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Khairlanji case set to go to Supreme Court

Rahi Gaikwad


Nikam mitigating edge of casteism, Khairlanji panel wrote to Deshmukh in 2007

“Nikam conducted the case as a mere murder trial bereft of the caste angle”


MUMBAI: With the Khairlanji case set to go to the Supreme Court, absence of the caste atrocity charge, in an incident where four members of a Dalit family were killed, remains the key grouse across the board. Various Ambedkarite voices, the Maharashtra government and the media have reacted strongly against the verdict of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court which saw the massacre as an act of revenge.

However, while the case was at the trial court stage itself, the Khairlanji Action Committee had written an important letter to the State raising concerns that Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Ujjwal Nikam was diluting the casteism angle.

The letter, dated November 12, 2007, addressed to the then Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, called attention to the presentation of evidence by Mr. Nikam.

It stated: “The basis of this crime i.e. casteism, is not highlighted in the evidence adduced by the prosecution. It seems the case is being treated by Shri. Nikam, SPP, as a mere murder trial. The basis of all that happened in Khairlanji is casteism and this must be emphasised in all its nakedness. That will only describe the crime in the correct perspective.

“Contrary to the above, we have observed that Shri. Ujjwal Nikam, SPP, has mitigated the edge of casteism. This becomes clearer if you go through the depositions of [survivor] Bhayyalal Bhotmange and more particularly [witness] Siddharth Gajabhiye. Shri. Nikam has not asked vital questions to both the witnesses regarding the land dispute, house destruction, the abuses and vulgar gestures made by [acquitted accused] Purushottam Titarmare and [convicted accused] Jagdish Mandlekar to [deceased victim] Priyanka. The prosecution should have brought this on record.”

The committee's chief convener, Milind Pakhale, said none of the Ambedkarite organisations had demanded the appointment of Mr. Nikam. “When Home Minister R.R. Patil visited Khairlanji during Mr. Deshmukh's term, he suo motu announced Mr. Nikam's appointment as SPP for the case.”

Nr. Nikam was also responsible for “dragging” the case. “The case dragged for 16 months. He took four months to examine two witnesses,” Mr. Pakhale said. Following the order of the Nagpur bench, the committee has hit out at Mr. Nikam through its press conferences and protests. Mr. Pakhale also said that the dissatisfaction over Mr. Nikam's handling of the case was not an afterthought. “This is not a post facto stand. We have been saying right from the beginning that Mr. Nikam did not bring the caste angle on record,” he said.

Mr. Pakhale countered the claims that lacunae in investigation were responsible for the caste atrocity charge getting dropped.

“We are talking about a village that is divided along caste lines. In such a scenario, how can we expect witnesses to furnish testimonies? Mr. Nikam could have highlighted the history of caste abuse through his examination of witnesses.”

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