Nitin Raju Aage was a good student, says his father, scoring 65 per cent marks in his Class X boards. Then, last month, the Class XII student was attacked on the premises of his school with the hammer used to sound the school bell, dragged away and found hanging from a tree. Nobody came to his rescue.
Known for the battle between the Maratha warlords and Nizams of 1795, Kharda village in Ahmednagar’s Jamhed taluka has always been bound by its feudal structure of an upper-caste Maratha majority and minority Dalits. It never took an extreme form as in the killing of Nitin on April 28, but for the Dalits, the silence from the other side over the death of the 17-year-old says it all.
The provocation for the attack on Nitin was apparently his affair with a Maratha girl. He was allegedly seen talking to the girl, a student of the same school-cum-junior college.
Thirteen youths, including three minors, have been arrested in the case. Her brother Sachin Golekar and uncle Sheshrao Yeole are the main accused.
The Aages are low-caste Mahars. Nitin’s parents work as labourers at a stone-crushing unit.
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Nitin trained with a two-wheeler mechanic after school. He was known to be reserved, say other Dalit boys. Maybe that’s what made him an easy target, they add. “The Marathas do have animosity towards Dalits, but they never attacked anyone. Most of us came to know that Nitin was a Dalit only after his murder. He and his family never mixed with us even during festivals. Perhaps that’s why those who attacked him didn’t even try to settle the matter of the alleged affair over talks. They just killed him,” says a Dalit youth.
There are different versions about what happened on April 28. According to some activists and media reports, Nitin was picked from his school, where the girl, a student of Class X, was also present. He was reportedly beaten up with the hammer used to ring the school bell in front of the teachers and school staff, paraded before the villagers and finally taken to Yeole’s brick kiln. Here, say some reports, he was again hit, burnt in his private parts and then hanged from a tree.
Raosaheb Shinde, Superintendent, Ahmednagar police, says their investigations show a slightly different sequence of events. “Nitin did not attend classes on the day of the murder. Some students allegedly saw him with Golekar’s sister behind the school premises around 7.30 am. They beat Nitin and called Golekar to the spot. They again thrashed him on the school premises and slapped the girl, asking her to go home. Then they took Nitin to Yeole’s brick kiln. Here they assaulted him with a blunt wooden object on the legs, before strangulating him with a rope. They hanged him from a tree to show that he had committed suicide,” says Shinde.
He denies that there were burn injuries on Nitin’s body or that he was paraded before villagers.
Dr Yuvraj Kharade, who performed the post-mortem, says that while they found no burn marks, “the marks of strangulation covered the entire neck, suggesting it was a murder.”
Police admit “there can be some witnesses at the school”, and are probing the role of the staff. Prima facie, admitted a police source, “there was negligence”. “We are investigating why they failed to inform the police.” Principal Bhusaheb Dhobe was in hospital, getting treated for “hypertension”, and could not be contacted.
Nitin’s father Raju says, “My wife got to know that some boys were beating up Nitin around 10 am. We found him murdered around 3 pm… I went to the school, asked the principal why he did not stop the boys from beating my son. The principal said he had asked the boys to take the fight outside the premises. Had the principal informed the police, the murder could have been prevented.”
Sunil Salve, district chief of the RPI (Athavale), has demanded the arrest of the principal. “Some persons from the Golekar family are on a committee of the school. Dhobe is friends with the Golekars.”
Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil who visited Kharda also enquired about the role of the school staff. Police are, however, willing to give Dhobe the benefit of doubt. “He thought it was like any other brawl between youths,” says an official.
After the incident, the upper caste accused didn’t flee. According to activist Nitish Navasagare, this shows “their arrogance that nobody can touch them”.
Admits a villager from the Maratha community, “Had Nitin been from the upper caste, there would have been less chance of the boys killing him. At the most, they would have thrashed him and complained to his parents. But because he was a Dalit and poor, they murdered him, thinking they would manage the police using their political links and money power.”
The disparity is clearly visible in the village of 15,000. While its 1,500 Dalits generally do odd jobs or work in the fields, the prosperous Marathas own brick kilns and garment shops.
Since the murder, social activists, political workers, Dalit leaders and ministers have been flocking to the village, and held a march seeking justice.
However, the people the Aages hope to hear from have kept an ominous silence. On the contrary, some Maratha organisations took out protests, accusing the family of giving a “casteist” angle to the murder.
Bapusaheb Gaikwad, a former Dalit sarpanch of Kharda, says, “There are only a few upper-caste men who create problems for political ambitions, all the other Marathas are good. But so far, these good people have not come out to condemn the murder. In private, they do agree that Nitin’s murder was wrong.”
That means little for the Aages. Nitin was their only son among four children. Says father Raju, “I wanted him to be a soldier or police officer.”
Despite what happened at the school, he only wishes Nitin had spent more time there. Following his death, the father says, Nitin’s teachers had told him he had not been attending classes regularly. “We do not understand much about studies. If the teachers had told me, I would have ensured he attended all the classes. But now, there is nothing I can do… I lost my son because of poverty and caste.”