On 29 September 2006, four members of a Dalit family were murdered in Khairlanji, a village of less than two hundred families in Bhandara district of Maharashtra, not far from Nagpur city. Surekha Bhotmange (40) and her daughter Priyanka (17) were stripped, battered, paraded naked, raped several times and killed by a Hindu mob led by men of the Kunabi-Maratha caste goaded by the entire village. Surekha’s sons Roshan (21) and Sudhir (19) were also tortured and murdered for trying to save their mother and sister. Only Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, Surekha’s husband, survived, watching the lynching and rape hiding behind a bush. On 20 January 2017, Bhaiyalal died following a heart attack. He was 62. Since 2008, the case has been pending a final hearing at the Supreme Court.
Anand Teltumbde’s book The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders & India’s Hidden Apartheid features the transcript of Bhotmange’s press conference at the Tilak Patrakar Bhavan in Nagpur on 8 November 2006, some five weeks after the massacre. The conference was organized by the Khairlanji Action Committee. After some prefatory remarks by Milind Fulzele, co-convenor of KAC, mediapersons wanted Bhaiyalal to speak. Then questions were posed to Bhaiyalal and he answered them. Siddarth Gajbhiye clarified on some of the queries. Milind Pakhale of KAC was also present. The transcript was published in Marathi by The Buddhist Communicator (6 December 2006), which served as the organ of KAC. A translation of the transcript:
Bhaiyalal: Siddharth [Gajbhiye] lives in Dusala and he is my relative. He has always helped us. While on his way to Kandri from Khairlanji he was beaten up on the road. My daughter Priyanka and [wife] Surekha stood witness [in the court]. Those people who beat him began threatening: ‘Why did you stand witness against us, we shall finish you off.’ On 29 September they [the caste Hindus of Khairlanji] went to court [for the hearing]. From there, they went back to Kandri with lathis to beat him [Siddharth]. He was not there. They returned to the village [Khairlanji] by 5 in the evening. After returning to village, the villagers had a meeting in which the MLA and the MP were involved. The MLA and MP had conspired to have us attacked. I saw the attack from a distance. I saw my wife, daughter and two sons being beaten while being abused: ‘You mahars, dheds, you have chadhle [things have gone to your head]’! They were stripped naked and carried to the village square.
A dead body was brought to the Mohadi hospital. ‘You identify the dead body.’ I identified the dead body. She was my own daughter. [He sobs heavily. Milind Pakhale wipes Bhaiyalal’s tears and Rajendra Gajbhiye consoles him. Bhaiyalal continues, sobbing.]
There was not a single piece of cloth on the body. There were wounds on the body. It was a bad assault. I was not able to see it. Similarly, Sudhir, Roshan and Surekha also had marks of severe beating on their bodies. Roshan was completely naked. He did not have a single piece of cloth on his body. He had been similarly beaten. Sudhir also had been horribly beaten up. But he had some cloth on his body. Surekha’s blouse was torn. Her petticoat was also torn. She had also been severely beaten. Even her skull was broken. Her brain had spilled out from it. She had even lost one eye.
[Bhaiyalal pauses and takes a deep breath before resuming.] The postmortem was performed in the Mohadi hospital where we were taken to identify the dead bodies. We identified them—that they were my wife and children. [Pauses. Here Pakhale asks Bhaiyalal if he wished to continue speaking. Bhaiyalal pauses and replies, ‘I will.’]
Even after such a kind of atrocity, they are proceeding casually. Two months have passed; they arrest half the criminals and do not arrest half. I had come to Khairlanji. I told them that women were also involved in the crime. I gave their names. They are openly roaming in the village. They go to harvest paddy. There are two-three [other] persons as well. The police say that they cannot find anyone; how should they arrest? If it had been the issue of a big man they would have completed everything within a fortnight. Because this concerns a poor man, they ask, ‘Where should we look for the criminals?’ They are there in the village now. I say this as a challenge. Those people, the sarpanch and the deputy sarpanch, have still not been arrested. The owner of the cart [used to carry the corpses to the canal] and the driver have also not yet been brought to book.
Question: What is the name of the sarpanch?
