On Wednesday, a fast track court sentenced six people to death and two more to life imprisonment in the Khairlanji lynching case. Judge S.S. Das delivered the sentence in a packed courtroom.
On September 15, a Sessions Court in Bhandara had held the eight accused guilty of lynching four members of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji village on September 29, 2006.
Death was awarded to Sakru Binjewar, Shatrughan Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Ramu Dhande and Jagdish Mandlekar while life imprisonment was given to Gopal Binjewar and Shishupal Dhande.
The guilty were part of a mob of angry villagers that lynched Surekha Bhotmange, her daughter Priyanka and sons Sudhir and Roshan. The villagers had attacked the family for providing information about them to the police in a dispute they had with another villager.
Surekha’s husband, Bhaiyyalal, had managed to escape and filed a police complaint.
The courtroom was bursting at the seams with activists, family members, mediapersons and lawyers. As the judge started reading out the sentences, everyone stood up. The pronouncement of the sentence drew no immediate reaction. No expression of joy from Bhotmange and no sorrow from the families of the guilty.
But as people started filing out, and as news sank in, celebrations began. Bhotmange, flanked by Dalit leaders and politicians, stepped out flashing the victory sign.
Later, Bhotmange said he intended to take the matter to high court. “I appeal to the government and the CBI to gather more evidence against the accused who have been let off,” he said.
He said he would visit Khairlanji on September 29, the second death anniversary of his family. “I will attend a special function for my family.”
While many Dalit activists shouted victory slogans in Bhandara, there were small dance processions in
Nagpur, where Dalits garlanded
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue. There were similar celebrations in Mumbai where Dalit leaders distributed sweets and burst firecrackers hailing the sentence.
MLA and Dalit leader Nitin Raut said it was a victory. “But we would have been thoroughly satisfied had all been awarded death sentence.”
Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam described the judgment as “historical” and “unprecedented”.
Defence lawyers Sudeep Jaiswal and Neeraj Khandewale, who had sought lifers for the accused, were visibly disturbed. Khandewale said he did not expect this sentence after the court quashed the atrocity act and molestation charges and acquitted three.