Gautam (name changed) is a police constable in Satara’s Man taluka, but even he could not save his brother-in-law Madhukar Ghatge.
Ghatge (48), a Dalit farmer and a father of three, retired from the Railways a few years ago and moved home from Mumbai to farm on his family’s 5-acre plot here. He was murdered last week by upper-caste villagers who did not want him to dig a well on his own property.
It would have been the first well in Kulakjai village on land owned by a Dalit.
The police said Ghatge was hacked so violently that even the earth-moving machine he was using at the time was damaged.
‘They left him to die’
“They were armed with axes and iron rods. They attacked him and left him to bleed to death,” said Ghatge’s 21-year-old son Tushar, a law student at a local college.
Ten people have been arrested and charged under the Atrocities Act and special police teams deployed. “They said his well would mean less water for the common well in the village,” said Tushar.
Ghatge tried to reason, saying he had acquired permission from the zilla parishad and panchayat samiti and had promised to share the water in times of scarcity, but the crowd grew menacing.
The field where Ghatge was digging his well is about 5 km away from the ‘Harijan basti (settlement)’ where the village’s lower castes live.
As word of Ghatge being hacked to death last week at around 9 pm spread, his son Tushar told his mother and two younger sisters to bolt the doors and windows and dashed to the field.
“He was lying in a pool of blood,” he told HT. “No one came forward to help.” Tushar carried his father to the nearest hospital 2 km away. He died on the way.
Ten people were arrested and two others listed as absconding. Local officials declined comment.
Even Ghatge’s younger brother Sudhakar, the deputy sarpanch, would only confirm that the gramsabha had sanctioned the well.
“Rs 60,000 was granted in funds through a scheme,” he added.
Back at the Harijan basti on Saturday, Ghatge’s neighbours gathered at his house to pay homage. They put up photographs of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, champion of the Dalit cause, and Gautam Buddha — most basti residents have converted from Hinduism in a bid to escape the stain of their caste.
Friends and relatives from Mumbai sat in stunned silence. “A special police team has been deployed to avoid any trouble,” said Satara District Superintendent of Police Prakash Mutyal.
It’s always been a peaceful town, he frowned.