“In many cases of atrocities against Dalits, the caste angle is suppressed, even if the guilty are punished,” said Arun Ferreira, one of the seven members of the fact-finding team put together by the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights and the Republican Panthers Annihilation of Caste campaign. They plan to submit their report to the police and local government officials by the end of the week.
The police frequently underplay the casteist nature of such crimes, Ferreira said, in order to create the impression that caste-based oppression is no longer a major problem in India. Despite this, the number of crimes reported against Dalits remains significantly high across the country. Here are the figures for Maharashtra alone, both in terms of general crimes as well as crimes registered under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, where Nitin Aage was murdered, has seen at least 73 incidents of caste-based atrocities last year, according to the fact-finding report.
Aage was in class at the Rayat Shikshak Sansthan, a well-known school and junior college near Kharde village, when he was allegedly taken out by three Maratha men, beaten in the school premises, dragged across to the nearby highway road and eventually taken to an abandoned area where they smeared him with burning embers and hung him from a tree, to make it look like a suicide.
By this time, eye-witnesses had already informed Aage’s parents that their son had been beaten by Sachin Golekar, the brother of the upper-caste girl Aage had spoken to, and his friend Sheshrao Yeole. Later, Aage’s parents stated in their complaint that they had warned their son to stay away from the upper-caste girl to avoid any trouble.
Several witnesses in and around Aage’s school described to the fact-finding team how the beating had taken place. “But many of the young witnesses claim that the police has not recorded their statements,” said Shabana Khan, an advocate from Mumbai who was part of the team.
Even though the police have booked Sachin Golekar, Sheshrao Yeole and other suspects for murder as well as under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, the report suggests that there have been deliberate lapses in the investigation.
“For one, the police claim they were unable to take the statement of the girl Nitin spoke to soon after the crime, because that would hurt her family’s sentiments,” said Khan. However, a few days later, news emerged that the girl had attempted suicide by setting herself on fire and is now battling for life in a Solapur hospital.
“We want investigating teams to recognise the girl is also a victim and that her statement would be important for the case,” said Ferreira.
While the fact-finding team believes that it is impossible that the school authorities were unaware of the fact that a student was being beaten up on campus, the police have not recorded the statement of the school principal. The deputy superintendent of police cited “the principal’s due retirement and his inability to take pressure” as the reasons for not recording his statement, says the report.
“That school is well-known in the area because its committee members include NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] leaders like Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule,” said Shyam Sonar, a member of the Republican Panthers organisation. “The Golekars themselves are part of the administration of the institute, so it is not surprising that they are being protected.”
The Golekar family, according to the report, is closely associated with the NCP and enjoys a lot of “economic and socio-political clout” in Kharda village. While Nitin Aage’s father is a landless labourer in a stone-crushing mill, the Golekars own more than 500 acres of land and a number of businesses.
The fact-finding team has recommended that the school management, principal and teachers should be made co-accused in the crime, that the safety of the Aage family and the girl from the Golekar family should be ensured and that the Ahmednagar district superintendent of police should be suspended. “A proper investigation should be done to bring out the casteist intent of the offence so as to ensure proper applicability of the charged provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act,” the report says.
TEXT OF FACT-FINDING REPORT OF TEAM SET UP BY DALIT ATYACHAR VIRODHI KRUTI SAMITI (MUMBAI) TO INQUIRE INTO KILLING OF DALIT BOY AT KHARDA VILLAGE, AHMEDNAGAR, MAHARASHTRA
INQUIRY INTO THE HONOUR KILLING OF A 17 YEAR OLD DALIT BOY ON 28TH APRIL 2014 AT KHARDA, AHMEDNAGAR
Caste atrocities onDalits have always been a feature of our country. However the number of such incidents has been growing in recent times. This growing incidence, combined with the attempts by the dominant castes and the police and other state agencies to cover up the casteist nature of these atrocities, has made it all the more important for Civil liberty and Democratic rights organizations to rigorouslyinquire into the facts of such incidentsand bring out their true castenature. It is only by thus bringing out the facts that any attempts at suppression and cover-up can be exposed and that democratic consciousness among the broad masses against caste can be raised, thus making a contribution to the long-term goal of annihilation of caste.
