In a dastardly act rekindling dreadful memories of the Khairlanji and Sonai massacres of dalits a few years ago, a 17 year old dalit youth, Nitin Aage was killed on April 28, 2014 in Kharda village of Ahmednagar district, bordering the Marathwada region. This cruel killing has shocked the entire state.

Immediately after the news came out on May 1, the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee and its Ahmednagar District Committee condemned the killing and called for state-wide protests. The Party demanded the immediate arrest of, and stringent action against all the perpetrators of this heinous crime and steps for the protection and rehabilitation of the poor Aage family. A nine-member CPI(M) delegation led by State Secretary, Ashok Dhawale, visited the village on May 4.

Kharda is a village with a total population of around 15,000. There are around 250 Dalit families. The village and the entire surrounding area has dry land agriculture and is chronically drought-prone.

The Aage family originally hails from a small village in the Patoda tehsil of Beed district. They migrated to Kharda in search of work about a decade ago. The slain boy’s father, Raju Aage, is a manual labourer engaged in the arduous work of breaking stones in a quarry. Nitin’s mother Rekha is a casual labourer. They live in an isolated hut on the outskirts of the village.

According to Raju Aage, on April 28, Nitin a student of Class XII, went to his school, to attend extra classes. Nitin was spotted talking to a higher caste girl, a year junior to him, by her brother Sachin Golekar, behind the school building. Sachin and his friends confronted Nitin and started beating him up severely in the school premises itself. The headmaster and some teachers, instead of intervening to stop the assault, asked them to get out of the school premises.

Sachin and his friends dragged Nitin to a nearby brick-kiln owned by his maternal uncle Sheshrao Yevale. Here he was beaten up mercilessly by a hammer and hot iron rods were inserted into his body. This inhuman torture went on for four hours after which he was strangled to death. The body was then hung on a nearby tree to make it appear to be  a case of suicide.

As soon as Nitin’s parents got to know that their son was attacked, they began frantically searching for him. Nitin’s mother went to the above brick-kiln owned by Sheshrao Yevale, who told her that they had beaten up Nitin and that he would return home in the evening. His body was finally found, after a prolonged search, hanging from a tree.

The CPI(M) delegation which visited the village made enquiries at the school. The headmaster, when confronted, was not just evasive to their queries, but also sought to cast aspersions on the character of Nitin. Timely intervention by the school authorities could have saved the life of a young boy.

A total of 13 people have been arrested in the case and  charged with murder and relevant provisions of the SC/ST Atrocity Act have also been. Consequent to the state-wide uproar, the state home minister announced that the case would be conducted in a special fast track court.

The Golekar and Yevale families are among the dominant economic and social strata in the village. Apart from land they also own several shops, a brick kiln and other paraphernalia. One member of the Golekar family was the deputy sarpanch of the village (the sarpanch post was reserved for the Scheduled Castes). Another family member was on the school board and another controlled the local co-operative. We were told that they owed political allegiance to the NCP for the last several years.

That perhaps explains why the guardian minister of Ahmednagar district, Madhukar Pichad of the NCP (who is himself an Adivasi) took over five days to visit the village.

To build a strong unity of all sections of the working people against such atrocities and also assaults on women, protest demonstrations were jointly organised by the CPI(M), the Jaati Anta Sangharsh Samiti (Struggle Committee for the Annihilation of Caste) and by various mass organisations in Mumbai, Pune and other places.

May 8, 2014