Bhaiyalal: Upasrao Khandate.
Question: What is the name of the deputy sarpanch?
Bhaiyalal: Urkuda Khurpe. This fellow used to say that they could finish off this one house any time. I caught his hand and pulled him before the [police] officer and told him that this saala [bastard] used to say he could finish off our house any time. I told the officer that he is still here [roaming free]!
Question: What is the name of the MLA?
Bhaiyalal: Madhu[kar] Kukde [BJP MLA from Tumsar], Ram Aswale [BJP leader from Bhandara], Kiran Atkari , Nana Panchbuddhe [Nationalist Congress Party’s MLA from Bhandara].
Question: Had these people come to the village?
Bhaiyalal: They supported the culprits!
Question: Are those people [the alleged culprits] their [the politicians’] activists?
Bhaiyalal: Yes. [Here Siddharth Gajbhiye intervenes to offer some details.]
Question: Tell us whether you saw the incident with your own eyes?
[Bhaiyalal takes a deep breath and sits quietly. He does not speak.]
Question: Mr Bhotmange, please tell us how much land you have in the village?
Bhaiyalal: Five acres.
Question: You could manage with the produce from it?
Bhaiyalal: Yes please.
Question: How far have you studied?
Bhaiyalal: Up to fourth standard in Marathi.
Question: Before this incident, has there been any physical assault on you, your wife or your children?
Bhaiyalal: In 2002.
Question: For what reason?
Bhaiyalal: I had got the land measured. They removed and threw away the marker stones. Because of this, I had complained against Shivshankar Atilkar and Ambilal Khurpe. [Here, Siddharth Gajbhiye explains that they were neighouring farmers.] These farmers used to have daily quarrels with us.
Question: Was there a quarrel for the passage?
Bhaiyalal: Even earlier some quarrel was going on, since 2000, on some issue or the other.
Question: Was the case registered?
Siddharth: Yes, in the police station. After this report, I took a decision to pay some money and conclude this quarrel through the survey office. I paid money. Then Karemore [perhaps the land surveyor] came and gave the measurements. After the measurement, we thought, instead of quarrelling we would give them a passage of ten feet. Although there was no such road, Bhotmange gave them the passage. However, the quarrel did not end there. Since he was alone from the community, they kept pressuring him. The farmers of kunabi and kalar castes surrounding his farm always exerted pressure on him so that he would give up because of the harassment. Despite his being a resident of the village, there is no mention of him in the gram panchayat records even to this day; neither have they collected house tax from him nor is there any registration of his hut in the panchayat records. Right from the beginning they hated him and wanted him to go away from the village.
Question: Mr Bhaiyalal, where did you live before 17 years?
Bhaiyalal: In Ambagad
Question: Then how did you come to this village?
Bhaiyalal: This is my mother’s village, that is, my grandfather’s house.
Siddharth: It is his grandpa’s, meaning mother’s father’s land.
Bhaiyalal: Since 1952.
Question: When this incident took place in front of you, why did you run away?
Bhaiyalal: I heard them ask: ‘Where is Bhaiyalal? Find him out.’ I just heard that and ran away.
Question: Where did you go?
Question: To whom? Siddharth?
Bhaiyalal: Yes. [Siddharth pitches in with some information.]
Question [almost in chorus]: What is your demand? What do you want?
Bhaiyalal: The criminals should be hanged.
Bhaiyalal: There are many.
Question: How many of them have been arrested?
Bhaiyalal: Nearly 40 to 45.
Question: Totally how many people were involved?
Bhaiyalal: All the women. Until now only two women have been arrested. Others have not been taken in yet.
Question: When this incident happened, were they all present there? And those who were present there, did they all participate in the murder?
Bhaiyalal: The entire village was involved, sir. Entire village. I just named 60 to 70 people, but the entire village participated in this incident.
Question: Is it true Bhotmange that gonds and adivasis were among them?
Bhaiyalal: Yes, there were gonds, there were kalars, and there were kunabis. The rest were all there too.
Question: The savarna Hindus deliberately created a dispute over land; were they all Hindus or of other castes?
