panties.

When I can bring myself to meet Kalpana’s eyes again, she asks: is it because I’m Kunbi (OBC) and Ramteke is sc that I don’t get justice? This was “just” another murder, “just” a man brutalising a child, yet at this time in this place, how can anyone evade the questions about caste?

Early one Bhandara morning, I arrange to meet Rashtrapal Naravane, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange’s nephew, at the Government Hospital where Bhaiyyalal has been admitted. This is the day of the bandh over Ankita’s killing, and it’s on everyone’s mind. The place where we have breakfast has its shutter only half open. As we eat, the proprietor tells a patron there’s to be a bandh.

Kherlanji? asks the patron, just that one word. No, says the proprietor, that murder of the girl by the criminal and the police are sleeping. These days, even if you poke someone with a needle there’s a bandh! These days, people are afraid to slap each other, but criminals get away with anything!

Rashtrapal is not outside the hospital as he said he would be. I wait, trying not to look at the open sewage, the piles of garbage, the pigs rooting in it all, getting steadily more nervous about what’s going to happen today. Then I try to find Bhaiyyalal on my own, asking my way to the icu through dingy corridors and up grimy stairs. At the icu, a matron tells me he is there, even points out his bed behind a partition, but if I want to meet him I will have to take off my sandals. I do, and enter the room again, the floor clammy underfoot. But now she says I cannot meet him. So does a cop on duty at his bed, inexplicably aggressive when I ask if I can at least know what’s wrong with Bhaiyyalal.

Apparently I need to have my sandals off to be told Bhaiyyalal is incommunicado. Back outside the hospital, the crowds are in a sudden tizzy. There are tyres burning on the road, several columns of smoke visible in the sky. Rashtrapal is at the Circuit House, where we finally meet a few minutes later. The first thing he says is, I don’t know why Bhaiyyalal is in the icu! When I last saw him last night he was fine! I think this is just a political stunt (he uses the word “stunt”).

In some detail, he tells me about the September 29 murders. I take notes, but my mind is on that one thing he said to start: this is a political stunt.

I don’t know if it really is. But it’s clear to me that this whole thing is now bigger than Bhaiyyalal, bigger than four horrible murders, bigger than Kherlanji. This has now ballooned into those eternal Indian realities, Caste and Politics. You have to see it in light of district and municipal elections in Maharashtra, only a few months away.

You have to understand this as a test for the UPA government itself, as Mungekar told the press. You have to understand how it sweeps up unconnected incidents, like Ankita Lanjewar’s murder, into the cauldron of caste. Bhaiyyalal is a pawn in great roiling cynical battles he has little knowledge of. And for me, that cynicism is nicely captured in a comment to match the one made by a boy outside Kalpana Lanjewar’s home.

One of the Dal men taps my shoulder as we stand talking outside the government office. Look, he says, you’re writing about Kherlanji, right? Better make sure you report his name correctly. It’s Bhotmange, not Bahut-mange. (Loosely meaning “many demands”).

Everyone guffaws.

> Related Link:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Kherlanji’s Strange and Bitter Crop

Satya Sagar, Peace, Earth and Justice News

On September 29 this year as Surekha Bhotmange (45), a Dalit peasant, prepared her family’s evening meal a drunken mob of ‘higher’ caste villagers broke down the door. They dragged out Surekha, their 17-year-old daughter Priyanka, and two sons, 23-year-old Roshan, who also happened to be blind and 21-year-old Sudhir. The four victims were dragged away to the village centre, Priyanka strapped to a bullock cart. According to India media reports what followed was a gruesome orgy of violence and sexual assault as men from the entire village of about 150 families gathered, raped the women and killed all four, even as their own womenfolk looked on. Later, a village meeting was called and everyone present ordered not to mention the massacre to any outsider.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Abel Meeropol, a member of the American Communist Party wrote this poem on seeing photographs of the lynching of two black youth Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith way back in 1939.

