Caste

Nashik Court Awards Death Sentence to Six Men in 2013 Sonai Honour Killing Case

The mutilated bodies of three Dalit men were found dumped in a septic tank in Sonai village on January 1, 2013.

Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam. Credit: PTI

Mumbai: A little over five years after the gory death of three Dalit men in a small, nondescript village in Ahmednagar district in western Maharashtra, the sessions court in Nashik on January 20 pronounced the death sentence on the six persons.

One of the three victims, 22- year old Sachin Gharu, had been involved in a romantic relationship with the prime accused Popat Dharandale’s 19- year old daughter. Dharandale, a Maratha landlord, opposed to his daughter’s choice, hatched a criminal conspiracy along with his relatives and killed the three men. The victims’ mutilated bodies were found dumped in the septic tank behind Dharandale’s house in Sonai village on January 1, 2013.

The district sessions judge V V Vaishnav, accepting the prosecution’s argument, awarded capital punishment to six and also slapped a fine of Rs 20,000 on each. The six convicts include Dharandale, his 23- year old son Ganesh Dharandale (23), his three relatives Ramesh Darandale, Prakash Darandale and Sandeep Kurhe. One more person Ashok Navgire, who worked at on Trimurti Pawan Education Society, a college where the girl used to study, was also awarded death for aiding and abetting the crime. Except Navgire, who belonged to Dalit community, all other accused belonged to Maratha community. All six were residents of Ahmednagar district.

The court found them guilty under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atroctities) Act for murder, and conspiracy. Another person Ashok Falke, the girl’s maternal uncle, who was also accused in the case, was acquitted for want of evidence.

The case dates back to January 1, 2013, when three men, all belonging to Mehtar community were called to Dharandale’s house under the pretext of cleaning the septic tank in the house. The men where then brutally beaten to death. While Khandare and Thanwar’s body were found dumped in the septic tank, Gharu’s mutilated body was strewn in the sugarcane field nearby and some parts of his body was found in the well owned by Dharandale’s family.

After committing the horrific murders, Ramesh and Prakash Darandale had contacted the police and reported that Thanwar allegedly drowned while cleaning the septic tank. But later Gharu and Khandare’s body too were recovered from the spot. Although, it was a clear case of murder, the Sonai police had delayed in filing the First Information Report and only three days after the incident, when pressure was built by Dalit activists across the state, a complaint was registered. The investigation was eventually transferred to the state CID.

Thanwar’s elder brother, Pankaj Thanwar a sepoy in the Indian Army, strived to keep the families motivated to fight for justice. Although posted in Kashmir, Pankaj continued to travel to Nashik on every date and closely follow the development in the case. Pankaj says his struggle for five years has finally borne fruit. “I waited for this day for five years, to see these men awarded death penalty. I have not had a single day’s rest in past five years. Today I feel I was able to do something for my family and my community,” Pankaj told The Wire over the phone.

Pankaj’s family, like the other two victim’s family had lived in Sonai village until the incident. But fearing backlash, the victim’s family had to leave the village. “The police had tried every trick in the book to intimidate us and weaken the case. The police and accused family pushed us to leave the village. We had to move out,” Pankaj said. His family moved to Malegaon and Gharu’s mother and sister to a slum in Pune. Khandare’s family moved to Pune.

The deceased were the sole bread winners of their respective families. Only Thanwar’s wife Vaishali was given a job at a girl’s hostel in Malegaon after she petitioned to the state’s Social Welfare Department. Vaishali, who had studied till class 12 has been fending for herself and her six- year old child. “It is my son’s birthday today. We have not had any celebration in the family for last five years. There could not have been a better birthday gift to my child today,” she said, reacting to the court’s judgement.

Gharu’s mother Kalabai was inconsolable after today’s verdict. “These men should know what it means to lose a young boy. They had chopped my son’s body into pieces. His only sin was he had fallen in love with a Maratha girl. Even death can’t cleanse their sins,” Kalabai said. Kalabai presently lives with her daughter Rani, who works as a domestic help and lives in the Pimple Gurav slums of Pune.

Although the incident occurred in Ahmednagar district, the case was later transferred to Nashik owing to the volatile situation here. The families of the victims had moved the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court seeking transfer out of the district. They had alleged that both the local politicians and the police were hand in gloves with the accused family.

In the chargesheet, that ran over 600 pages, the CID had stated the love affair as the prime reason for the killing. The girl, while had initially told the police that she was in love with Sachin and her family was opposed to it, had later retracted her statement. “Out of the 53 witnesses, the girl was the only one to have turned hostile. She was under tremendous pressure from the family and we knew she would not be able to speak against her family,” said CID official Rauf Shaikh. He further added that the girl lives in Sonai with her family and her education was discontinued soon after the incident.

Soon after the verdict, speaking to the media outside the court room, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said, “The court rightly considered this case as a brutal form of caste prejudice. The court was of the opinion that persons who arrogantly flaunt the ‘superiority’ of their caste by keeping up an unfair status quo through means of violence and other means of spreading hatred should not be allowed to roam scot-free.”

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