ON JULY 19, it will be a year since 15-year-old Swapnil Sonawane was allegedly murdered over an inter-caste relationship in Nerul, Navi Mumbai. Swapnil’s parents, Gauri and Shahaji, say the year has been as much about personal loss as about realising the difficulties Dalits face in availing of the criminal justice system. “We had never stepped into a police station or read the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act before my son was murdered. Now, we know each of its provisions and how there are so many hurdles in its implementation,” says Shahaji, a staffer at the State Bank of India in Navi Mumbai.
For instance, the family had insisted that the compensation to be given to them under the Act, should be under its amended provisions of 2015. By then, the Centre had issued a notification on the change in compensation as per the amendment, but the state was still to issue a Government Resolution on the revised provisions. It was only in January this year that the family was eventually granted compensation as per the 2015 Act.
Further, while the trial has begun before a court in Thane designated to hear cases under the 2015 Act, the couple had to file multiple applications to ensure that the court allows the trial to be video-recorded as per the Act. “We were told thrice that the infrastructure was not available. Last month, the Thane court for the first time permitted video-recording of the proceedings. Yet, our deposition is pending as the equipment is still to be arranged by the district authorities,” Gauri said. “We are attempting to cope with our son’s death. We were hoping that by now we would at least be done with deposing in court against his murderers…,” she added.
On July 19, Swapnil and his parents were summoned by the family of a 16-year-old girl he was in a relationship with. Near her residence in Nerul, the elder brother and father of the girl assaulted Swapnil causing his death. Hours earlier, the family had approached police at Nerul police station with a complaint against the girl’s brother for assaulting Swapnil a day ago as well. Instead of taking their complaint, two cops allegedly told the family to avoid a “Sairat-like” incident, referring to a film on inter-caste violence.
A writ petition filed by the family before the High Court for criminal action against the cops is currently pending. The family hopes that the state will appoint a special public prosecutor in the case after it has seen three prosecutors change. “The trial in our case is yet to begin. If the state government wants to, it can ensure speedy justice in such cases. The Kopardi rape case, which happened a few days before Swapnil’s murder, is already nearing completion,” Shahaji said. On Wednesday, to commemorate Swapnil’s death, the family is organising a programme in Vashi to discuss their struggle so far. “It has now gone beyond seeking justice… We hope we can ensure that no one has to experience what we did,” Shahaji said.