Survivor of Caste Hate Crime, Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, Passes Away

Tarika Nepale at Bhaiyalal Bhotmange’s funeral. Photograph property of Tarika Nepale and used with her permission.

NAGPUR, INDIA — Last Friday, Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, the survivor of what is now known as the Khairlanji massacre, died of a heart attack at age 61. His funeral was held on Saturday.

In 2006, a crowd of higher-caste neighbors attacked the Bhotmanges in their home in Khairlanji, Maharashtra. According to witnesses, the attackers beat and sexually assaulted the rest of Bhaiyalal’s family, including his wife, daughter, and two sons, while he fled to get help. When he returned, his family was already dead.

The Bhotmanges were one of three Dalit, formerly known as Untouchable, families among many non-Dalit families in their town. A month after the murders, the police had not begun collecting evidence. Linking Khairlanji to other incidents of caste violence, Dalit women’s groups sparked a campaign for justice that spread through the state. Journalists wrote article after article on each stage of the protests and eventual trial. Bhaiyalal’s gaunt face was displayed on each one.

In 2008, a district court ruled that eight of the eleven accused were guilty of murder, but not of caste violence. All charges related to the 1989 Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, meant to protect Dalit people from hate crimes, were dropped.

Seven years later, Bhaiyalal still had the job and home local politicians had given him before the trial. He was working in the neighboring town of Bhandara at a women’s hostel and had a guard to guarantee his safety. “Everything is fine now,” he stated without emotion. Social workers, journalists, and his immediate relatives would drop by, but, as he said, “no one comes from Khairlanji to visit.” His health was fine and he could go to the hospital if he was ill. When asked whether the government provided mental as well as physical health care, he replied, “No, the government doesn’t do anything. What would they do? I do that myself.”

Tarika Nepale, who helped grow the Khairlanji campaign and is now an administrator at a school for children with special needs, regrets that no one took care of Bhaiyalal’s mental health. She helped him find his job and home, but therapy was not something anyone considered. She explained that there is “no provision in the laws for mental health” and that there is a “need for new laws.”

Hema Gajbhiye, another leader of the Khairlanji campaign, attended the funeral service on Saturday. She commented that “many politicians gave speeches, but no one was saying to come together [to end casteism].” Bhaiyalal’s adopted hometown honored him with a second, tribute program on Tuesday evening.