Six men to hang for Khairlanji massacre, victims’ kin hails verdict (Second Lead)

September 24th, 2008 - 9:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhandara (Maharashtra), Sep 24 (IANS) In a landmark ruling, the trial court here slapped death sentence on six of the eight convicts in the two-year old multiple murder case in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji village and sentenced two others to life imprisonment.Reading out the operative part of the keenly awaited judgment that generated intense speculation, the first ad-hoc Sessions Judge S.S. Dass described the killings of four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji village as a “fiendish act” calling for nothing less than death sentence.

After giving his verdict Sep 15 on the slaughter of the wife and three children of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, an humble Dalit farmer of Khairlanji of Bhandara district, by a frenzied mob on his house Sep 29, 2006, the judge heard arguments on the quantum of sentence.

While the judge convicted eight of the eleven persons - accused for murder, rioting, causing removal of evidence and unlawful assembly - and acquitted three others for lack of evidence, he dropped the vital charges of atrocity and conspiracy. The mob attack was not inspired by caste animosity, he said.

The six who were awarded death setnece are: Sakru Mahagu Binjewar, Shatrughan Issam Dhande, Vishwanath Hagru Dhande, Ramu Mangru Dhande, Jagdish Ratan Mandlekar and Prabhakar Jaswant Mandlekar.

The two who will spend the rest of their lives in jail are Shishupal Vishwanath Dhande and Gopal Sakru Binjewar.

All the eight murder convicts, as also the three acquitted, namely Purushottam Titirmare, Mahipal Dhande and Dharampal Dhande, belong to the ‘Other Backward Castes’.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which probed the case, filed charge-sheet only against 11 of the original 47 accused and discharged 36.

Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam and legislator Nitin Raut joined Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange in expressing satisfaction over the judgment.

Bhaiyyalal, who lost his wife Surekha besides his children Priyanka, Sudhir and Roshan in the gory attack, however, requested to the government to go in appeal for securing conviction of the three accused acquitted by the trial court.

Defence lawyers Neeraj Khandewale and Sudip Jaiswal on the other hand said they would file an appeal in the high court against the death sentence on the grounds that it was not the rarest of rare cases.

Initially treated as gory fallout of a village feud, the carnage was later seen as a blatant case of atrocity against a Dalit family by caste Hindus, giving rise to widespread public outcry and inviting nationwide media attention.

With the case fast turning into a volatile political issue, the state government transferred its investigations from the local police to the state Criminal Investigation Department and then to the CBI.

In a damage control exercise following violent protests in many parts of the state, the government also suspended four police officers and three medical officers for dereliction of duty, and offered Bhaiyyalal Rs.1.2 million as compensation, a house and employment.

After taking charge of investigations, the CBI filed charge-sheet against 11 of 46 accused in the trial court Dec 27, 2006, but had a tough time marshalling clinching evidence.

That was because there were virtually no witnesses to the dusk-time carnage, except Bhaiyyalal who too fled the scene seeing the oncoming mob. He returned the next day morning.

The immediate provocation for the savage mob attack was said to be the evidence given by Surekha and Priyanka against 15 of the villagers in a case of beating up of their kin and well-wisher Siddharth Gajbhiye a fortnight earlier.

A former police chief of a neighbouring village and a moneyed muscleman, Siddharth was an object of hatred of many villagers. Some of them, who worked on his farm, complained that he did not pay them their wages and would often bully them around.

The relationship between Bhotmanges - one of only three Dalit families in the village of 175 houses - and the rest of the villagers was reportedly strained because of their proximity to Siddharth and because they did not acquiesce in the majority dominance.

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