Observing that atrocities against Dalits by upper castes have shown no signs of abating even after 71 years of independence, the Delhi High Court Friday held 20 people guilty of burning alive a 60-year-old Dalit man and his differently-abled daughter at Mirchpur village in Haryana in 2010.
A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta said that the incident in Hissar district is a grim reminder of the complete absence of “equality” and “fraternity” in Indian society. “How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions,” the High Court observed and asked till when will we deny the principle of one man, one value. “Millions of Dalits including the Balmikis of Mirchpur ask even now.”
In a 209-page verdict, the High Court overturned the trial court acquittal of 20 people and upheld the conviction of 13 others in the case saying there is no doubt that it was indeed members of the Jat community which made a “coordinated and premeditated” attack on the Balmiki basti. The trial court ruling on September 24, 2011, had held 15 of 97 accused guilty and acquitted 82.
While 13 people had approached the HC challenging their conviction, families of the victims and the police had also moved the HC seeking enhancement of the sentence awarded to the convicts and appealing against the acquittal of the others.
On the morning of April 21, 2010, homes of 18 Dalits were torched and 18-year old Suman and her father Tara Chand were burnt alive. The violence had led to the displacement of 254 Dalit families from Mirchpur village. The trigger was an incident two days earlier when a dog which belonged to a Balmiki resident barked at a group of Jat youth.
The HC also found fault with the trial court’s verdict and after countering each and every finding of the judge, concluded that the damage and destruction were widespread and could not have been carried out by a small group of Jat youths in an altercation between two groups as speculated by the trial court.
“There is no doubt that it was indeed a mob which made a coordinated and premeditated attack on the Balmiki community. A conjoint analysis of the site plans, the photographs and the video footage provides a startling picture of the horrors faced by the Balmiki community on 21st April 2010,” the High Court said.
With the conviction of 20, the total number of convictions in the case is now 33. 12 out of 33 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment for offences, including murder and under the SC/ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act. The remaining were sentenced to varying jail terms between 1 and 3 years.
Disagreeing with the trial court’s finding, the HC also observed that the accused had set fire to the house of Tara Chand knowing very well that it belonged to a member of the Balmiki community and that he and his daughter were inside the house.
“In the opinion of this court, the witness testimonies have more than adequately proved the commission of the offence under Section 302 (murder) IPC and there was no occasion at all for the trial court to convert the offence into one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” the HC said.
The HC also expressed concern over Dalit families who left the village fearing for their life and said: “It is a sobering fact that the Government of Haryana has sought to rehabilitate the displaced families not in Mirchpur but in a separate township.
“The question is whether this accords with the constitutional promise of equality, social justice and fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual…71 years after Independence, instances of atrocities against Scheduled Castes by those belonging to dominant castes have shown no sign of abating.”
“The incidents that took place in Mirchpur between 19th and 21st April 2010 serve as yet another grim reminder of the complete absence of two things in Indian society as noted by Dr B R Ambedkar when he tabled the final draft of the Constitution of India before the Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949. One was equality and the other, fraternity,” the HC said.
The HC imposed fines of around Rs 70,000 on each convict and said that the amount collected from the convicts shall be utilised by the Haryana government for pecuniary relief and rehabilitation to the victims.
The Supreme Court had transferred the case to the Delhi HC on December 9, 2010, on a plea by the victims that a fair trial was not possible in Haryana.