The ghosts of the past continue to haunt the Ghadges, a Dalit family, of Kulakajai village in Maharashtra’s Satara district. They are still threatened and beaten up by caste Hindus.
The police have refused to invoke the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the accused, claiming that the victims did not ask for it.
On January 22, as part of the family tradition, newly wed Vaibhav Diwakar Ghadge, a postgraduate from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and his wife Shalini (name changed), an M.Com student, went to the Sitamai temple, three km from their village in Man tehsil. Three persons on a motorbike followed them to the temple. One of them was Navnath Kapse, an accused in the case of murder of Vaibhav’s uncle Madhukar and nephew of the local Congress MLA, Jaykumar Gore. Vaibhav is the complainant and only eyewitness in the case.
(On April 26, 2007, Madhukar was brutally murdered by 12 caste Hindu villagers for digging a well on his field. Three years ago, the lower court at Satara acquitted all the accused for lack of evidence. In 2010, the Bombay High Court admitted the appeal of the Ghadge family and is expected to give its ruling soon.)
Navnath and two other unidentified persons attacked the couple at an isolated spot near the temple. At first, Vaibhav was hit with a stone on the head. He fell down unconscious. The one who was holding Shalini demanded that she hand over her jewels and threatened to kill Vaibhav, if she refused. After robbing them, the assailants threw Vaibhav and his wife into a valley, and left them for dead. After some time, Shalini climbed up the hill and approached the nearby hamlet. She rescued her husband with the help of the villagers. Both are being treated at the Yashwant Neurological and Trauma Centre at Satara and said to be out of danger.
The incident occurred in the home district of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and in the constituency of the Congress MLA.“We are a joint family. After the murder of my father, our family didn’t bow to [the pressure from] the caste Hindus… We continued tilling our land. Though we are Dalits, ours is the most educated family in the village. All my cousins are postgraduates. We consistently pursued our fight for justice, and this does not seem to have gone down well with these people. They want us to withdraw that [murder] case,” said Tushar Ghadge, son of Madhukar and cousin of Vaibhav, who is also a postgraduate from the TISS.
Meanwhile, the police have arrested Navnath on robbery charges. “The accused did not make any casteist remark. How can we book them under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act? The victims did not ask us to charge them under the Act,” said Shahid Pathan, investigating officer of the Dahiwadi station.
But Tushar told The Hindu that the police ‘under pressure from the local MLA’ refused to invoke the Act. “They should also have slapped attempt-to-murder charges. The robbery charge will set them free in a few days,” he said. Navnath has been remanded in police custody till Tuesday. Despite repeated phone calls to Mr. Gore, he was unavailable for comments.
The Ghadge family owns around three acres. Tushar alleged that the caste Hindu families went all out to torture his family and to prevent their farming activity. “They destroyed new machines we brought, began disputing our purchase of new land, threatened us, and once [we] even came to blows.”