Maratha community members hold a protest rally, demanding justice in Kopardi rape and murder case in Sangli last September.(HT File Photo)
Maratha community members hold a protest rally, demanding justice in Kopardi rape and murder case in Sangli last September.(HT File Photo)

Kopardi rape-murder victim’s family gets closure but another Ahmednagar family waits for justice

An Ahmednagar court on Wednesday awarded death sentence to three men for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Maharashtra’s Kopardi village in 2016 that triggered statewide protests.
By Yogesh Joshi | Hindustan Times, Pune
UPDATED ON NOV 29, 2017 10:58 PM IST

The death sentence awarded to three men for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Ahmednagar’s Kopardi village in Maharashtra on Wednesday brought a sense of closure to the teenager’s family.

The verdict came within 16 months of the crime, a good pace in a painfully slow judicial system.

But just a week ago, another family’s quest for justice in Ahmednagar district was dealt a blow when all the nine men accused of murdering 17-year-old Nitin Aage were acquitted for want of evidence.

“The Kopardi judgment is good and I welcome it. People’s faith in judiciary will strengthen further if the process is expedited in other cases too,” prominent Dalit writer Raosaheb Kasbe told Hindustan Times a few hours after the Kopardi verdict.

The largest district in Maharashtra, Ahmednagar is a part of the sugar-cane belt and has a history of caste strife.

The Kopardi victim was an upper caste Maratha and the rapists Dalits. Aage was a Dalit and all the nine accused Marathas.

Marathas, who are the land owners, account for 40% of the district’s population of 4.5 million, while 21% of the people are scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, many of whom work the fields for the Marathas.

The Kopardi case was keenly followed as it sparked caste protests. Marathas held marches for quick justice while Dalits faced violence in some parts of the state.

Aage was murdered on April 28, 2014 in Kharda village for allegedly talking to a Maratha girl. His body was found hanging from a tree, the FIR said.

The post mortem report revealed the scale of violence. Aage’s head and private parts had burns and his face smashed. The girl’s brother, uncle and seven other men were arrested on charges of murder and under the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes (prevention of atrocities) act.

But On November 23, an Ahmednagar court acquitted all the nine for lack of evidence after 16 of the 26 witnesses turned hostile.

“I don’t know what to do. I am at a complete loss,” Aage’s father, Raju, said after the verdict.

While protesting against the Kopardi rape, the Maratha community wanted the SC/ST atrocities act scrapped, a law aimed at preventing caste-based discrimination and violence.

The fault lines run deep.

Three Dalit boys were murdered in January 2013 in Sonai. One of the boys was seeing and upper-caste girl, the FIR says.

The murders were widely reported but the case hasn’t made much progress.

“There is no need to see the caste of victim. Every case involving woman as victim has to be fast-tracked,” advocate Swati Nakhate, who was instrumental in galvanizing the Maratha community after Kopardi incident, wrote in a piece for a news portal.

While Kopardi verdict has been hailed, the Aage case has raised eyebrows. Union minister for social justice Ramdas Athawale, a Dalit, has said the acquittals would be challenged.

The Maharashtra government would re-investigate the case if needed, minister Rajkumar Badole has said.

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