Yogesh Pawar, DNA, May 8

Police file cross-complaint claiming Kamble and his bed-ridden octogenarian father were caught attempting a dacoity

Is it wrong to spare a thought for your livestock’s water needs at a time when the mercury is soaring at 45 degree Celsius? Around 500 kms from MumbaiDalitsarpanch Datta Haribhau Kamble, 48, of Umra village in Parbhani district, who is battling for life after being set upon and attacked by upper-caste Marathas, has learnt this the hard way.

“My father was on his usual morning walk on Thursday when he noticed some members of the upper-caste Maratha community diverting water from a tank meant for cattle to their fields. Scorching summer sun demands that the cattle are provided with enough drinking water. When he told them to stop taking away water meant for cattle, they became agitated and assaulted him with spades and an axe,” Kamble’s 19-year-old son Sanjay told dna.

The attack has led to an outrage in the entire rain-shadow region of Marathwada. Samajik Nyay Andolan (SNA), a Dalit rights organisation helped the family shift Kamble to an ICU in a private facility as the local civil hospital was ill-equipped to take care of the serious gash on the head caused by the axe blow. His wife was in tears while speaking to this reporter.

“Upper caste Marathas of Kolhe clan always wanted to dominate over us. In 2011, when the sarpanch post in our village became a reserved seat, community elders picked my husband as candidate; but ever since, our family members, including children, have been facing taunts, barbs and insults. I feared for his safety and now my fears have come true.”

Doctors monitoring Kamble’s vitals admit he is in a very critical condition. “We will only be able to say whether he will make it after another 24 hours of observation.”

Though local police have registered an FIR against the accused five – Hanumant Kolhe, Dayanand Kolhe, Mahadu Kolhe, Bhimrao Kolhe, Manikrao Kolhe – under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 along with several other sections of the IPC for the life-threatening assault, none of them have been arrested or even detained.

There was not a trace of remorse when dna reached out to Mahadu Kolhe, one of those involved in the attack. Instead he said, “Until two generations ago these Matangs didn’t dare to look us in the eye and talk. Today why should we be dictated on how much water to use and in what all ways? We are the ruling class… for generations, we have only given orders. Kamble was asking for trouble with his sarpanch post, and he got it.”

Interestingly, the police have registered a cross-complaint by the accused which claims Kamble and his bed-ridden octogenarian father Haribhau were attacked for attempting a dacoity. “Why would a sarpanch attempt a dacoity in his own village at 7.30 am?” asked Ganpat Bhise of SNA who added, “The police should at least apply their mind on whether it’s possible for a bed-ridden old man to carry out a dacoity.” According to him, the Kolhe family has been terrorising Dalits in the village to withdraw the complaint. “They have said that other Dalit families will have to pay the price if any of their family members is picked up by the police.”

Additional Superintendent of Police Niyati Thaker, speaking to dna, admitted that they have found political rivalry at the root of the problem, but was not able to give a reply on why the accused Marathas were not arrested. “We have registered FIRs based on complaints from both sides. Obviously one side is lying. We will establish that and take action accordingly,” she said.

Repeated attempts at reaching Parbhani guardian minister Diwakar Roate of the Shiv Senafor comment drew a blank.