As part of such an effort,a fact finding team was formedby the Dalit AtyacharVirodhiKrutiSamiti (Mumbai) on 4th May 2013 to inquire into the honour killing of one such dalit boy on 28th April in Kharda, Jamkhed tehsil, Ahmednagar district. The members of this team were: Subodh More (VidrohiSanskrutikChalwal), Jatin Desai (Journalist), Pratima Joshi (Journalist, Maharashtra Times), ShyamRanjankar (Independent Filmmaker), Shabana Khan (Advocate), Arun Ferreira (Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, CPDR) and Shyam Sonar (Republican Panthers JatiAntaachiChalwal).
The following terms of reference for inquiry were decided upon:
1. To understand the chain of events that led to the atrocity and the culpability of the people involved.
2. To expose any lapse on the part of the police machinery in investigating, arresting and properly charging the perpetrators of the atrocity.
3. To conduct a preliminary social inquiry into the cause of such an atrocity.
On the evening of 28th Aprilwhen the body of a 17 year old boy was brought in at the Government Hospital of Jamkhed for post mortem, a few Dalit activists happened to bepresent. The body was of Nitin Aage and it was immediately understood from his surname that he belonged to the Dalit community.On noticing burn marks on his body that had beenfound hanging from a tree, thedalit activists present immediately realized that this was another incident of caste atrocity. “We immediately demanded that the Police Officer register a case of murder” said ArunJadhav, Advocate and president of the LokAdhikarAndolan while speaking to the fact finding team. As the Police Inspector of Jamkhed was on leave, DheerajPatil, the DySP of Karjat-Jamkedh was the officer responsible. He initially intended to register it as a case of accidental death, awaiting the post mortem report. But the blatant burn marks on the body and pressure from the Dalit community, who had, by then, gathered in numbers, forced the DySP to register a murder case.ArunJadhav and Bapu Oval, another activist of LokAdhikarAndolanwhile speaking at length with the members of the fact finding team explained of how it was the pressure from the community, the video-recording the assault marks on the corpsethat they got done and their efforts in breaking the news out to the media that ultimately forced the administration to take cognizance of this offence as a murder and caste atrocity. Soon it became apparent that Nitin Aage was a victim of an honour killing. His alleged ‘crime’ was that he spoke to a girl of the dominant Maratha community.
Raju Aage, Nitin’s father,alongwith his wife-Rekha, two daughters and other members of the community,was sitting outside his tin hut when we met him. He spoke of how he was not an original resident of Kharda, but had settled here from Geetewadi, the adjoining village, almost 10 years ago. Having no land, he had to earn a living by crushing stones in a small electricity driven mill. Due to frequent load-shedding and electricity cuts he had to sometimes work till almost 2 am to earn a decent wage. He and his wife nevertheless managed to get all their children into school. Nitin was the eldest and he had just passed his 11 standard and was attending the extra classes held in the school and junior college run by the RayatShikshakSansthan.
The Aage’s tin dwelling (1 in Fig.) was the only one situated almost one and a half kilometer from the main settlement in Kharda. The Maharashtra State Highway No. 157, was infact the approach road for the Aage’s to the village and the RayatShikshan Mandal school (2 in Fig.) lay about a 500 meters to the right while on the way to the village.
