Published: August 22, 2010 00:02 IST

Because Khairlanji is not just another murder story!
Avinash Pandey Samar


A recent verdict of the Bombay High Court in the Khairlanji massacre
case convicting all accused to life imprisonment could have been a
welcome one and gone a long way in restoring the common man's faith in
the judiciary and the rule of law. It could have marked a historic
juncture in the life of the nation announcing that the rule of law has
firmly established itself despite all the inadequacies the country's
judicial system demonstrates in both crime investigation and trial. It
could have ensured that Dalits and other underprivileged groups will
face no discrimination at least within the judicial system.

For these reasons, the verdict was long awaited. And in its final
coming, it proved highly inadequate, rightfully outraging civil
society. The outrage, though, is highly misplaced. The failure of
justice is not rooted in the commutation of the death sentence of the
six convicts to life terms for 25 years, as capital punishment is
unacceptable in any civilised society. It is, indeed, painful to see
some of the most genuine civil society members decrying the
commutation and demanding the death sentence to the accused. One,
retributive justice is no justice and no studies have confirmed any
‘deterrence effect' of the capital punishment. Rather, any statistic
bears out the fact that it is used mostly against the poorest and
weakest sections of society. In that, it emerges as an official
version of mob-lynching.

For the same reason, the death sentence awarded by the session's court
in this case was no victory for social justice. The judge has held the
case as “revenge murder” and, citing the same, had refused to invoke
the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The judge was seemingly
convinced by the prosecution's poor case augmented by shoddy
investigation with arguments to pass off the case as one of mere
revenge killing.

The travesty of justice lies here. The 2006 massacre was not just
another among the 32,481 reported cases of murder tucked in the pages
of the statistical records of the National Crime Records Bureau of the
year. Nor was it just one of 19,348 reported cases of rape (though the
charges of rape were not invoked by the court). The gravity of the
case did not lie in its being a gory instance of a mob bludgeoning a
full family to death while raping women and mutilating their bodies.

It was a massacre to uphold the feudal values in a modern, democratic
India. The perpetrators had not massacred the family in a fit of rage.
Their anger was not momentary. It did not emanate from any personal
enmity. The family had not done anything to provoke or to tick them
off. The only ‘crime' the Bhotmanges had committed was to make efforts
to escape the low social status ascribed to their ex-untouchable
caste. The fact that they were trying to come out of the dehumanised
existence the Dalits have been condemned to for centuries was a
provocation enough for the killers belonging to the dominant castes.

That the prosecution did not press the PoA Act shows the systematic
and institutionalised nature of casteism. Further, the fact that the
massacre took place in full public view and yet there was no
opposition to the killings shows how deeply ingrained the ideology of
caste is.

Further, not bringing these spectators complicit in the crime by acts
of omission at least, if not commission, to book shows how state
institutions tolerate caste-based atrocities or actually are in
cahoots with them. The case proves that it is in fact the pre-modern,
barbaric and regressive social structure of caste that rules under the
democratic facade of the Indian nation and that the idea of modernity
is a mere superimposition upon this primitive mode of social
organisation. It reminds us that we are decades, if not centuries,
away from achieving the goals we had set for ourselves on the night we
made a tryst with destiny, the goal of becoming a sovereign, secular,
socialist and democratic republic.

In this sense, Khairlanji is a negation of the very idea of India and
its democracy. It is an assault on the basic principles the country is
based upon. It shows what kind of a decayed and deficient democracy we
have evolved into.

Unfortunately, Khairlanji is no isolated case of some rogue elements
in Indian society going insane. Rather, it is just one among the many
like Jhajjar, Haryana, where five Dalits were lynched on the suspicion
of trading in cows to Patan, and Gujarat, where a Dalit girl was
gang-raped and put into submission in the teacher's training school.

But then, till now the response of the Indian state and its civil
society too has remained the same — of getting outraged, making a lot
of noises and then forgetting the issue till another such gory
incident occurs. And precisely because of that, Khairlanji should
shake us out of the deep slumber and make us introspect and act to put
an immediate end to caste-based atrocities. By dealing not only with
the perpetrators but also silent spectators approving the incident,
cracking down on illegal institutions like khap panchayats
legitimising caste. That would serve as a bigger deterrence than the
death sentence, as the caste communities will get to know that all of
them would be punished and not only the ‘heroes' carrying out their

Killing the demon of caste was the primary wish and clarion call of
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution, lest we

(The writer is at the South Asia Desk of Asian Human Rights
Commission, Hong Kong.)


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