Meena Menon

They say the Government's decision earlier this week to transfer case to the CBI has come too late

  • Two policemen booked as co-accused
  • Bhandara SP acknowledges laxity in investigation

    BHANDARA: Despite the Maharashtra Government's decision to hand over the Khairlanji case to the CBI earlier this week, Dalit leaders and activists say the Government's reaction is too late.

    The matter was being investigated by the CID since November 7 and only two days back did the State decide to include two policemen as co-accused in the case.

    The incident occurred on September 29 around 6.00 p.m. - 7.30 p.m. at Khairlanji village in Mohadi taluka of Bhandara district. When Bhaiyalal Bhotmange saw the mob attacking his family, he fled tohis relative Siddharth Gajbhiye's house in the nearby village of Dhusala and called the police station at Andhalgaon. Before this, Bhaiyalal's wife Surekha, who was later killed, had already alerted relatives at Varti village and also informed Siddharth Gajbhiye's brother Rajendra who too had called the police.

    No entry

    Bhandara superintendent of police Suresh Sagar acknowledged that the local police had been lax in investigating the case. Though the head constable Baban Meshram went to the village at 8.30 p.m. on September 29 and found no one from the Bhotmange family, the matter was not investigated. He should have registered a suo motu offence and he and other officers should have searched all night for the missing people. There was not even a station diary entry made in this respect, he pointed out.

    Seventeen-year-old Priyanka Bhotmange's body was found on the morning of September 30 in the canal, about 10-12 km away from Khairlanji. The matter was entered in the accident death register. In the meanwhile, Bhaiyalal had reported to the police that his family was missing.

    Negligence in duty

    The First Information Report was lodged only on the night of September 30. The next morning, following a police search, the other three bodies were found in the canal. The two head constables, Baban Meshram and Shahare, and police sub inspector Siddheshwar Bharne from the Andhalgaon police station, and deputy superintendent of police V. H. Susatkar have all been suspended for negligence. Now, Meshram has been arrested under the Atrocities Act for negligence in duty, while Bharne has been held on other charges.

    The first arrest was made on October 1 at 6.30 a.m. While most of the accused are from Khairlanji itself, there are a few from other villages. Another lot were arrested the next day. While various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Section 302 and the Atrocities Act have been applied to the 44 accused, there are no charges of rape or conspiracy as yet. The police demanded that the bodies of the two women be exhumed as rape was suspected but nothing conclusive has emerged as yet.

    Apart from the police, medical officers who performed the first post mortem on the four bodies, especially those of the two women, have also been accused of criminal negligence.

    K. D. Ramteke, Bhandara district Civil Surgeon told The Hindu that the services of Avinash Shende, the medical officer at the rural hospital Mohadi who had conducted the first post mortem on the four bodies had been terminated.

    "There were so many technical lacunae in the post mortem and I personally felt the reports were not adequate. The officers did not send me the post mortem reports till I asked for them a fortnight later," he said. Manisha Banthe, the medical officer in charge of the Mohadi rural hospital has also been suspended.

    Dr. Shende did not preserve the viscera for a chemical analysis or the uterus in the case of the two women, which is done routinely. Worse still, no vaginal swabs were taken. Their clothes too were not sealed and handed over to the police.

    Rape not proved

    As a result, the first post mortem did not prove rape and only pointed to severe multiple injuries inflicted on all four victims. After the first report, Bhaiyalal and other social organisations appealed to the police to exhume the bodies and conduct a second examination. The sub-divisional magistrate ordered the bodies of the two women to be exhumed on October 4 and the next day three medical officers conducted a second post mortem. Here the procedures were followed properly but the bodies were too badly decomposed by then.

    Ironically, on October 13, a 10-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Bhandara and her naked body was found on October 15. The police ordered a post mortem and asked the medical officers to examine the possibility of rape. In the Khairlanji case, no such instructions came from the police.

    The incident has created a storm of protest all over the state and the negligence in investigation is a key issue. In Bhandara, 33 cases have been booked under the Atrocities Act this year, and about 16 cases were filed after the Khairlanji incident. Police recorded 101 cases under the Atrocities Act in the six districts of Nagpur (Rural), Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondia, Gadchiroli and Wardha in 2005. This year for the same region, 106 cases have already been lodged.

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