Thirteen years after the desecration of BR Ambedkar’s statue in Ramabai Nagar at Ghatkopar, the Esplanade metropolitan court on Monday acquitted 22 people accused of triggering a riot in the Dalit locality after the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) opened fire there.
Defence lawyer, Rajesh Karamkar, said some of panch witnesses [the police conduct preliminary probe or panchnama at the scene of a crime in front of these witnesses] produced during the trial said they were not present when the police conducted the panchnama. “They were fake panch witnesses produced by the police,” Karamkar said. The court accepted his argument and acquitted the accused.
Residents of Ramabai Nagar went on a rampage on July 11, 1997, after the police opened fire on a Dalit mob, killing 10 people and injuring 26. The mob was protesting the desecration of Ambedkar’s statue in the colony.
The police had initially arrested 19 people saying they were involved in the rioting that took place after the statue was desecrated. “The police booked them for unlawful assembly, rioting, wrongful restraint and assault or [use of] criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty,” Karamkar said.
Later another nine people were arrested on the charges that they went on rampage after the SRPF fired at the mob. These nine people were also booked for rioting and unlawful assembly, Karamkar said. Six of the accused died when the trial was on and the case against them was abated.
Last year, the sessions court had convicted police sub-inspector Manohar Kadam, who had ordered his men to fire on a Dalit mob. The court sentenced Kadam to life for the death of 10 people.
The court had held Kadam guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder saying he did not study the situation before opening fire. The court was of the opinion that Kadam had knowledge of his actions and should have been more careful. Kadam had said he ordered the firing to bring the situation under control.