On 28th April, Nitin had left for school for his extra classes. At around 11.45 am while Raju was crushing stones a villager informed him that his son was beaten up at the school. Raju arrived home by 12 noon and began inquires about Nitin’s whereabouts. A few villagers informed Raju and also his wife, who by then too was searching for Nitin, that their son was earlier beaten up by the Sachin Golekar and SheshraoYevle. Raju along with his brother searched in the shrubby area on the other side of the road opposite the school, assuming that Nitin would have wandered off in shame due to the beating and hence would need some persuasion to come back home. However it was only by 3.30- 4pm did Raju see the dead body of his son in the area of the Brick kiln (3 in Fig.) owned by the Golekars. Nitin’s body lay hung from a tree, with its torso and legs lyingslanting on their left sides along the ground. The noose by which he was strangulated was put together from rope and rags. The corpse was swollen from waist below, spine broken and at many places showed burn marks by embers from the kiln. Raju immediately got in touch with Sunil Salve, a local activist of the Republican Party of India who phoned the local police API by 4.45- 5pm.
By 1 am, on the 29thApril, after the body was examined in the Jamkedh Government Hospital, the DySP had registered the complaint as FIR no. I-71/2014 dated 29.04.2014 under sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence), 143,147, 148, 149 (charges relating to unlawful assembly and rioting) of the Indian Penal Code and under the Section 3(2)(5) of the Prevention of Atrocities Act and Section 7(1)(d) of the Protection of Civil Rights Act. In the FIR, the complainant, Raju Aage mentions how Nitin had told him two days earlier that a Golekar girl wanted to marry him, on which he told Nitin that he should no fall in these problems as they were poor. On inquires Rekha had come to know that the three Maratha boys, whose names are mentioned in the FIR, had mercilessly thrashed Nitin saying that he should not fall in love with a hindu girl. And after beating Nitin they had sent him to the KanohbaMandir. There after killing him they partly hung him from the branch of a lime tree, so as to hide the fact that he was murdered and make it out to be a suicide.
Immediately after the lodging of the complaint, the brother of the girl who Nitin is said to have spoken to, namely Sachin Golekar, (21) and his friend and relative SheshraoYeole (42),both Marathas were arrested and another minor Maratha boy had been detained.
Till the writing of this report, the police state that they have arrested a total of 13 youth,all relatives of the Golekarextended family. When the fact finding team members spoke to the local Dalit activists, they said that many of the accused persons have close associations with Rashtrawadi Congress Party ( NCP ).
Background of atrocities in AhmedNagar District
Much of Marathwada’s socio-political situation, especially regarding severe caste oppression has its influence over this region. Ahmednagar district is on the border of Marathwada. In this district many cases of atrocities against schedule caste and schedule tribes have taken place. In village LimpanGaon (DhangarWadi) TalukaSriGonda where 16 houses and 20-25 shanties of Schedule Castes, tribes and Nomadic tribes and members of religious minorities were burnt. In the same taluka in the village DhawalGaon, JanabaiBorge, a woman belonging to Matang community was burnt alive. One of the case happened around 2014 April end in ChibhaleGaon, in TalukaSrigonda where castiest community of the village banned and refuse to carry out cremation of one of the Dalit Woman of that village. This SrigondaTaluka was always happened to be a hometown of Mr. BabanRaoPachapute (Ex- Tribal Minister of Government of Maharashtra). In the same Ahemednagar district from Bhabhulgao, KarjatTaluka a Dalit youth called DipakKamble was severely beaten. Suman Kale a woman belonging to the Nomadic tribe was brutally sexually violated and killed. In ShegaonTaluka, village Paithan, Walekar a Dalit Youth was killed by cutting him into pieces. BabanMisal around 2008 a matang youth in JamkhedTaluka was killed by Castist.
A year back, on 1st January 2013three young men of Sonai village, TalukaNevasa, Ahmednagar, Sandip Raju Dhanwar, Sachin SomlalaDharu and Tilakaliase Rahul Raju Kandare, from the Mehtar community were drowned to death in a septic tank, by a mob of upper caste men. It too was an ‘honour’ killing. One of those killed was in love with the daughter of an upper caste farmer, who was among those accused. This matter was suppressed by the authorities for almost a month. This Sonai Village was well known by the name of Ex M.P. and senior leader YashawantraoGadakhPatil.
