The Bombay High Court confirmed the death penalty awarded to four convicts, who had murdered three Dalit men in Ahmednagar in 2013 over an inter-caste relationship, while acquitting one for lack of evidence on Monday.
Six men, including four from the girl’s family, who belonged to the Maratha community, were convicted and sentenced to death in 2018 by a special court in Nashik. While the girl’s father, Popat Darandale, died while in custody after the court’s order last year, one of the accused, Ashok Navghire, was acquitted by the division bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and Sandeep Shinde.
Those whose death penalty is confirmed include Ramesh and Prakash Darandale, the girl’s uncles, her brother, Pravin, cousin, Sandip Kurhe, and Rohidas Phalke, a distant relative. The accused were found guilty of murdering 22-year-old Sachin Gharu, Sandeep Thanvar (26) and Rahul Kandare (20) on January 1, 2013 in Sonai, Ahmednagar. The accused were found guilty under sections including murder, destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy and under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the special court in January 2018 with the court observing that the incident resulting out of “casteism” was not between two individuals or families but was an “attack on civil society based on caste-hatred”.
According to the prosecution, Gharu and the accused Darandale’s daughter were in a relationship, which the accused disapproved of over caste. The accused through Navghire, a JCB driver, engaged the three victims for work of cleaning the septic tank at Darandale’s home. When they did not return home that evening, the family members of the victims began looking for them. They were told by Kurhe that they had left in the afternoon after completing the work. The body of Thanvar was found subsequently in the tank, with the accused claiming that he had drowned while cleaning it. The police, however, enquired into why an accidental death report was not filed first and began questioning the accused leading to the recovery of the bodies of the two others, cut into pieces and dumped in a borewell.
Public prosecutor Deepak Thakare had submitted that the Call Data Records between the accused showed the pre-planned conspiracy and their presence was confirmed at the place of incident. He had also submitted that the brutality of the offence and the manner in which it was planned and committed showed caste-based atrocity inflicted on the victims. Lawyer Nitin Satpute, who represented Navghire, submitted that there was no evidence to link him to the conspiracy. Lawyer Vijay Hiremath, who represented some of the accused, submitted that the statements of the witnesses, including Gharu’s mother, was recorded only six days after the crime, which he claimed was fatal to the prosecution’s case. The detailed judgment is yet to be made available.