Special Correspondent

“Capital punishment given for first time to killers of Dalits”

Verdict comes five days before the second anniversary of the killings

Subject to confirmation by HC: defence lawyer

MUMBAI: In a historic verdict on Wednesday, the ad hoc sessions court in Bhandara handed down the death sentence to six persons in the Khairlanji massacre case. Two others held guilty were given life imprisonment.

On September 15, sessions judge S.S. Das convicted eight of the 11 accused of murder, rioting with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly and suppression of evidence, while acquitting the other three of all charges.

The court found no evidence under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which refers to assault or criminal force with intent to outrage the modesty of a woman.

While Gopal Binjewar and Shishupal Dhande were given life imprisonment, Sakru Binjewar, Shatrughna Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Ramu Dhande, Jagdish Mandlekar and Prabhakar Mandlekar were sentenced to death.

Welcoming the verdict, Ramdas Athavale, Republican Party of India (Athavale), said it was the first time in the country that six persons were given the death sentence in a case of murder of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes.

Speedy trial

Activist and journalist Milind Fulzale from Yavatmal told The Hindu that in the cases of the Gavai brothers, who had their eyes gouged out in the 1970s; in the case of the Thombre brothers, who were killed at Kalamb in Yavatmal in 1997 during Holi; or in the case of Pochiram Kamble, an activist burnt alive during the struggle to rename the Marathwada University, nothing happened. Though cases were filed, either the matter was suppressed or some light sentence handed down. This was the first time the court conducted a speedy trial and awarded the death penalty, he said.

The verdict comes five days before the second anniversary of the Khairlanji killings, which occurred on September 29, 2006. The crime sent shock waves across the State. Four members of the family of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange — his wife Surekha, daughter Priyanka and sons Roshan and Sudhir — were killed near their house at Khairlanji by a mob from the village.

Bhaiyyalal satisfied

Bhaiyyalal expressed satisfaction with the sentence. Soon after the incident, he demanded that all the culprits be hanged. After the conviction, he expressed disappointment that three people were acquitted. He demanded that the CBI gather fresh evidence against those acquitted and also against the 35 people discharged from the case earlier and proceed against them. If the CBI did not do this, he said, he would move the Bombay High Court to demand a fresh investigation against the three.

Ujjwal Nikam, special public prosecutor, had demanded death sentence for all eight accused, saying this was the rarest of rare cases and brutal murder diabolically conceived. He told The Hindu that the judgment was a historic one and would send a strong message to society and act as a deterrent.

Neeraj Khandewale, defence lawyer, said the death sentence was subject to confirmation by the High Court. “Actually this is not the rarest of rare cases but unfortunately the court has awarded the death sentence. We are yet to get copies of the judgment and we will decide on the question of appealing in the High Court after that.”

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