Dalit leaders have reacted sharply to the Bombay High Court's decision on Wednesday to reduce the punishment awarded to six convicts in the massacre of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in 2006, saying it was a failure on the part of the government.
Prakash Ambedkar, president of the Bahujan Maha Sangh, said that the court had not even considered the cruelty committed against the victims. "We will request the Maharashtra government to file an appeal in the Supreme Court at the earliest," he said.
The high court commuted the death sentences of the six convicts in the case and gave them life imprisonment of 25 years each.
Jogendra Kawade, president of the People's Republican Party, described the verdict as "unfortunate", asking: "Has our law system also started suffering from caste based politics?"
"I also fail to understand why the charges of atrocities were dropped in this case. It has to be noted that this is not just a murder case. The verdict is a failure on the part of the government," he added.
Kawade said that the verdict will only encourage people to commit more such atrocities on Dalits. Kawade had resigned as a member of the legislative council in December 2006 as a part of the protest against the murder of the Dalits.
Former state minister and Dalit leader Surekha Kumbhare said that she will approach Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Home Minister R.R. Patil asking them to take appropriate steps for a review of the verdict.
"The verdict clearly shows that the state government was not at all serious in this case. We are not satisfied with this verdict and will not accept it," she said.
"If the verdict is not reviewed and changed, we will launch agitations," she added.
The verdict was given by a division bench of Justices A.P. Lawande and R.C. Chauhan, which turned down a plea of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) challenging the lower court's ruling giving life sentence to two of the eight convicts while sentencing six to death.
In September 2006, a group of villagers attacked 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 and assaulted them brutally. The victims were paraded naked in the village, sexually abused and hacked to death. The women were gangraped.
Surekha Bhotmange had lodged a police complaint in a land dispute against some villagers, a few days before the incident.