The leading Marathi daily, Sakal, in its Pune edition dated 12th December has pointed out that there have been 73 cases of atrocities have been registered in Ahmednagar District. District stands on3rdrank in the state in terms of atrocities against SC/STs.
Context of Kharda incident
Kharda lies in Ahmednagar District, near the district’s south-eastern border,neighboringOsmanabad and Beed. Due to scanty rainfall and poor irrigation this entire region faces severe drought conditions almost every year.Kharda is also the location of the historical fort where the Marathas under the Peshwa of Pune fought the Nizam of Hyderabad, in 1795. The Marathas won this final battle against the Nizam, chiefly due to the assistance of theRajput (khadarajputs) community. The fort (4 in Fig.) lies on the opposite side of the village as viewed from Nitin’s hut.
But what made theyouth of the extendedGolekar family of Khardaso confident that they could beat up a Dalit boy behind the RayatShikshanSansthan School, keep thrashing him in the school premises, keep thrashing him while crossing the village approach road i.e. the Maharashtra State Highway No. 157 (all done in broad daylight), take him to a brick kiln owned by the family, put embers in his lap and pants, killhim and then strangulate him so as to appear to be a case of suicide…?? Infact, from investigations and comments so far, it is not disputed by the Golekar family and many in the village that Nitin was beaten by them for talking with a Golekardaughter. The sister-in-law of the girl who Nitin spoke with and wife of Sachin Golekar, the first arrested accused, hadin an interview with a newsdaily blatantly stated,that her husband was only protecting his sister and questioned whether there was anything wrong in that? The answer to this seemingly indestructible confidence probably lies in the economic and socio-political clout the Golekar family holds. The extended Golekar family of Kharda owns more than 500 acres of land, 7-8 Grain shops, Cloth shops, a few brick kilns employing about 20-30 labourers each; Vijay Singh Golekar was the president of the Panchayat Samiti; another Golekaris part of the administration of the RayatShikshanSansthan School and Junior college. On the other hand, thedalitsofKhardaare mostly landless. Out of their total of around 80 to 100 households, only 10 such households own land,that too not more than 1 ½ acres each. Most men of these dalit households are engaged in manual labour like Raju Aage or perform in Band Parties i.e. mobile orchestra groups. Nevertheless, education among dalits was rising, surpassing many other communities and thus posing a real challenge to this socio-economic power structure.
The biggest problem in most cases of caste atrocities is the administration’s refusal to recognize them as such. This outlook inevitably leads to a shoddy investigation into proving charges under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. Though the inclusion of a charge in the FIR or chargesheet can be ensured by pressure from the dalit community, the task of proving it before the court depends heavily on the investigation authorities. Here, the Investigation Officer, DySPDheerajPatil, himself disbelieves that the murder was a case of honour killing.
While speaking to the fact finding team,DySPDheerajPatil evaded giving information claiming that it will harm the investigations. When asked whether the police have recorded the statement of the Golekargirl who spoke to Nitin Aage, the DySP declined to reply. After stressing that the security of the girl should be safeguarded as she could be pressurized & threatened by the family, the DySP assured her safety, but declined to disclose details. All this was being said by DySPPatil, even while he very well knew that the girl had attempted to commit suicide and was taken by her Golekars to the rural hospital at Barshi in the Solapur district, where she is battling for her life .
The interesting thing in this matter is that Central Agriculture Minister and NCP leader Mr. SharadPawar is the Chairperson of this school Institution , RayatShikshanSanstha and another NCP leader and deputy Chief Minister, Mr. AjitPawar and NCP Rajya Sabha MP, Mrs. SupriyaSule,both are the committee members of this institute. Because of these high profile political forces involved with the school, Police authorities are under pressure and hesitated from registering complaint against the school management. Because of the Home Minister belonging to Rashtrawadi Party, the Police are even more under pressure from lodging the complaint. It is a shameful fact that all of these High profile ministers have deliberately chosen to stay silent on this issue. Neither have they even mentioned it anywhere, nor have they expressed their regret or condolences on the same. Even after such a brutal murder having been taken place in the school premises and this news widely circulated, still there has been no action against the school principal and teachers from the School Institution authorities. This shows school institution is indirectly supporting the culprits.
