He lives to see justice done

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A policeman points to the house of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange.
A policeman points to the house of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange.

Meena Menon

All Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, the Dalit whose family members were killed by some of his fellow villagers in Khairlanji in Maharashtra on September 29, wants is the culprits brought to book.

POLICE PICKETS are everywhere on the approach road to Khairlanji in Maharashtra's Bhandara district. In the village itself, the ramshackle house where Bhaiyalal Bhotmange and his family once lived has been sealed off. Armed police keep watch over it.

Bhaiyalal's thatched hut looks like a loose collection of bricks piled one on top of the other. The black door is locked now. All this security means nothing to 48-year-old Bhaiyalal, a partial witness to his entire family being bludgeoned to death by a mob from his village on September 29. The bodies were loaded on to a bullock cart and dumped in a canal near the village. While the body of his 17-year-old daughter Priyanka was found the next day, the bodies of his wife and two sons were found on October 1. The incident sparked violent protests in various parts of the State and the Government finally handed over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Bhaiyalal, the lone survivor, is a tired man. He now lives with relatives in Varti near Bhandara. Hounded by the media and politicians, he finally took refuge at the Bhandara civil hospital last Sunday where he was admitted for a couple of days. Doctors say he could be suffering from shock and trauma. Various well-meaning activists almost always surround him. "I am not taking any money from the government and I don't want the job it is offering me," Bhaiyalal told The Hindu after being discharged from hospital. "What I want is quick justice. I want the accused to be hanged. Will the lakhs of rupees I am being offered bring back the dead?" Now it had all become political, he admitted.

On September 29, returning home from a day's work in his field, Bhaiyalal saw a mob going towards his house. He saw people dragging out his wife, Surekha, 40, two sons, Sudhir, 21, who is partially blind, and Roshan, 19, and daughter Priyanka. Terrified, he ran away and tried to get help. He has named several people he saw that evening. The mob allegedly stripped the victims, and assaulted them with axes and other weapons and killed them. The post-mortem report says they died of head injuries. While 44 people, including two women, have been arrested, Bhaiyalal feels some of the main people are still at large. Seeing the condition of the bodies of the women, Bhaiyalal suspected rape. Unhappy with the first post-mortem, which did not follow due procedure, he asked for a second one. This too did not establish sexual assault.

History of discrimination

There is a history of discrimination in this village. About 100 km from Nagpur, Khairlanji has about 125 houses; a majority of the residents belong to the OBCs, mostly from the Kunbi and Teli communities. One of the three Dalit families in the village, the Bhotmanges, came to this village from Ambagad in the Tumsar taluka about 16-17 years ago. Bhaiyalal does not have a legitimate housing plot and lives in a single room hut. There is no electricity either. He owned five acres of land. A dispute arose over it when villagers wanted a road to go through it. "I agreed to this and the problem was solved two years ago," he said. However, he said an incident on September 3 when a relative of his wife, Siddharth Gajbhiye, was attacked created tension. Gajbhiye, a police patil from nearby Dhusala, was a frequent visitor to the Bhotmange house and a well-wisher. Bhaiyalal said Siddharth was helping him and other villagers resented this.

Surekha and Priyanka were witnesses to this attack and on September 29, 12 persons from Khairlanji were arrested in connection with the case. As only a case of assault was registered, they got out on bail. That evening, they went looking for Gajbhiye. As he was away, they turned their anger on the Bhotmange family, according to the police.

The villagers have always resented the fact that the Bhotmange children were educated. Priyanka was on the merit list in the tenth standard examinations two years ago. "She had dreams of joining the police," said Bhaiyalal. Roshan was also studying in college. Villagers of Khairlanji are tight-lipped. Sarpanch Upasrao Khandate claimed he was not there on September 29. However, he said there was a fight between Gajbhiye and another villager, Binjewar, on September 3 as a result of which Gajbhiye was admitted to hospital. He claims he was not aware of the attack on the Bhotmange family till late in the night when he called the police.

Panchshila Shende, an anganwadi worker, says she was at home that day and did hear shouts but never thought things could be so bad. She heard people running around but heard no women shouting. "Maybe their mouths were closed," she said. She said Bhaiyalal worked hard and his children were studious. "He was a simple man and that's why they did this to him," she said. Now she and her brother, Durvas Khobragade, are afraid. "Yes, there is so much police but they are not here for our security."

Horrifying as the events of September 29 were, what followed was even worse. The lack of response from the police who were informed when the massacre was taking place and the inept handling of the post-mortem of the four persons who were killed have resulted in four policemen and a medical officer being suspended, and another being dismissed.

Activists are now demanding that criminal proceedings be initiated against them for negligence of duty.



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