At 2:30 am on 17th May six people from a ‘higher caste’ tried to kill my father, Sanjay Khobragade, a Dalit rights activist. They set him on fire. With over 94% burns on his body, my father passed away while at the Civil Hospital in Nagpur, Maharashtra on 23rd May. Today, the six accused individuals are free and my mother Devakabai is in custody. She is being framed for burning my father with the help of Mr. Raju Gadpayle, our neighbour. The police have accused my mother of being in a relationship with Mr. Gadpayle, but this is not true. Not one person in our entire Dalit hamlet believes this theory; we all know that by killing my father, the ‘higher-caste’ community wanted to set an example that Dalits should not speak up.
The story about my mother and Raju has been made up to protect the six accused who have powerful political connections with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. From his hospital bed my father identified Madhuri Tembre-Village head; Krushipal Tembre- Block Level General Secretary-BJP; Prakas Rahangdale; Bhaulal Harinkhede; Punaji Thakre and Hemant Thakhare a.k.a Tanu Thakre as the perpetrators.
The police never came when we called them on 17th morning. It was only on 18th May that they registered a case of attempted murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and the six accused were put in custody. Legally, the case should have been registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. They were kept under judicial custody and were let-out the next day. The bail was granted to them only on 27th May.
Meanwhile, my mother and I were picked up by the police from the Nagpur Civil Hospital on 19th May.On the way to the police station the male officers slapped and verbally abused my mother in front of me. They had no concrete evidence to link her to the crime. Raju Gadpayle was picked up from his house that evening without even being given a reason. In a case like this it is mandatory to have an inquest report and formally document the case; this wasn’t done either.My mother and Raju are still being kept in police custody, in the same lock up. They have testified in court saying they have been tortured. The police are forcing them to admit that they killed my father!
It is evident that the police and District level administration are all conspiring to cover up this case of Dalit atrocity. They want to keep us quiet and have therefore constructed it into a case of domestic dispute. I write to you today to help bring justice to my family and ensure that my mother is not forced to take the blame for this heinous crime.
The six people from the ‘higher’ Powar Caste murdered my father because of a community dispute that has been going on for three years. He had been leading the demand of the Dalit residents of our village Kavalewada, Maharashtra to build a Buddhist community center for Dalits. The land in question is a place where we have celebrated the rituals of our community for years. The ‘higher caste’ community does not want this and instead wants to build its own temple there. For three years now, we have been insulted and abused by the ‘higher-caste’ people over this issue. They even burnt down my father’s tea stall last year. We are still fighting that case.
The events of 17th morning were planned because the Powar Community had heard that the impending ‘No Objection Certificate’ to build the community center was going to come through in favour of us Dalits. When Madhuri Tembre and others came to our house in the wee hours of 17th May, they doused my father with petrol, as he slept. He awoke when he felt the petrol on his body; he saw all six clearly as they set him on fire. He was later able to name them to the police and to his friends and family.
I want to ask this: Why has the police not taken cognizance of my father’s report and filed it under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act? Why are my mother and Raju being framed instead of action being taken against the six accused, eventhough my father has named them in a testimony on video? Does being Dalit mean that my family deserves no justice?
We have all just elected a new government on the promise that it will bring development to our country. As a nation, we cannot develop until caste atrocities like this continue and until law enforcers continue to protect the powerful. I ask all of you to join me and my mother in ensuring that this case is not covered up. By signing this petition you are not just standing behind the Khobragade family but also raising your voice against all caste-based atrocities. You will be paving the way to make sure that atrocities against Dalits are treated seriously for the crimes against human rights that they are.
I ask the District Collector, of Gondia Amit Saini and Superintendent of Police Deelip Sedke to:
1. File this case under the Schedule Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989
2. Immediately release my mother, Devakabai and Raju Gadpayle
3. Take cognizance of my father's dying declaration on video where he names the six accused and do a fair and just investigation of the case
4. Make this investigation report public