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India: In Maharashtra, ‘Upper’ Caste Men Kill Youth Who Ensured Village Celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti The family of 24-year-old Akshay Bhalerao feel unsafe in the Maratha-majority village, which has a long history of caste atrocities and police supporting the powerful. In Maharashtra, ‘Upper’ Caste Men Kill Youth Who Ensured Village Celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti Akshay Bhalerao. Photo: By arrangement. Sukanya Shantha Sukanya Shantha CASTEGOVERNMENTRIGHTS 04/JUN/2023 Mumbai: Ajay* (name changed due to imminent fear of safety) was at the community water supply station in the Boudh colony when he saw over 100 men from the Maratha community advancing in a marriage procession. Any occasion of “celebration” on the Maratha side of the village has only meant a problem to the Dalit basti in the Bondhar Haveli village in Maharashtra’s Nanded district. 00:00 Previous PlayNext Mute Fullscreen Copy video url Play / Pause Mute / Unmute Report a problem Language Share Vidverto Player ADVERTISEMENT The evening of June 1 was the same. As Ajay stood filling buckets, he witnessed the Maratha men, wielding swords and daggers, raucously play music through a DJ console and pass through the only lane that divides the Maratha side from the Dalits in the village. In no time, they had picked a fight with 24- year-old Akshay Bhalerao and his brother Aakash. They began with hurling casteist abuses at the siblings and within minutes, the men had stabbed Akshay in his stomach multiple times with a dagger. Aakash suffered multiple injuries too. Their mother, who tried to intervene, was injured too. Ajay tells The Wire that he didn’t have the courage to intervene. “They would have killed anyone trying to stop them. They were wild with anger.” Once the men dispersed, Ajay put Akshay in an autorickshaw and took him to a civil hospital seven kilometres away in Nanded city. Akshay had, by then, succumbed to his injuries. The attack was not coincidental, Ajay and many other villagers share. Akshay, a staunch Ambedkarite, had been instrumental in getting the police to grant them permission to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti (the birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar) in the village. For many years, the Maratha community has been against the idea of celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti in the village. Many villagers that The Wire spoke to alleged that the police too supported the caste Hindus and refused to grant them permission. Also read: A Tale of Dalit-Maratha Relations in Modern Maharashtra “But then Akshay took this challenge up and finally on April 14, this year, Ambedkar Jayanti was celebrated in Bondhar Haveli village. For the first time, Bhim Geet were sung and Ambedkarites could celebrate the day with dignity,” shared Rahul Pradhan, a senior Ambedkarite activist in Nanded, who had helped Akshay with the permission process. Pradhan was also one of the first to have reached the village as soon as Akshay and his family were attacked on June 1. Rahul Pradhan with the victim’s family and neighbours on the night of the incident. Photo: By arrangement. Pradhan says the Maratha men were waiting to take on Akshay and according to Pradhan Aakash was aware too. “He ensured the Dalit community in the village exercises its right, but that cost him his life,” Pradhan says. Although the incident occurred at 7:30 pm, the police registered the complaint only around 4 am, Pradhan adds. “Along with many other Yuva Panther activists, I was at the police station to ensure the police don’t play foul. The entire night, we saw the police answer many phone calls from politicians and powerful Maratha men in the region. This is how every case of atrocity is dealt with,” he adds. The police finally mentioned nine persons in the FIR – Santosh Tidhke, Datta Tidhke, Krishna Tidhke, Neelkanth Tidhke, Narayan Tidkhe, Shivaji Tidhke, Mahadu Tidhke, Baburao Tidhke, and Balaji Mungal. Of them, seven have been arrested and sent to police custody until June 9, the police have confirmed. The police have applied 16 different charges under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Arms Act and the Indian Penal Code. Almost all sections are unbailable. Police at Bondhar Haveli village in Maharashtra’s Nanded district. Photo: By arrangement. In a small village of only about 800 persons, 300 belong to the Dalit community, the rest are all Marathas. While most Dalit families are landless labourers, Marathas own land worth multiple crores. The shop establishments in the village, and the village governance is all controlled by Marathas. The victims’ family share that many among the Marathas publicly carry swords and daggers. This socio-economic imbalance is a heavy burden on the Dalits in the village, Ajay says. In 2017, he, along with many from the Dalit community was attacked by Marathas. A police case was filed too. But the complainant, also Ajay’s relative, was bullied into not cooperating with the police and the case has since been in cold storage. The village has seen many such violent incidents of caste atrocity, yet the police, Ajay says, has consistently supported the powerful. Akshay, like other Buddhist Ambedkarite youths, aspired to bag a government job and improve his family’s socio-economic situation. He was preparing for the state police exams, one of his relatives shared. Now, upon his death, there has been a demand for a government job for his brother Aakash, along with a compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs to the family. Pradhan has also demanded that the case be handled by a fast-track court – a prerequisite under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which is seldom followed. “The victims’ family is no longer safe in the village. We have also demanded for a full- time police protection for the victim and witnesses in the case,” Pradhan says.