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Death sentences commuted for 6 in Khairlanji massacre
NAGPUR, JUL 14 (IANS):
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Published on 14 Jul. 2010 11:34 PM IST
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The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court Wednesday commuted the death sentences of six people accused of massacring a Dalit family in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji village in 2006 to prison terms of 25 years each, evoking sharp reactions from Dalit groups.
A division bench of Justices A.P. Lawande and R.C. Chauhan turned down a plea by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) challenging the lower court’s ruling giving life to two of the eight accused while sentencing to death six others. Ruling that the case did not fall in the “rarest of rare” category, the bench gave 25 years imprisonment to all the eight accused.
“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.
The CBI had pleaded for death penalties for all the accused. It also asked the high court to charge them under the stringent SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1987.
Maharashtra Minister of State for Home Ramesh Bagwe said in the assembly that the government would appeal against the judgement.
Senior CBI counsel Ejaz Khan told IANS: “Both the lower court and the high court have accepted our evidence on record and even the punishment has been given to all the accused. The quantum of punishment is the privilege of the high court.”
A district court in 2008 gave death to Shatrughana Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Ramu Dhande, Sakru Binjewar, Jagdish Mandlekar and Prabhkar Mandlekar. Two others, Shishupal Dhande and Gopal Binjewar, were given life and three others were acquitted.
On Sep 29, 2006, a group of villagers attacked the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district.
They dragged out Surekha Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, 44, her sons Roshan, 23, Sudhir, 21, and daughter Priyanka, 18. The family was assaulted, paraded naked in the village, sexually abused with sticks and then hacked o death. The women were gangraped.
The attackers mutilated the private parts of the two sons - all in full public view of many villagers.
Surekha’s husband, Bhaiyyalal, who had gone to work in the fields, witnessed the incident hiding in a nearby hut. He managed to escape the mob brutality.
A few days before the incident - which led to widespread Dalit protests all over Maharashtra - Surekha had lodged a police complaint in a land dispute against some villagers. The attacks were a revenge for Surekha’s daring.
Defence lawyer Neeraj Khandewale, who represented all the accused of Dhande clan, contended that “the prosecution case was full of loopholes, based on lies, false witnesses and fabricated evidences”.
The high court ruling came after the case was tried on a day-to-day basis for over 30 days in March-April.
Meanwhile, Dalit leaders reacted sharply to the court’s decision. 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 at the earliest.”
Jogendra Kawade, president of the People’s Republican Party, described the verdict as “unfortunate”.
Kawade said that the verdict will only encourage people to commit more atrocities on Dalits. Kawade had resigned as a member of the legislative council in December 2006 to protest the murders.

 
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