Half the people of Pal village goes into hiding

Syed Rizwanullah

PAL (AURANGABAD, Feb 28 : Many villagers here had never imagined that an attempt to teach a small' lesson to Dalit boy Rohidas Tupe for allegedly teasing and attacking an upper caste girl would eventually result in his murder. The incident has made almost half of Pal, having a population of 5,000, to go into hiding to avoid arrest.

Rohidas was lynched by a mob on February 22. He had been booked under section 307 of the IPC for an attempt to murder the girl after he had stabbed her in the stomach two years ago.

The girl belongs to the predominant community in the village. The village also accounts for about 15 Dalit families.

A visit to this village, about 40 km from Aurangabad in the interior of Phulamri taluka, revealed that the lynching incident has changed the entire routine of villagers, with half of the population, including sarpanch Bhagwan Ramrao Jadhav, in hiding and 76 people in police custody. The shopkeepers have preferred to down shutters to avoid questioning by the police, while both primary and high schools recorded thin attendance since February 23.

"We have arrested 43 people for murder, atrocity and rioting, while 33 were picked up as a preventive measure. We are looking for another 17-18 others allegedly involved in the killing," said P P Shelke, the deputy superintendent of police. Now, the situation is peaceful, Shelke, who is camping in the village, told TOI on Friday.

Meanwhile, Sulabha Sunil Latkar, headmistress of the village high school run by the Marathwada Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, said: "We have conducted the SSC practical examination. However, the attendance in other classes was only around 10 per cent."

"We did not send children to school fearing a backlash over the killing. Moreover, many of the male members in our family are in police custody," said the grand mother of the girl who was allegedly attacked by Rohidas. "The girl was innocent and never responded to the overtures of Rohidas, which may have irritated him," said Radhabai Jadhav whose niece was a classmate of the girl.

"The village never had a history of communal clash over the possession of pasture," said Dagdu Bhika Jadhav, a village elder who claimed that he was in his farm, when the lynching took place. "The youngsters might have been irritated over the attack on the girl, as it was for the second time that Rohidas had attempted to kill her."

Rohidas's uncle and an eyewitness to the incident Gangadhar Bhimrao Tupe said: "Initially, it was a group of three-four youths who were beating, pushing and dragging Rohidas towards the village square, where they tied him to an electric pole near the bust of Shivaji Maharaj. We could not help him, as the mob soon swelled into hundreds. Rohidas had died on the spot."

The mob also manhandled the few policemen when they tried to save the boy. By the time more force had arrived Rohidas had died. The upper caste people were nurturing a grouse for sometime as the backward class were no more dependent on them, after occupying the grazing land, Tupe added.

A member of the committee to study the atrocity act instituted by the social justice department, Sudhakar Suradkar, claimed that the incident should be seen in the backdrop of the dispute over grazing land. Suradkar, former special inspector general of police, said the Dalits were occupying the grazing land for sometime and the region has a history of disputes and communal clashes over the issue. He also said that it was a case of atrocity against Dalits, as Rohidas had also been barred from entering the village.

Many of the backward class people were occupying about 300 acres of village grazing land since 1968 he added.

Suradkar handed over a cheque of Rs 75,000 to Rohidas's father Pandit Tupe as assistance on behalf of the department of social justice. Special social welfare officer P B Bachhav said the amount is the first instalment of the Rs 1 lakh sanctioned by the department.