Ground Report from Maharashtra: Curfew-Like Tensions Grip Nanded Village After Casteist Murder

Dalit community members in the village convey that casteism has persisted for generations, with the upper castes treating Dalits worse than animals.
Heavy police force deployed in the village
Heavy police force deployed in the villagePic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

Within Maharashtra's Nanded district, a 24-year-old Dalit youth met his brutal end at the hands of the upper caste echelon for partaking in the festivities commemorating the birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar.

The local constabulary has initiated legal proceedings against nine individuals implicated in this grievous matter. Eight of the alleged culprits have been attested.

Akshay Bhalerao, a volunteer of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi Bondhar branch, suffered a brutal thrashing from casteist individuals of the upper stratum, ultimately succumbing to fatal stabbing.

The repercussions of this incident have ignited sentiments of anger amongst the Dalit community, not only within Maharashtra but across the nation. In order to glean insights into the harrowing murder of this young Dalit, The Mooknayak team traversed to the village of Bondhar Haveli in Nanded. Delve into this firsthand account, which endeavors to unravel the circumstances surrounding the tragic demise of the youth.

Police has deployed police force by putting barricades at the scene of the incident.
Police has deployed police force by putting barricades at the scene of the incident.Pic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

What happened in its entirety?

In the village of Bondhar Haveli, nestled within the confines of Maharashtra, the life of Akshay Bhalerao, a 24-year-old Dalit youth, was cruelly extinguished by individuals plagued by the affliction of caste-based frustration.

The motive behind this murder stems from Akshay's audacious decision to secure the requisite permissions from local authorities and law enforcement agencies to orchestrate the commemorative activities marking the birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, scheduled for the 14th of April.

As a consequence of Akshay's proactive initiative, the village bore witness to the inaugural celebration of Dr. Ambedkar's birth anniversary. The festivities included a jubilant procession that traversed the village's roads. Incensed by these developments, the accused from the upper echelons of society singled out Akshay as their target.

Heavy police force deployed in the village
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The events unfolded on Thursday evening, as the accused participated in a procession within the village, while Akshay and his brother Akash ventured to the local store to buy household necessities. It was at this juncture that the accused began hurling casteist slurs and invectives at Akshay and his brother.

Protesting against these indignities, Akshay and his brother found themselves on the receiving end of derogatory remarks, such as, "You, an individual of low caste stature, hold no relevance within our enclave. What purpose does your celebration of Ambedkar's birth anniversary serve? Why do you parade through our area?"

Akshay Bhalerao's house
Akshay Bhalerao's housePic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

With these incendiary words, a contentious altercation ensued. Approximately a dozen assailants subjected Akshay and Akash to a merciless thrashing, culminating in the fatal stabbing of Akshay in the abdominal region.

Akshay's kin rushed him to the nearest medical facility, where doctors pronounced his untimely demise. The news of Akshay's tragic death reverberated throughout the village, evoking a sense of shock and dismay. Law enforcement authorities promptly arrived at the scene, establishing a police cordon and deploying personnel to maintain order.

Akshay's brother, Akash, an eyewitness to the incident, recounted the ordeal to the police, prompting the registration of a case against the nine accused. Superintendent of Police Srikrishna Kokate of Nanded conveyed, "We have lodged a murder case and apprehended eight individuals. The accused are also facing charges under relevant sections of the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, including the crime of murder."

Accusations against the perpetrators

The Nanded police have pressed charges against a total of nine individuals implicated in the murder of Akshay Bhalerao and the assault on Akash Bhalerao. These individuals are all members of the upper caste community residing in the village itself.

As per the police report, Santosh Sanjay Tidke, Datta Vishwanath Tidke, Krishna Govind Tidke, Nilkanth Ramesh Tidke, Narayan Vishwanath Tidke, Shivaji Digambar Tidke, Mahadu Govind Tidke, Baburao Sonaji Tidke, and Balaji Mungal have been booked under charges of murder, assault, and violations of the SC/ST Act. Of the nine accused, eight have been apprehended, while one remains at large.

First-time celebration of Baba Saheb's birth anniversary in the village

On the 14th of April, the birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, Akshay took the initiative and obtained the necessary permissions from the authorities to organize a jubilee and a procession. According to Akshay's family members, it marked the first-ever celebration of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's birth anniversary in the history of the village.

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They revealed that when Akshay initially sought permission from the administration for the jubilee program, it was denied. However, inspired by Babasaheb's contributions to uplift society, Akshay defiantly celebrated the birth anniversary and led a grand procession, complete with bands and DJ performances echoing the chant of "Jai Bhim." The upper caste community perceived this as an affront, leading to Akshay's brutal murder at the hands of the casteist mob.

The accused brandished swords and daggers during the procession

The individuals accused of the crime were active participants in the procession held in the village on Thursday. Photos from the procession, which have surfaced on social media, were shared by the accused themselves. These images depict them waving sharp weapons such as swords and daggers. Even after the murder of Akshay Bhalerao, the absconding accused uploaded photo and video content featuring the weapons on social media platforms.