Replace the American South with much of India, black with Dalit and this poem, that went on to become a popular resistance song among African American activists, will hold perfectly true in the contemporary Indian context too. (The white perpetrators of such atrocities in the United States replaced by the self-styled ‘higher’ castes of India of course.)

The latest incidence of this ‘strange and bitter crop’ was in Kherlanji, a small village in Bhandara distict near Nagpur in the western Indian province of Maharashtra and a horrific ‘harvest’ it was too.

On September 29 this year as Surekha Bhotmange (45), a Dalit peasant, prepared her family’s evening meal a drunken mob of ‘higher’ caste villagers broke down the door. They dragged out Surekha, their 17-year-old daughter Priyanka, and two sons, 23-year-old Roshan, who also happened to be blind and 21-year-old Sudhir.

The four victims were dragged away to the village centre, Priyanka strapped to a bullock cart. According to India media reports what followed was a gruesome orgy of violence and sexual assault as men from the entire village of about 150 families gathered, raped the women and killed all four, even as their own womenfolk looked on. Later, a village meeting was called and everyone present ordered not to mention the massacre to any outsider.

Unknown to the mob however Bhaiyalal, the head of the Bhotmange family, had witnessed the entire incident and escaped to tell the tale to a typically indifferent police. It was only when the mutilated bodies were found the next day that a formal report of the crime was recorded.

The reasons for the violence against the Bhotmange family were not very complex at all and can be whittled down to just one sentence- they were Dalits who were economically independent and unwilling to be bullied by the ‘higher’ castes. Worse still in the eyes of their killers- they dared to educate themselves - with Sudhir being a university graduate and Priyanka having completed schooling and planning a career in the Army.

This is the way it has been for centuries in this land of institutionalized apartheid known as varnashrama dharma or the caste system under which the Dalits, who make up 16 percent of India’s population, are treated as ‘untouchables’. The penalty for defiance of any kind by the Dalit man across India has always been - at the minimum - grievous injury and far too often a public lynching by bloodthirsty mobs. For Dalit women it has far worse- humiliation, rape, mutilation and a painful death.

The immediate incident that is supposed to have incensed the ‘higher’ castes was one where Surekha had signed on a complaint to the police against some of them who had beaten up her cousin Siddharth Gajbhiye. The latter was helping Surekha protect a portion of her three acres of farm land from being grabbed by villagers who wanted it for a waterway to their own fields.

The Bhotmanage family originally had five acres on which they grew rice and cotton and two acres had already been taken away in 1996 to build a road so that neighbouring farmers from the ‘higher’ castes could drive their tractors through the land. Gajbhiye and Bhotmange belonged to the Mahar caste, the same as the architect of the Indian Constitution and great Dalit leader B.R.Ambedkar, and were practising Buddhists.

Adding insult to all the injury heaped on the Bhotmanges there was also an attempt to cover up the true nature of the incident under pressure from the ‘higher’ caste murderers. The first post-mortem report on September 30 claimed that there had been no rape at all.
Under pressure from Dalit and other activists the bodies were later exhumed and the report of a second post-mortem is awaited.

Currently thirty-eight Kherlanji men are in jail as accused, but activists of the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers organization in the area, say that some of the main perpetrators are still free due to political pressure. The organization claims that there is an attempt to cover up the incident, and has filed a case in the Bombay High Court against the state police.

The Congress Party led Maharastra government has also been criticized for its tardy response to the atrocity, promising to handover the enquiry to the Central Bureau of Investigation only after violent demonstrations by Dalit and other activists broke out in several towns in the state. R R Patil , the Maharashtra Home Minister claimed that the protests were the work of ‘Naxalites’ and ‘Maoists’ as if putting such a label would in any way damage the credibility of the protestors.

