Bhima Koregoan: Forgotten Death of a Dalit Youth
Garlanded photo of Chetan Alhat
Pune: “My 21 years old son who would earn Rs 500 (per day) by working at the construction sites, who would have married soon, died just 15 days after he was released from the jail,” said Pramila Alhat, the mother, with tears in her eyes on the first death anniversary memorial at their one-room house in the Dalit hamlet of Pargoan Sudrik village, in Ahmednagar district, 120 kms from Pune. “What is the use in complaining or asking anybody. I am poor and without husband. My son died. Now what is the use to even complain?” she despaired.
Her son Chetan Alhat, a 21-year old Dalit youth, died on December 23 last year, exactly 15 days after he was released on the bail from the Yerwada Central Jail. Pramila sobbed uncontrollably saying, “I worked hard to get him released on bail and then he died within 15 days. The family does not know the exact reason why he died.”
She said, “After he was released from jail, he would not eat, would either vomit or had diarrhoea. He had a skin infection all over his body. I had no money to take him to a private hospital. I took him to Sassoon General Hospital in Pune on December 22, 2019, and he died the next day.” The family does not have documents or a death certificate stating the reasons why he died.
Pramila Akhat, mother of Chetan Alhat.
In 2018, Chetan and his friends had travelled to Bhima Koregoaon, 120 kms away from his home, to pay homage to the Vijay Stambh like every year. “Our kids must have stopped at a petrol pump and a CCTV at the pump captured their presence. That is it. The police did not have any proof whether our tender kids could kill anybody. Police took Chetan on January 9 and arrested him the next day,” Pramila added.
Battle of Bhima Koregoan
Thousands of Dalit gather in Bhima Koregoan, 40 kms from Pune, to pay homage to the war memorial, Vijay Stambh, on January 1 every year. According to the Dalit narrative, British forces that fought the Peshwas at Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 1818, comprised largely soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community, who waged a “war for freedom” against the alleged casteism of the Peshwas. To commemorate the victory, Dalits from across the state travel to the tiny village in Shikrapur Taluka of Pune where the war memorial is situated.
On January 1, 2018, when hundreds had gathered at Bhima Koregaon, riots broke out in which hundreds of Dalits got injured and thousands of vehicles were damaged. Upper caste people allegedly instigated the violence there. In this, Rahul Phatangle from the Maratha community was lynched to death and in that case, Chetan Alhat was arrested.
Chetan, along with nine others, was arrested on charges under Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code for unlawful assembly, 147 and 148 for rioting and being armed with deadly weapon, 149 for unlawful assembly of members, and 302 for murder and 37(i)(3) and 135 of Bombay Police Act.
“They were taken to 15 days police custody during which the police physically assaulted and made sure that our kids accept the charges,” claimed Sahebrao Janjwal, whose son Tushar was also arrested among those ten persons and was released on bail along with Chetan. Later they were shifted to the Yerwada Central Jail after being put in judicial custody by the Pune Sessions Court, Shivajinagar, where the case is being heard.
Pramila's One room house
The incident turned upside down the life of Pramila, a 45-year-old widow who worked as a labourer at farms in the Pargoan Sudrik village. In order to earn money to hire a lawyer and get Chetan bail, had to leave her school-going younger son back in the village and shift to Mumbai where her sister worked as maid.
Pramila said, “For one year, I worked as a domestic help at seven to eight houses in Mumbai so that I could pay the lawyers.” Once every fortnight, She would travel during the night from Mumbai to Pune to see her son at the jail.
“He would only insist, ‘Aii (mother), please release me.’ He could not eat the food in the jail. My son who was healthy like a bull became skinny due to poor food in the jail. He got a skin infection. I don’t know how they treated my son, The Pune court rejected his bail twice,” Pramila sobbed while recalling.
Sangharsha Aapte, a social activist who helped the family in the troubled times, told NewsClick, “On November 26, the Bombay High Court ordered the bail of Chetan Alhat on the bond of Rs 25,000. However, the family did not have enough money and could only pay the amount in the first week of December. He was finally released on bail on December 8.”
He further said, “The family is poor and scared and did not want to find out whether he was not well in the jail or whether he was on treatment in the jail.”
Explaining her struggle, Pramila said, “Where would I have gotten the money to fight? It requires Rs 1,000 to go to Pune. Now I am back in my village and have not got work for the last 15 days. I want to educate my younger son who is currently in the ninth standard. He also works with a caterer as schools are closed. I don’t want any issues as my elder son has already died.” Her younger son did not wish to be named.
One of the jail authorities on the condition of anonymity said that prisoners are released on bail after thorough medical check-up.
Dr Prabhakar Taware, superintendent of Sassoon General Hospital, refused to provide documents of Chetan’s death saying that could only be given to the family.
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