In the above context, when fact finding team member asked why had a statement of the President of the school not been recorded considering his responsibility given that the acts were done on school premises, the DySP spoke of the principal’s due retirement and inability to take the pressure. Apparently the principal had fainted when questioned by local dalit activists about why he gave a false interview to a TV channel claiming that Nitin Aage was not attending classes.
Raju Aage’s narration summarizes the now latent caste divide in the village well: “Although people from other communities have come to condole with me, none have come forward to give witness. There seems to be calm right now, but I fear I will be bumped off from behind and it will be made to look as an accident. I fear for myself and my two daughters.”
Three cabinet ministers of Ahmednagar district, BalasahebThorat, RadhakrisnaVikhePatil and Madhukar Rao Pichad did not give any immediate due attention to the issues. Apart from them, State leaders of Maharashtra NavnirmanSena( MNS ), ShiveSena, BJP, none of the leaders of opposition parties have not even visited immediately , nor did they protest such atrocity. And also, shamefully, well known social activist, Anna Hazare who himself belongs to Ahmednagar district also did not express his dissent or utter a single word about these atrocities. After pressure created by Media, very few of them visited the victim’s family so as to save their faces.
For political benefits and in view of approaching state assembly elections in October, this year hasseen leaders from the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP), that has a significant base among the Marathas trying to mollify the dalit community. Numerous leaders have visited the Aage family andState Tribal Affairs Minister MadhukarPichadof the NCP has even declared a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh, Rs. 5 lakh from the State government and Rs. 5 lakh from the party, as assistance for the Aage family. Another NCP leader and State Home Minister RR Patilhavealso promised to try the case in a fast track court.
After our considered investigation, we as members of the fact finding team demand the following:
1. A proper investigation should be done to bring outthe casteist intent of the offence so as to ensure proper applicability of the charged provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
2. School management, school principal and school teacher should be made the co-accusedunder Atrocity Act Provision in this case for trying to suppress the matter.
3. If there are manipulations with Post Mortem report, then the concerned Medical officers should be made co-accused under atrocity act.
4. In Kharda village, a special GramSabha under the Chairmanship of District’s Guardian Minister should be called. In this meeting complete security should be assured to the victim’s family and such a resolution should be passed for future. Further, in future if anything happens to the Aagefamily, who is the victim, then the persons associated to the culprit should be held responsible
5. The girl belonging to the Golekar family too is a victim of this honour killing and hence it is the state’s responsibility to ensure her safety.
6. On moral grounds, Nagar district’s SP should be immediately suspended for the increasing instances of atrocities during his tenure.
7. Special Fast Track court should take up this case outside Nagar district, possibly in Aurangabad or Nasik district.
8. Nagar district should be declared as the atrocity affected district.
9. The Nodal officer appointed under Atrocity act has failed to perform his duties; hence he should be immediately suspended from his post.
10. On moral grounds, Home Minster R. R. Patil should immediately resign for the increasing instances of atrocities during his tenure.
Fact Finding team members:
1. Subodh More ( 0932205263 ) [email protected]
2. Jatin Desai ( 09869077718 ) [email protected]
3. Pratima Joshi ( 9821263002 ) [email protected]
4. Arun Ferreira ( 9769287956 ) [email protected]
5. Advocate Shabana ( 9029409374 ) [email protected]
6. AritroBhattacharjee ( 9222178391) [email protected]
7. ShyamRanjankar ( 09869052318 ) [email protected]
8. Shyam Sonar (08080829499 )[email protected]