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December 9, 2006 / indian

Death sentences commuted in Dalit murders

The Bombay High Court yesterday commuted death sentences handed down to six people for the grisly murders of a Dalit family, a case that sparked violent protests.

The court reduced the sentences to life terms of 25 years.

The six were among a group who attacked and killed the family – a woman, her daughter and two sons – over a land dispute in Khairlanji, a village near Nagpur, 900km northeast of Mumbai in 2006.

The two sons were mutilated and the woman repeatedly raped before their bodies were dumped in a canal.

The case sparked anger and violent protests because of the glacial pace in prosecuting and convicting those responsible.

The Bhandara district court in 2008 sentenced to death Shatrughana Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Ramu Dhande, Sakru Binjewar, Jagdish Mandlekar and Prabhkar Mandlekar.

Two others, Shishupal Dhande and Gopal Binjewar, were given life imprisonment and three acquitted.

Defence lawyer Neeraj Khandewale, who represented all the accused members of the Dhande clan in the high court, said “the prosecution case was full of loopholes, based on lies, false witnesses and fabricated evidences.”

“I have not been given justice in the tragic matter,” Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, who saw his wife, daughter and two sons being tortured and killed, told reporters shortly after the verdict.

Dalit leaders reacted sharply, saying it was a failure on the part of the government.

Prakash Ambedkar, president of the Bahujan Maha Sangh, said the court had not even considered the cruelty committed against the victims. “We will request the Maharashtra government to file an appeal in the Supreme Court,” he said.

Jogendra Kawade, president of the People’s Republican Party, described the verdict as “unfortunate”, asking: “Has our law system also started suffering from caste based politics?”

“I also fail to understand why the charges of atrocities were dropped in this case. It has to be noted that this is not just a murder case. The verdict is a failure on the part of the government,” he added.

Kawade said the verdict will only encourage people to commit more such atrocities on Dalits. Kawade had resigned as a member of the legislative council in December 2006 as a part of the protest against the murder of the Dalits.

Dalit activists have long argued that discrimination against members of their community, which numbers around 165mn, means they have no proper recourse to justice.

Most Dalits live in poverty in rural areas and do menial, supposedly “unclean,” jobs like collecting garbage and cleaning latrines.

Death sentences are often commuted to life terms in India which has not carried out an execution since 2004 and only two since 1998.


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