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Death penalty for Dalit murders

Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange
Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange has spent two years fighting for justice for his family

A court in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has sentenced six people to death for killing four members of a lower-caste Dalit family in 2006.

Another two were sentenced to life in prison. All eight were found guilty last week. Three others were acquitted.

The Dalits, a woman, daughter and two sons, were killed by an upper-caste mob in a land row. The husband escaped.

The case led to widespread protests. Crimes against Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, often go unpunished.

The prosecution argued that the killings were caste-related, but the court rejected the allegation. Prosecutors plan to appeal.

Discrimination against Dalits, who are at the bottom of the centuries-old Hindu caste system, is a punishable offence in India.

Even so, campaigners say violence against Dalits is on the rise.

Raped

The brutal killings took place on 29 September 2006 in a remote village called Khairlanji, in Bhandara district in the north-east of the state.

Dalit hut in Khairlanji village which was attacked by an upper caste mob
Dalits are often the victims of inter caste violence

Surekha Bhotmange, her 17-year-old daughter Priyanka and two sons, 19-year-old Roshan and 21-year-old Sudhir, were at home when an upper-caste mob broke into their mud hut and murdered them.

The four were dragged out and beaten with bicycle chains, sticks and other weapons, the court in Bhandara heard.

The mother and daughter were stripped and raped by the mob, prosecutors said. The women's bodies were found in a nearby canal the next day.

Surekha's husband, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, managed to escape and hid behind a tree from where he watched his family being killed.

He pursued the case with the support of several human rights activists.

Death sentences are relatively rare in India - and even more rarely carried out.

According to law, the death penalty must be confirmed by a higher court, and may be appealed against.

Menial

The killings led to widespread protests across Maharashtra and in November 2006 the case was handed over to the Central Bureau for Investigation (CBI).

A month later, the agency charged 11 people with criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly with deadly weapons, murder, trespass, outraging the modesty of women, destruction of evidence and caste-related offences.

About 10.2% of Maharashtra's population of about 100 million belong to the Dalit community.

In the traditional Hindu caste system, Dalits were considered the lowest of the low castes.

They were expected to do the most menial jobs in villages. They could not share basic amenities, including drinking water, with upper-caste people.

Such practices still exist in rural areas.


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