Milind Pakhale: There are three dominant castes: kunabi, kalar and gond.
Question: But gonds come under the STs?
Milind Pakhale: Yes.
Question: How many houses belong to gonds?
Bhaiyalal: Eight to ten houses.
Question: Kunabis come under OBCs?
[There is a discussion among the mediapersons, in which others too participate.]
Question: Mr Bhotmange, over this incident that has happened, why are people against you? Why are they not with you? Only after this inhuman act has taken place, people are saying that what has happened is not correct. Why is this so? Why are some people not with you? Why? [Others mediapersons join the chorus.]
Bhaiyalal: We were not conducting [ourselves] according to their nature [wishes]. We were conducting ourselves as per own nature. We were not participating in any programmes, like a meeting of the gram panchayat. We were living on our own accord. We did not have any give-and-take with them.
Question: Mr Bhotmange, do you not feel that the violence that is going on should now stop?
Question: Should the violence not stop?
Bhaiyalal: No. The pressure should be increased further. [On this issue there is a heated debate between mediapersons. What is violence? There were arguments from both the sides. There are arguments, such as since the agitating dalits have not killed anyone, it cannot be called violence. On this, one mediaperson says Bhaiyalal perhaps did not understand the question properly. Everybody is then quiet.]
Question: Burning and rioting are continuing in Nagpur, Wadi, Kamptee and everywhere over the incident that has happened in your village Khairlanji. Should this be stopped or not?
Bhaiyalal: There should not be such a big injustice. You should punish only the criminals with maximum possible sentence. In my Khairlanji, the accused persons have escaped. Arrest them and punish them.
Question: The rioting that is going on, should it continue?
Bhaiyalal: Now our community is infuriated. It cannot be stopped. [Following this some discussion takes place between the mediapersons and Milind Pakhale.]
Question: Do you want to return to the village again?
Question: Will you not go to that village again?
Bhaiyalal: No, never.
[There is some discussion on the clash between Siddharth Gajbhiye and the villagers over the issue of non-payment of the wages of a farm labourer, and consequently how Siddharth was called a goon. Then, Bhaiyalal speaks on this issue.]
Bhaiyalal: Till now, no one has come either to our house or to Siddharth’s house [for labour]. How do Khairlanji people say that the clash happened on the issue of money not being paid to labourers? We used to bring people from either Tumsar, Bamani or Andhalgaon. Everyone in our village has a farm. They do their farming and we do ours. The five-acre farm of ours, we cultivated entirely with our own household labour. We do not need labour either for churani or for pura [agricultural processes to get paddy from the dried crop], nor for harvesting paddy. We do not need labourers for anything. The five people from our household used to handle everything. We did not go to anybody’s house [farm, as labourers] either. After finishing our work we rolled bidis. We knew how to roll bidis. My wife used to roll bidis and I used to cut the leaves for her. That too at the farm, not at home. We used to do all our work only at the farm.
Question: Please tell us, what your sons Sudhir and Roshan studied or were studying?
Bhaiyalal: My daughter Priyanka studied in twelfth in Andhalgaon college. Roshan was in thirteenth standard [first year of graduation] in a Patel school, in Mohadi. Sudhir was a little disabled; he could not see properly. So he had studied up to third standard right here in Khairlanji.
 Bhaiyalal stopped naming Nana Panchbuddhe subsequently. According to a 19 September 2007 report in Tehelka (Shivam Vij, “This Unending Disgrace”):
Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh came to Kherlanji to meet Bhaiyyalal on November 10 , the day Bhaiyyalal returned from a meeting with CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat. . . . He had refused to accept the compensation cheque or a job. All I want is justice, he had said; taking money and a job will make me seem greedy. He had already named the politicians involved in the case in a press conference in Nagpur on November 8; among them were some from the BJP but also Nana Panchbudhe of the NCP. Later, however, Bhaiyyalal accepted the cheque and the job, and stopped naming Nana Panchbudhe. “The NCP won,” says [Milind] Pakhale, “they managed to shut him up. He now lives with Dilip Ukey, who is a block-level panchayat member on an NCP ticket. Bhaiyyalal is now a brainwashed hostage.”