Updated: November 30, 2018 2:23:30 am
Six years after they burnt a Dalit man alive over an alleged affair, 11 men from Koli community were convicted for murder, criminal conspiracy and committing atrocities against Dalits and sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in Una town of Gir Somnath district on Thursday. The court specified that life imprisonment in this case means imprisonment till death of the convicts.
The court of additional sessions judge SL Thakker pronounced all the 11 accused guilty of murdering Lalji Sarvaiya, a Dalit man in Ankolali village of Una taluka in Gir Somnath district on September 13, 2012 by setting him on fire inside his house. The court also found the accused guilty of subjecting a member of scheduled caste to atrocity as well as of rioting and criminal conspiracy.
“We had demanded capital punishment for the accused stating this was a rarest of the rare case and that the guilty should pay the full price of their offence so that people’s trust in judiciary will remain intact. The court agreed that this indeed was a rarest of the rare case. But the court also took into account the fact that the accused had been in jail since the time of the commission of the offence and took a lenient view. Eventually, it awarded the convicts imprisonment till their last breath,” Mohan Gohel, additional public prosecutor told The Indian Express.
Soon after the verdict, the 11 convicts were taken into custody by police. The 11 men who have been found guilty of murder are Bhana Vaja, Balu Vaja, Dhiru Vaja, Bhikha Vaja, Rambhai Vaja, Pancha Vaja, Pravin Vaja, Hamir Vaja, Arjan Makwana, Gabhru Vaja and Lalji Vaja. They all are residents of Ankolali village and belong to Koli community. The Kolis are recognised as OBC in Gujarat but in conventional caste hierarchy in the state, they are considered above Dalits. Bhana’s wife Jashoda was sarpanch of Ankolali village when the crime was committed. Gabhru is Bhana’s younger brother and he too has been convicted. The list of convicts also includes three men from one family, Bhikha Vaja, his son Rambhai and Bhikha’s younger brother Dhiru.
All the accused were in judicial custody for the last six years. Their bail pleas had been rejected by local court and Gujarat High Court. The Una court was to deliver its verdict on Wednesday but had reserved it for a day after the accused could not be brought to court from district jail in Junagadh for lack of police escort.
According to charge-sheet, Lalji Sarvaiya had an extramarital affair with Bhikha Vaja’s daughter. She had eloped from her home on September 11, 2012 with an intention to get married to Lalji Sarvaiya. Suspecting Lalji Sarvaiya was behind her elopement, the accused hatched a conspiracy the following day. On the morning of September 13, the accused attacked the residence of the Sarvaiya family. They pelted stones on their home, beat Kalu Sarvaiya, the father of the victim with a stick and locked Lalji Sarvaiya in a room in which he was asleep. Then some of the accused climbed on tiled-roof of the house and threw burning mattresses, clothes etc on Lalji. Later, they also set fire to the house. Lalji, then 27, was killed on the spot even as his wife, parents, four other brothers and their families fled Ankolali village. They left their five-acre agricultural land, house and other property behind. Police had filed charge-sheet in the case in October, 2012.
“The woman who had eloped with Lalji Sarvaiya had been traced in a women’s home in Bhavangar. She had told police that she had fled her home with an intention to marry Lalji. While she turned hostile during trial, her deposition as witness contrasted the statement she had herself given to police and a submission made to the women’s home where she had sought shelter after eloping from her home. The court relied on deposition of eye-witnesses, who, coincidentally were victim’s family members and post-mortem report that the victim had died due to burn injuries and falling debris,” the prosecutor further said.
In July, 2015, the state government had declared 14 members of the Dalit victim’s family who had survived the attack as displaced and ordered their rehabilitation in Delvada village of Una taluka. The government has allotted them agricultural land and other is helping build other facilities.
“Besides sentencing the convicts to imprisonment till the end of their life, the court also imposed fine of Rs 54,000 on each of them. The court ordered that the money shall be paid to Kala Sarvaiya, the victim’s father who was complainant in the case,” the APP added.
Lalji’s family expressed satisfaction with the verdict but added that timely government help in rehabilitating them could have healed the wounds early. “While the convicts deserve capital punishment, we agree with the court’s observation that they have already been in jail for a prolonged period and accept the court’s judgement The verdict by the court has established one more time that the judiciary is still alive in the country. Now, if the state government extends timely help in rehabilitating us, the wounds of the atrocity would heal quicker,” said Piyush Sarvaiya, younger brother of victim Lallji.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.