If things have been sordid at the local and provincial levels they have not been any better nationally. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, busy attending summits proclaiming India as the ‘next super power’’ had little time for the woes of the Bhotmange family or even to publicly condemn the Kherlanji atrocity. The rising incidence of attacks on Dalits in Congress ruled states like Punjab, Haryana and now Maharashtra is an indicator of how cut off the party, which leads the UPA coalition, is from the grassroots of the country.

Other sections of the national elite, in particular the media, too have not come off looking pretty in all this. For instance, it was a full month before the national media picked up the story and that too in a marginal ‘yes, this too happened’ kind of way. Already accused of lacking any Dalit representation in its ranks and of promoting ‘higher’ caste interests the media needs to do some soul-searching to live up to its tall claim of reflecting the views of the Indian public in its entirety.

What has been heartening however is the upsurge of militant protests by Dalits and organizations sympathetic to them in many parts of Maharashtra. Though it was a bit slow to take off once it did start the demonstrations of thousands of people in town after town demanding justice for the Bhotmanges has been truly impressive.

The blame for the initial confusion and delay in responding to the atrocity should go to the timid and opportunist Dalit leadership both in Maharashtra and in the country. As a write-up in Tehelka, a weekly English magazine from New Delhi, on the incident pointed out on October 2, when lakhs of Buddhists from all over the world had converged in Nagpur to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Dhammakranti — Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism — the organisers kept quiet about the massacre lest the issue ‘go out of hand’ in such a large gathering.

As another editorial in a Maharastra based daily put it ‘if it would not have been the pressure from the grassroots and the churning among the dalit masses, the issue was largely forgotten. Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Kherlanji also represents the birth of a ‘new’ dalit movement which is once again refusing to play a ‘guest actor’ role in the polity and is equally fed up with the cravenness of the Dalit leaders.”

And it is here there lies the hope for the future, in a resurgence of the Dalit movement in the hands of a younger, more committed and intelligent leadership.

If ever the Dalit movement in India needed a Malcolm X of its own it is now.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Condemn Heinous, Brutal Killing of Dalit Family and Rape of Mother and Daughter at Khairlanji, Bhandara


Nagpur dt. 8-11-06, Press Release

Condemn Heinous, Brutal Killing of Dalit Family and Rape of Mother and Daughter at Khairlanji, Bhandara

Dear Friends,

On September 29, 2006, four members of a poor peasant dalit family in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district of northeast Maharashtra were brutally killed in planned mob violence. The women members, mother and daughter were raped, sexually assaulted. All the members were paraded naked and tortured and assaulted on their private parts. Only the father, who was away, working in the fields, escaped this horrible fate.

Since then, Bhandara and Nagpur have been shaken by militant agitations by dalit and women's organizations. On 1st November, some of us from Cavow participated in a huge rally in Bhandara city organized by dalit women's organizations only, under the banner of Samrudhha Boudh Mahila Sangathana,without any political party's presence. About 1000 women participated in his rally. Soon after that sporadic violence, like burning cycle tires, vehicles, including a police jeep and militant demonstrations all over the dalit residential areas and bustees in Nagpur broke out. There were even pamphlets distributed saying that no political parties are involved in this agitation.

This was a way of the poorer sections of the dalit community expressing their frustration with established political parties and their own leaders who only tail behind these parties. But of course, the police department is busy fishing for the invisible hand of left extremists supposedly behind this agitation rather than taking steps to satisfy the angered community*. In fact three activists have been detained since last night (including Ashu Saxena, a woman activist and Anil Borkar who is active with PDFI **Nagpur**).They were in no way connected with the violence and in fact Anil was away from the area attending the meeting of Kashipur Solidarity Committee on the day the incidents happened. Many others from the community, including women have been arrested. There have been severe lathicharge, house raid, arrests and beatings and other forms of state violence.*

Coming back to the incident, the most disturbing factor is that it happened for no major reason, indicating that the poison of casteism has been spread and revived in such a way that those who belong to the majority community, even if it the lower rungs, are confident that they will get away with any barbaric acts. The anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat and the absence of any significant punishment for the guilty have gone a long way in creating this confidence. Almost an entire village of OBCs and adivasis dragged out the Bhotmange family, assaulted, paraded naked, raped and killed them in full public view in broad daylight.

