In May 2014 Community Correspondent Alka Mate reported on the murder of Dalit rights activist Sanjay Khobragade from Kavalewada, Maharashtra.
Six ‘upper caste’ individuals had murdered him over a land dispute. As Sanjay fought for his life and his family tried to get justice, they found that the law and order mechanisms were failing them. Eventually, Devkabai, Sanjay’s wife and their neighbor Raju Gadpayle were accused of the murder while the six individuals Sanjay had identified in a dying declaration roamed free.
Now after almost four months Devkabai and Raju have been granted bail and are out of jail. To get to this point numerous lawyers and Dalit rights activists have had to rally support and push through a slow process. This is an update on what Alka Mate and Video Volunteers have done to support the affected families.
Community Correspondent Alka Mate was one of the only reporters to have told the story from the point of view of the Khobragade and Gadpayle families. In the weeks after the murder many of the mainstream newspapers and channels carried only snippets of information, repeatedly siding with the perpetrators of the crime. Alka has been working with Pradeep Khobragade, the couple’s son, Human Rights Law Network and other Dalit rights organizations to ensure a fair trial and to get Devkabai and Raju out of prison where they were being emotionally and physically being assaulted to own up to the crime.
Alka recorded meticulously, testimonies from various members of the Dalit community of Kavalevada and others who had become involved in getting Sanjay justice, providing a different perspective from the ‘upper-caste’ narrative of the events. The opinion was unanimous— Devkabai and Raju were being framed; the police and judiciary had failed to do their job properly and had in fact obstructed justice. By this point support was pouring in from across the world. A petition on change.org was brewing up a storm, it has currently reached a whopping 14,000 signatures.
On the ground people organized themselves and held screenings of Alka’s video. Crimes against Dalits are chronic in Maharashtra and these screenings and shows of solidarity were a chance to talk about them. But more importantly, this was an opportunity to talk about change.
A culmination of sorts was a rally and petition delivery organized by Alka on the 9th if August. Sanjay’s family along with lawyers and activists friends in Nagpur held a protest in Samvidhan Chowk in Nagpur to talk more about Sanjay’s case and his wife’s false implication in it. On the 11th, the Khobragade family along with Alka Mate and HRLN lawyers met with the District Commissioner of Nagpur to submit the signatures generated from the Change.org petition along with many more offline signatures collected from communities in Gondia and Nagpur. However, his response was non-committal.
Using legal mechanisms strengthened the action on-ground. Pradeep and his sister Durga filed a writ petition in the Nagpur High Court on 31st July asking for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. It also asked that action be taken against the police officials in Gondiya for dereliction of duty. We have 13 renowned lawyers representing the case and we are hopeful of its prospects. 40 other lawyers have pledged to join the case to ensure that the findings are just and that the Khobragade family gets justice.
A significant step in this direction has been the Devkabai and Raju’s release on 23rd August. Further, at a hearing on 4th August the High Court ordered senior officers from Gangajhari police station including Superintendent of Police Dilip Sedke; District Collector Amit Saini as well as the Sessions Court at Gondiya to respond in court regarding the investigation carried out after Sanjay’s murder on 16th May.
The sheer amount of pressure that has been mounted on the Court and administration dealing with this case has started moving things ahead. It is a relief that Devkabai and Raju have been granted bail. Your support has been crucial to this process. It has ensured that those seeking justice are heard and those in-charge of delivering it know they are being watched. The story is far from over. Our fight to bring Sanjay Khobragde justice will continue until the real culprits are caught.
Keep watching this space for more updates.
You can sign the change.org petition and continue to pressurize the District Administration and Courts to make sure Sanjay Khobragade’s murderers are brought to justice.