Mirchpur Dalit Killings: “Atrocities Against SCs By Dominant Castes Continue Despite 71 Years Of Independence”: Delhi HC Convicts 20 [Read Judgment]
The Delhi High Court on Friday held 20 more people guilty of killing a 60-year-old Dalit man and his physically-challenged daughter at Mirchpur village in Haryana’s Hisar district in 2010, while dismissing the appeals filed by 15 convicts against the various sentences awarded to them.
The Bench comprising Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice I.S. Mehta also upheld acquittals of 21 other accused, holding that there was insufficient evidence to establish their guilt.
The house of one Tara Chand was set on fire resulting in burning alive of the father and daughter on April 21, 2010 after a dispute between Jat and Dalit community of the village.
254 families of the Balmiki community then had to flee Mirchpur as a result of the violence which they were subjected to at the hands of the Jat community.
Thereafter, on September 24, 2011, the trial court had convicted 15 of 97 men belonging to the Jat community. They had now challenged their conviction, while the victims and the police had also appealed against the acquittal of the others, as well as for enhancement of the sentences already awarded.
While convicting 20 more people, and dismissing all appeals by those already convicted, the High Court opined that the trial court indulged in “conjectures and surmises”, asserting, “This was an act of deliberate targeting of the Balmiki houses by the Jat community mob and setting them on fire in a pre-planned and carefully orchestrated manner. The entire evidence, if read carefully, more than adequately demonstrates that there was a large scale conspiracy hatched by members of the Jat community to teach the Balmikis a lesson and pursuant to that conspiracy, houses of the Balmiki community were set on fire.”
Absence of fraternity and equality in the Indian society
In doing so, the Court took stock of the current situation of the displaced families, noting that those who decided to stay back at Mirchpur village did not support the prosecution in the present criminal trial, and it was only those who decided not to return who did participate. It further noted that while the Government of Haryana has sought to rehabilitate the displaced families, it is not in Mirchpur but in a separate township.
“The question is whether this accords with the constitutional promise of equality, social justice and fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual,” it observed. The Court then opined that the instances of atrocities against the Scheduled Castes by those belonging to dominant castes still continue, despite 71 years having passed since independence. This, it observed, was evidence of the lack of equality and fraternity in the Indian society.
It observed, “71 years after Independence, instances of atrocities against Scheduled Castes by those belonging to dominant castes have shown no sign of abating. The incidents that took place in Mirchpur between 19th and 21st April 2010 serve as yet another grim reminder of “the complete absence of two things in Indian society” as noted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar when he tabled the final draft of the Constitution of India before the Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949. One was ‘equality’ and the other, 'fraternity’.”
Cannot accept allegations of false implications
The Court also refused to accept the allegations of the accused being falsely implicated by the victims, opining that the victims had suffered too huge a personal loss to allow such a finding.
It observed, “The atmosphere of fear created by the members of the dominant Jat community was evidently so severe that the confidence of the members of the Balmiki community about their safety and security in Mirchpur is yet to be restored. It is too cynical to characterise the statements given by many of the victims as having been motivated only by the expectation of the compensation announced by the government. Many of the victims lost their properties, were injured and had their houses burnt.
The trauma and shock of the incident has left such deep scars that many of them could not gather the courage to speak to the police for many days thereafter. It is in this context that the Court is disinclined to accept any of these submissions regarding alleged false implication of the accused by the victims.”
Summary of Court’s findings
The Court summarised its findings as follows:
- There is a clear causal link that exists between the incidents that occurred on 19th, 20th and 21st April 2010 which was overlooked by the trial Court. The incident of 21st April 2010 has to be viewed in the context of the prevailing tension due to the perceived slight against the Jat community by persons from the Balmiki community which occurred on 19th April 2010 and then escalated.
- The need to exaggerate the altercation between some Balmiki boys and Rajender, Karampal and Dinesh that occurred in the early hours of 21st April 2010, as an aggravated assault indicates the simmering tension that was prevalent in the village at the time, which was like a gunpowder keg kept waiting for a spark. This was again missed by the trial Court by seeing the incident on the morning of 21st April 2010 as a one off incident which had nothing to do with the events of 19th and 20th April 2010.
- Consequently, this Court is unable to subscribe to the sequence of events that has been laid down by the trial Court or its analysis of the same in trying to shift the blame onto the Balmiki boys for attacking members of the Jat community on the morning of 21st April 2010, which proved to be the spark that set off the violence that ensued on that date.
- From the layout of the village, it is apparent that the Balmiki basti was located in one corner of the village abutting fields which lay to the south and surrounded by the dwellings of the Jat community on all other sides. There was no difficulty at all for the Jats to identify the Balmiki houses and attack them. In that sense, it could be said that the houses were attacked selectively. The conclusion drawn by the trial Court with regard to the selective targeting of the houses of the Balmikis is, therefore, set aside by this Court.
- The damage and destruction that is evidenced from the record is widespread and, in the opinion of this Court, could not have been carried by a small group of Jat youth as is speculated by the trial Court. There is no doubt that it was indeed a mob which made a coordinated and premeditated attack on the Balmiki basti.
- The conclusion of the trial Court that there was no criminal conspiracy is unsustainable in law. The trial Court failed to examine the photographs, videograph, and site plans in its analysis of the events of 21st April 2010 and erred in accepting the alternative version of the incident on 21st April 2010 as put forth by the defence. This part of the finding of the trial Court is, therefore, set aside by this Court.
- It is clear in the present case that an unlawful assembly comprising members of the Jat community was formed with the common object of setting fire to the properties of the Balmiki community and perpetrating violence against them, as it stands established that the members of said unlawful assembly came armed with stones and oil cans as well as lathis, jellies and gandasis which, in the present context, may be considered deadly weapons. The common object of the unlawful assembly was to „teach the Balmiki community a lesson‟. Section 149 IPC is, therefore, clearly attracted.