The Samata Sainik Dal has done a fact-finding and brought out a report demanding a judicial inquiry but it was only after Nagpur started burning that a judicial inquiry was ordered. According to the SSD report the incident was as follows: About 16 to 17 years ago, Bhayyalal Bhotmange (the sole survivor) bought some land in this village and built a small ramshackle
hut to reside here. The level of education in the village is very low but the children of this dalit family were going to college and Priyanka, the 19 year old daughter had studied up to 12th standard. This caused a lot of jealousy in the villagers. Another cause of resentment was that due to them buying and cultivating that plot of land the normal path by which bullock carts were driven was blocked and this caused resentment and dispute. There are only three dalit families in the village, two of which are very docile. The Bhotmanges were friends with the Gajbhiye brothers from a nearby village. These boys were very close to the police patil of their village and this gave the Bhotmanges some confidence.

For such petty reasons, that a dalit family is asserting itself, some of the other villagers first attacked Siddharth Gajbhiye and were arrested. According to a report brought out by an NGO from Pune, Manuski Advocay Centre, when the accused were released, the local BJP MLA instigated them that the dalit family would take revenge. Priyanka had already given a
statement as an eye-witness of the assault of Siddharth. So on 29th evening the villagers arrived in tractors with sticks, axes and other such weapons.When the mother Surekha called the Gajbhiyes for help using a cell phone, Siddharth was out. His brother Rajendra rushed to the police station and then cycled to the village.

Though the police station is 15 kms away from the village the police did not turn up. Activists in Bhandara told me that this was due to political pressure from the BJP MLA. When Rajendra reached the village he saw the attack taking place and due to fear hid behind a tree. Surekha Bhotmange (45), Priyanka (19), Sons Sudhir (18) and Roshan (17) were all victims to this barbaric brutality.

One of the sons was blind. Activists say that they were all paraded naked, the women raped, a stick was shoved into the girl's vagina, the brother was told to have sex with the sister and when he refused his genitals were crushed with sticks. All of them were attacked on their private parts by axes etc and finally killed.

The police IG, (Anti-Naxal Operations) Pankaj Gupta has denied that the women were raped but activists feel that the post-mortem report was managed by the police. Now about 44 of the villagers are in jail but no one is speaking up as a witness. On the contrary rumours are being spread that the family was selling liquor and into prostitution. In fact the media too irresponsibly reported that the family was attacked due to an illicit relationship between Surekha and Siddharth. As always, conservative morality, targeting the reputation of women is the psychological weapon of Hindutwa fascist forces to justify their heinous crimes. As if illicit relationships or selling liquor can be any justification for such an attack.

But when the state government bans bar-girls and the police round up couples from parks and beat them up, even the state is giving this message to the people. As for the media, they are too taken up with high society cases like Jessica Lal to spare any time or space for poor dalit women like Surekha and Priyanka.

But the dalit community and dalit women have fearlessly brought out the truth and even though the official bodies like the State Human Rights Commission, Women's Commission and political parties ignored this incident they came out on the streets to fight for justice. Such incidents are part of the growing fascist trends, where in the background of Globalization and
increasing hardships on the poor, the ruling classes are trying to unite the Hindu majority on an anti Muslim, anti Dalit banner. Those who fall prey to this, like the lower caste, peasant families of Khairlanji are themselves being made fools of, like pawns in the hands of the exploiters, who are using casteism and communalism to divide the people. Cavow calls upon all women's organizations to protest against the Kharlanji rape and murders and to support the struggle of the people against casteism.

1.Shoma Sen, Convenor of CAVOW

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