The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court Wednesday commuted the death sentences of six people accused in the massacre of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in 2006 and gave them life imprisonment of 25 years each.
The much awaited verdict was given by a division bench comprising Justices A.P. Lawande and R.C. Chauhan that 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 people.
Ruling that the case did not fall in the “rarest of rare” category, a division 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.
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.
The Bhandara 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 imprisonment and three acquitted.
Defence lawyer Neeraj Khandewale, who represented all the accused members of Dhande clan in the high court, 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 during March-April this year.
The horrific incident unfolded on the evening of Sep 29, 2006, when a group of villagers descended on the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district.
They dragged out Surekha Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, 44, her sons Roshan, 23, Sudhir, 21 and daughter Priyanka, 18, assaulted them brutally, paraded them naked in the village, sexually abused them with sticks and then hacked them to death. The women were gangraped.
The attackers mutilated the private parts of the two sons – all this in full public view of many other villagers.
Surekha’s husband, Bhaiyyalal, who had gone to work in the fields also witnessed the incident while 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 Bhotmange had lodged a police complaint in a land dispute against some villagers. The attacks on the Bhotmanges were a revenge for Surekha’s daring.