A Special Court in Guna has sentenced 13 people, including 12 upper-caste men, to life in prison for beating to death a Dalit farmer who tried to file a complaint against them under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in Mahukhan village in Madhya Pradesh in September 2017.
Neelam Ahirwar, 45, was first accused of stealing a tractor from the village, about 20 km from Guna, and then 15-kg urad daal from the Mahukhan gram panchayat bhavan by a group of upper caste men led by sarpanch Praveen alias Pappu Sharma. A sub-divisional magistrate had found both allegations to be false.
Ahirwar and his brother jointly owned 25 bighas of land and had enough grains and pulses at home, the family had argued to counter the theft charge. Before the fatal attack on September 30, the 45-year-old was assaulted on September 16 and September 25, the second attack led him to approach the police to file a complaint under the Atrocities Act.
The sarpanch, who has a criminal record, had tricked Ahirwar into coming to Mahukhan on September 15, when he was at his in-laws’ house in a nearby village, after telling him that the tractor had been found. He was taken to the grampanchayat bhavan and accused of stealing daal. The upper caste villagers handed Ahirwar and Sonu, another person accused of stealing the daal, to the police. Ahirwar was released on bail on September 25, the day he was attacked again.
According to the prosecution, some accused stormed Ahirwar’s house from the front and some scaled the low-level side roof to ensure he could not escape. They beat him with sticks and rods in the courtyard and then dragged him out. His wife who tried to stop them was also attacked and had to be hospitalised. Ahirwar died in the district hospital a couple of hours later.
On June 1, Special Judge (SC/ST Act) Pradeep Mittal noted that the prosecution proved its case beyond doubt and rejected the plea to show leniency to some accused who are young. Six of the 13 accused are below 25 and three under 30 years of age. He sentenced the accused to life in prison under IPC sections 302 (murder) and 459 (grievous hurt caused while committing house trespass or housebreak).
Government pleader Alankar Vasishta told The Indian Express that the defence produced 12 witnesses to argue that they were not present at the scene of the crime. The accused claimed that they had differences within and could not have come together to carry out such an act. He said one accused was an OBC.
Except for the first couple of appearances and the last appearance on June 1, the accused were not brought to the court and the trial was conducted via video conferencing.