Mumbai: In a shocking incident, an eight-year-old boy, belonging to Matang (a scheduled caste in Maharashtra) community, was stripped naked and forced to sit on a hot, burning tiles at noon for entering a temple space in Wardha. The accused, Umesh alias Amol Dhore, a daily wage worker, allegedly first ruffled the child up and then pushed him onto a hot tile, even as the child whimpered and pleaded to be let off. The temperature in Wardha has been at 45 degrees celsius and the burning tiles have left deep burn injuries on the child’s buttocks and back.
The Arvi police station of Wardha district, which is investigating the case, has booked Dhore under several sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Indian Penal Code for the violence. Additional sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act have also been slapped, since the child was stripped naked.
Dhore, who tried to escape from the village soon after the incident, was intercepted a day later on June 16 by the police. He was sent to judicial custody soon after his arrest. The case was earlier handled by a local police sub inspector, but was handed over to deputy superintendent Pradip Mairale since the atrocities law mandates an investigation by an SP or a Dy SP level officer. The child’s family has alleged that the police did not investigate the case effectively and hence Dhore was sent to judicial custody instead of police custody.
According to locals, the child, who lives in the Dalit basti of the Janta Nagar area in Rani Lakshmibai ward of Arvi city, had been to the temple to play. “The child had just entered the temple space when he was stopped by Dhore and immediately brutalised,” said lawyer and social activist Dhanraj Vanjari, who is legally aiding the child’s family.
The child, with several burn injuries, is presently undergoing treatment at the Wardha district hospital. His family said they have been traumatised and have been afraid of a backlash from other caste Hindus for having approached the police. Soon after the incident, the child’s father approached the Arvi police and registered a case. Since then, the family has not returned to their home.
Soon after the incident, the child’s photo and the description of the incident was shared on social media, leading to several anti-caste organisations and political parties demanding swift action in the case.
The police have claimed that the child was not beaten up for entering the temple, but for trying to “steal” from the temple. “Children play in the vicinity and mischievously try to steal prasad or money that is offered in the temple. This child too seems to have attempted to steal. This angered Dhore and he had brutalised the child,” said an officer privy to the investigation.
Vanjari, however, says there this narrative is not true and in fact, an afterthought introduced only to dilute the allegations of atrocity. “The accused lives in the nearby vicinity. The child belongs to a Dalit caste and is known to the accused and others in the area. This act can’t be looked at as a simple case of bullying a child and inflicting violence on him, but with a complete understanding of the social order in the village,” Vanjari said. He further added that, “Such an act of torture will never happen if the child were to be from an upper caste community.”
The police claim that several cases of atrocities been reported in Wardha, especially Arvi police station, over the past few years. “But this case is of extreme violence and we are investigating if more people are involved in the crime,” an officer told The Wire.