Parents lament, attributing Akshay's demise to casteism

The Mooknayak ventured into Bondhar Haveli in Nanded to delve into the intricate details surrounding the gruesome murder of Akshay Bhalerao.

Representatives from various social organizations were seen visiting Akshay's grieving family. The untimely loss of their beloved son weighs heavily on his parents. Sorrow permeated the atmosphere within Akshay's household.

Akshay's mother, Vandana Devi Bhalerao
Akshay's mother, Vandana Devi BhaleraoPic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

In a conversation with The Mooknayak, Akshay's mother, Bandana Bhalerao, expressed how "the son she had nurtured within her womb fell prey to casteist individuals." As soon as Akshay's mother learned about the altercation involving her son during the procession, she rushed to the scene. Unfortunately, by the time she arrived, the accused had already inflicted a stab wound to Akshay's abdomen. Akshay lay on the ground, drenched in his own blood.

Akshay's mother recounted the devastating scene, describing how the knife had torn open his stomach, causing his intestines to spill out. While rushing Akshay to the hospital, she desperately held his intestines close to his stomach. Akshay's father, Shravan Namdev Bhalerao, said that Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti was celebrated for the first time in the village. It was this celebration that incited the rage of casteist individuals, resulting in the opportunity for them to unleash fatal violence upon his son.

Akash Bhalerao, the elder brother of Akshay, is an eyewitness to the entire incident. In an interview with The Mooknayak, Akash revealed that on the evening of Thursday, he and Akshay went to a shop in the village to purchase household items. During their visit, some individuals from the procession began hurling casteist slurs at them.

When they protested against this behavior, a fight ensued. Akash stated that the individuals in the procession were saying things like, "How dare they celebrate Ambedkar's birth anniversary in this village? They should be killed for this." Subsequently, they grabbed hold of Akshay's limbs and stabbed him in the stomach.

The eyewitness of the incident, Akshay's brother Akash Bhalerao
The eyewitness of the incident, Akshay's brother Akash BhaleraoPic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

Akshay collapsed on the ground, and by that time, their mother had arrived at the scene. Akshay was lying on the road, covered in blood. The accused also attacked their mother. They assaulted her as well. They then transported Akshay to the hospital in a rickshaw, but the doctors pronounced him dead during the journey.

Sandesh, the elder brother of the deceased, added, "Akash sustained injuries on his left hand. When our mother rushed to protect her sons, the accused began pelting stones at her, and she was injured. Our relatives were also severely injured. We immediately rushed Akshay to a nearby hospital in a rickshaw, but he passed away en route."

Heavy police force deployed in the village
Heavy police force deployed in the villagePic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

Curfew like situation, heavy force deployed

The village is currently in a state resembling a curfew, with a heavy police presence deployed throughout. The police have secured the village, and officers are stationed at various locations. Shops in the village remain closed, and police patrol the streets. The area in front of the shop where Akshay was killed has been cordoned off by the police with barricades. The village is reported to be peaceful, although the heavy police presence is maintained for security reasons.

Fear and insecurity within Dalit community

The murder of Akshay Bhalerao has instilled fear within the Dalit community in the village. Akshay's tragic death is attributed to the casteist mentality, and Dalits in the village are living in a state of fear. People from the Dalit community have expressed that there has been an atmosphere of silence in the village since the incident, and members of the Scheduled Castes feel apprehensive following the incident.

Local people meeting the family members of Akshay Bhalerao
Local people meeting the family members of Akshay BhaleraoPic- Ankit Pachauri, The Mooknayak

Rahul Pradhan, founder and president of Yuva Panther, voiced the resentment among the Dalit community in Maharashtra following Akshay Bhalerao's murder. He stated that Dalits in Maharashtra are subjected to torture by individuals with a casteist mindset.

Pradhan highlighted that the murder of Akshay is not an isolated case but part of the ongoing atrocities against Dalits in the state. He further characterized the murder as a result of casteist mentality and local political conspiracies. In addition, Samrat of Yuva Panther implicated Anand Bondharkar, the district president of the Shiv Sena Sinde faction, in relation to the incident, alleging his involvement based on the close association between the village sarpanch's husband and the district head.

Tension track back to 2017

This is not the first incident of violence as cases of stone-pelting at the Dalit colony and the vandalism of the Buddhist Vihar have been reported in the village in the past. The Dalit community in the village comprises around 350 individuals, including men, women, and children. The village is predominantly dominated by the Maratha upper caste community. The tensions between the communities can be traced back to 2017 when the upper caste individuals attacked the Dalit settlement and vandalized the Buddhist Vihar after discussions of celebrating Ambedkar's birth anniversary in the village emerged.

Five years later, Akshay Bhalerao's celebration of the birth anniversary resulted in his murder by casteist assailants. Dalit community members in the village have conveyed that casteism has persisted for generations, with the upper castes treating Dalits worse than animals.

Heavy police force deployed in the village
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Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai

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