- (viii)Section 3 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act, 1976 introduced an altogether new Schedule to replace the earlier one wherein the Scheduled Castes in the State of Haryana were also listed in Part V. The Balmiki caste is listed under Entry No.2 of Part V as a Scheduled Caste. Therefore, the offences committed against the Balmiki community attract the POA Act.
- As regards the offences committed with the intention to humiliate the Balmikis that have been adverted to by the prosecution, this Court finds that the evidence adduced in this regard is not sufficient to find any of the accused guilty of the offence under Section 3(1)(x) of the POA Act.
- There is abundant evidence to show that at least 254 Balmiki families left Mirchpur and sought shelter in Ved Pal Tanwar‟s farmhouse due to the attack suffered at the hands of the Jat mob. It is the collective act of violence by the Jats that compelled these 254 families of the Balmiki community to leave the village. Many of them are still awaiting rehabilitation and reparation. They have been too scared to return. The offence under Section 3 (1) (xv) of the POA Act stands established beyond reasonable doubt and is made out qua some of the accused to whom notices have been issued in the present case.
- As regards the accused who have been held to be involved in the burning of the houses of the deceased Tara Chand, his wife Kamala or Dhoop Singh, the offence under Section 3(2)(iv) POA Act stands attracted, whereas for those accused who have been held to be involved in the damage by fire caused to the other houses, the offence under Section 3(2)(iii) POA Act stands attracted.
- The finding of the trial Court that this was not an instance of violence driven by caste hatred is unsustainable and is hereby set aside. The prosecution has been able to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the offences under Section 3(1)(xv) and Section 3(2)(iii), (iv) and (v) POA Act stand attracted qua some of the accused persons.
- Section 8 (b) POA Act is of particular relevance in the present case since it makes specific reference to a group of persons committing an offence as a sequel to an existing dispute regarding land “or any other matter”. In such a scenario, it is stipulated that the presumption is drawn as regards the common intention and prosecution of the common object. In the context of the incident of 19th April 2010 and the incident that subsequently occurred on 21st April 2010, the presumption under Section 8 (b) stands attracted.
- (xiv)This Court‟s findings with respect to the POA Act and the incident of 21st April 2010 are as follows:
- There was a deliberate targeting of the houses of the Balmikis by the Jats;
- This was an instance of caste based violence meant to teach the Balmikis a lesson for the perceived insult caused to the Jats on 19th and 21st April 2010;
- The Jats had planned their attack in advance and had come to the Balmiki basti well armed with oil cans, rehris filled with stones, lathis, gandasis, jellies etc.;
- The properties of the Balmikis were burnt and their belongings were damaged/destroyed as is evidenced by the photographs and videograph on record.
- The inconsistencies and omissions highlighted by the trial Court in rejecting the testimonies of multiple PWs do not materially affect the case of the prosecution. The said witnesses, as discussed, remained unshaken and were, therefore, reliable.
- The mere fact that a TIP was not conducted in the present case would not vitiate the testimonies of the witnesses who have identified the assailants in the Court. Furthermore, merely because a witness belongs to the Balmiki community or may be closely related to a victim does not mean that such evidence should be disregarded per se.
- The disregard by the trial Court of the evidence of PWs 42 to 50 only on the ground that none of them came forward to save the two deceased or accompany them to the hospital even though they were related to them is an unacceptable finding. It fails to acknowledge that the situation that existed in Mirchpur on 21st April 2010 was such that the Balmikis were in a vulnerable position, were disoriented and paralyzed by fear. There can be no speculation about how a person should react in a particular contingency.
- The trial Court erred in rejecting the testimonies of the PWs because they contradicted their statements made before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). Statements made before a CoI are, in terms of Section 6 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, inadmissible in a trial.
- The trial Court erred in rejecting the testimony of the PWs with regard to the burning of houses in the Balmiki basti by the accused persons merely due to the absence of hydrocarbons of petroleum in the forensic samples and lack of corroboration by medical evidence. As the trial Court itself has noted, the manner in which the samples were collected was less than satisfactory, no specialist team was called and the extremely intricate job of collection of samples was left to a team of non-experts.
- A conviction may be sustained if an accused person has been named and identified by at least two reliable witnesses who give a cogent and consistent account of the incident.
- PW-50 is a reliable witness. As a rule of prudence as regards consistency, the testimony of PW-50 is relied upon to the extent of the 16 accused she named in the first instance, and then again, this testimony qua these 16 has only been relied upon if corroborated by at least one other reliable eyewitness.
- It cannot be said in the present case that the dying declaration of the deceased Tara Chand is uncorroborated, as there is sufficient evidence in the form of the depositions of CW-1 and PWs 49 and 50 as well as those of PWs 55, 64 and 68 that fully corroborate the dying declaration, which is a substantive piece of evidence which has been relied upon to convict the accused persons.
- The incidents of 21st April 2010 constituted an act of deliberate targeting of the Balmiki houses by the Jats and setting them on fire in a pre-planned and carefully orchestrated manner. It was pursuant to a conspiracy by the Jats to “teach the Balmikis a lesson‟. Tara Chand and his daughter Suman were set on fire and pushed inside the house in that condition in the full knowledge that they were Balmikis. The dying declaration of Tara Chand more than adequately establishes the role of not only A-34 but also that of his associates who were identified by those present i.e. PW-49, PW-50 and CW- 1. Consequently, the Court holds that the killing of Tara Chand and Suman was murder punishable under Section 302 IPC. The judgment of the trial court that it was culpable homicide punishable under Section 304 (II) IPC is hereby set aside.
Read the Judgment Here