Chandrakant Gaikwad, a 30-year old Dalit human rights defender from Maharashtra, was shot dead on 12 February. His suspected killer had previously issued threats against Mr Chandrakant for filing an atrocity case against him.
The murder of a young Dalit human rights defender has once again focused attention on the dangers of taking a stand against caste discrimination and atrocities in India. Dalit human rights defenders risk imprisonment, harassment, torture – even death.
Chandrakant Gaikwad was shot dead in Indapur, Pune district, Maharashtra, when meeting a fellow Dalit human rights defender. They were attacked by a group of dominant caste people led by Satpal Rupnavar who allegedly fired the deadly shots against Chandrakant Gaikwad and then fled the scene of the crime.
As an active Dalit human rights defender, Chandrakant Gaikwad had filed an atrocity case against Satpal Rupnavar for committing a crime against Dalits in 2011. He was also the witness in two further atrocity cases filed against the accused in 2012. As a result of these complaints, Satpal was arrested in January 2012, but released on bail later that year. According to press reports, Satpal Rupnavar is a notorious criminal.
Following his release, he reportedly issued a number of threats against Chandrakant Gaikwad and two other Dalit human rights defenders. They complained to the authorities, including the police, the Home Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission, but were not offered any protection.
The deceased was a volunteer with the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), which is part of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). He had supported atrocity victims in their attempts to access justice and also monitored human rights abuses against Dalits.
“We are shocked and anguished by the brutal killing of Chandrakant Gaikwad. He was a courageous defender of Dalit human rights, and it is a horrible and senseless tragedy that this honourable and important work has cost him his life. We shall not rest until the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice,” said NDMJ General Secretary Prasad Sirivella.
The NCDHR-NDMJ intends to submit a complaint about the murder to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. In a report following her visit to India in 2011, Ms Sekkagya wrote that she was “deeply disturbed” by the situation of Dalit human rights defenders in the country. She added that “the range of human rights violations they suffer is appalling.”
In December 2012, the European Parliament also expressed its deep concern on the continued violence against Dalits in its resolution on caste discrimination in India and referred to Sekaggya’s report. The EP particularly underlined “the need for victims to be able to safely register their cases with the police and judicial authorities, as well as for serious follow-up by the police and judiciary of reported atrocities and other cases of discrimination.”