In this commentary S. Anand, publisher of Navayana books, sets the long-awaited verdict against those accused of taking part in the Khairlanji massacre (see anti-caste: KHAIRLANJI MASSACRE (September 29, 2006)) in perspective, and abhors the use of the death penalty—of which untouchables are disproportionate victims—even to punish a crime as inhuman as this one.
"The Khairlanji Verdict, in which six persons were awarded the death penalty for the massacre of dalits, is anything but historic. In treating the massacre as a purely criminal act, it actually masks caste realities."
An atrocity left unpunished and a hero’s statue desecrated drive untouchable masses into the streets across India’s second-most populous state.
September 29: Four members of an untouchable family are horrifically lynched by men and women of the dominant caste in the tiny village of Khairlanji. November 6: After over a month of negligence by the police and inaction from the state government, mass protests by untouchables break out in Nagpur and spread throughout the district. November 28: A statue of the Independence-era untouchable leader B. R. Ambedkar is beheaded in the city of Kanpur. November 29-30: Untouchable youth take to the streets in spontaneous protests across the state. In Bombay large groups target public transportation, emptying buses and a train and setting them on fire.
The rape/murder of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji village occurred on September 29, but it was only at the end of October that the story first broke in the national press, under the ironic headline “Just another rape story.” There are hundreds of atrocities against untouchables and over a thousand rapes of untouchable women officially reported every year in Maharashtra state alone. And how many go unreported? As the Khairlanji lynching itself might have. If it hadn’t been for two surviving blood relatives who secretly witnessed this public massacre, the case would never have been registered with the police: even now, no one else will talk.
So why did the news of this particular horror spread mainly by word of mouth throughout the region and across the state? Why this time did rage over the incident simmer for two full months before finally boiling over in an unprecedented statewide uprising of the untouchable masses that took India by surprise?....