'Khairlanjis could be deterred by tit for tat'
Last updated on: July 19, 2010 14:42 IST
On July 14, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court commuted the
death sentence awarded to six convicts in the Khairlanji murder case
to 25 years' rigorous imprisonment.
On September 29, 2006, a mob brutally raped a mother and daughter
before killing them along with her two sons. Surekha Bhotmange (then
42), Priyanka Bhotmange (17), Roshan Bhotmange (19) and Sudhir
Bhotmange (21) belonged to one of the three Dalit families in
Khairlanji, a remote village in Mohada tehsil of Maharashtra's
Bhayyalal Bhotmange, the head of the family, survived as he was away
from home that fateful day.
The perpetrators of the crime belonged to the upper castes.
In a way Khairlanji is a metaphor for all the atrocities committed
against Dalits across the country. Despite their numerical strength
(Dalits constitute 16.6 per cent of India's population), Dalits in
India are routinely at the receiving end of caste conflicts. While
some atrocities against Dalits get wide media coverage, a majority of
the incidents are ignored.
Khairlanji, too, would have been ignored had it not been for huge
protests over the incident across the country by Dalits, believes Dr
Anand Teltumbde, a Mumbai-based Dalit intellectual, thinker and human
rights activist, who authored Khairlanji: A Strange And Bitter Crop
two years after the incident.
In an e-mail interview with Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore, Dr Teltumbde
speaks of how atrocities like Khairlanji can be prevented, why Dalits
in India have failed to organise themselves into a powerful political
bloc despite Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's emergence, how
the Congress party in Maharashtra treacherously suppressed the Dalit
voice, and how and why Dalits have digressed from the essence of Dr
Was Khairlanji an aberration? What needs to be done to prevent such atrocities?
No, Khairlanji was in no way an aberration or a unique occurrence. It
is just incidental that it came into the limelight.
The reason perhaps lay in the blatant manner in which the police
sought to suppress it initially as an incident caused by the outrage
of simple village folk over the defiance of a woman who persisted with
her illicit relationship with a man despite their sane advice to stop
it. The Khap-kind of izzat (honour) syndrome!
There have been similar incidents before and they continue to occur
even now; they either go totally unnoticed or get buried in the
records of some innocuous police station.
In fact, there was an incident at Jhanjhardi just 40 km from
Aurangabad in Marathwada just prior to the release of my book on
Khairlanji in October 2008, where a Dalit woman was raped and her
husband badly thrashed.
Both were to be set afire but just then the police reached the spot.
Potentially it was no different from Khairlanji, but no one took note
There is no easy method to stop the occurrence of such atrocities on
Dalits. The legal course is tedious and full of hurdles for the
victims. You know, the police records nearly 30,000 atrocity incidents
(against Dalits) every year. But they represent just the tip of the
It is said that at least nine out of ten atrocities go unreported.
The village dynamics is such that a poor Dalit victim would not
firstly dare to go against the powerful upper castes to report the
crime. Even if s/he musters enough courage to reach a police station,
the police machinery would not pay heed to her/him.
It is only with some activists' backing that the police will record
the atrocity. These are well-acknowledged facts. What happens later is
also well known.
Even if the atrocity gets recorded, they would not apply appropriate
sections of the relevant Act (as happened in the Khairlanji case where
many Dalit leaders,activists and scholars are upset that the case was
not properly built by the police who recorded the FIR, and then the
prosecution which made no efforts to bring the Atrocity Act into
The police investigation would be so lackadaisical that it paves the
way for the eventual release of victims.
When the case comes up for hearing in courts, the prosecution could be
more callous and then come the judges who would not see any caste
angle in such crimes.
What would you call it if the lower court as well as the high court
does not see any evidence of caste in Khairlanji, which may veritably
be a text book case otherwise of a caste atrocity?
This being the legal process, how can one think of a systemic remedy?
The remedy to my mind lies only in people's action.
It is clear that if there had not been a strong spontaneous agitation
over Khairlanji, the courts would not possibly have given the
punishment they gave.
It is only public pressure that extracts judgments from the courts. I
would go so far as to have a viable anti-caste movement against such
Atrocities in my analysis constitute the metrics of caste and need to
be curbed with force by those who want caste to be annihilated. The
deterrent could only be in terms of tit for tat.
Unless the perpetrators of atrocities are hit back with matching brute
force, they would not realise that they are doing something wrong.
It may sound like raw revenge by jungle law when I say such a thing,
but I have an elaborate theory behind this.
There is a deep-rooted caste prejudice against Dalits, and this
(prejudice) would not tolerate them being conducted on equal terms.
There is no method to correct such a deep-seated cultural residue than
the shock treatment (I have suggested).
Moreover, there is empirical evidence that support my theory. This,
however, would be possible when Dalits learn to join hands with other
people on the basis of class.
Caste can never bring them this kind of strength.
Persisting with the caste idiom, I am sure Khairlanjis will keep
happening and this kind of interviews will keep recurring for
centuries to come.
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