Explainer: Kopardi Rape & Murder Case That Fuelled Maratha Unrest

Kopardi rape & murder case explained: Ahmednagar court likely to sentence the convicts.

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Explainer: Kopardi Rape & Murder Case That Fuelled Maratha Unrest

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Over a year after a 15-year-old girl was brutally tortured, raped and murdered in Kopardi in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, family members of the minor will now finally receive justice. On Wednesday, the Ahmednagar District & Sessions court sentenced all convicts – Jitendra Shinde, Nitin Bhailume, and Santosh Bhaval – to death on charges of murder, conspiracy and sexual assault.

Here’s a look at the details of the case that left the state shocked by its brutality.


What Happened On 13th July 2016?

While returning home after meeting her grandfather on the evening of July 13, the 15-year-old was accosted by the main accused- Jitendra Shinde. Shinde then tortured and raped the girl and called his friends to the spot. The trio allegedly dragged her to an isolated location close to her house and murdered her. The brutality inflicted on the minor was as gruesome as that of Delhi’s Nirbhaya. The girl’s hair had been pulled out, her teeth smashed, with bite marks all over her body, including her genitals, her shoulders were dislocated and she was found to be strangled to death.

Speaking to The Indian Express, the minor girl’s brother had said that his cousin set out to look for the girl on the same evening after she failed to return home and located her bicycle by the road. “Intrigued, he looked around and saw Shinde walking away from the road carrying my sister’s body. When he noticed my cousin, Shinde dropped the body and ran towards his house. My cousin chased him until he hid in the house. The cousin returned as he was alone”.

Acting on eye witness accounts, the police immediately tracked and arrested the key convict in the case, Jitendra Shinde, the next day. After interrogating Shinde, the police arrested his accomplices- Nitin Bhailume, and Santosh Bhaval two days later. All the three convicts were known to the family of the victim as the trio worked as labourers in the same village.


Why Did the Kopardi Gangrape Turn 'Political'?

The case soon took on caste connotations, causing a furore across Maharashtra. While the victim belonged to a Maratha family, the three convicts belong to the Mahar caste, a Dalit community. Taking no chances with security, the state Government deployed security forces across Ahmednagar, especially at the homes of the three convicted.

Maratha rally being held to protest against the rape and murder of a 15-year-old
(Picture Courtesy: Twitter/@TanveerAnas)

Just days after the horrific crime, Maharashtra witnessed it’s first Maratha Kranti Morcha, silent rallies that saw lakhs of Marathas take to the streets across Ahmednagar, Beed, Aurangabad, Thane and Mumbai among 50 cities in total. The rallies were held intermittently for over 8 months across the state. While the rallies were triggered by the rape and murder of the 15-year-old, the demands of those rallying were larger -

1. Bring the three accused of murdering the 15-year-old girl to justice

2. Amend the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

3. Quotas for Marathas in state-run educational institutions and Government jobs


How Did the Investigation Proceed?

In a bid to calm the outrage brewing in Ahmednagar post the rape and murder of the 15-year-old, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assured the family of the minor that the case would be heard in a fast track case and appointed Ujjwal Nikam as the public prosecutor.

In November, the police filed a 350-page charge sheet in the case. Speaking to The Indian Express, the victim’s father had said, “Now that the charge sheet has been filed, we expect that as promised by the Chief Minister, the trial of the case should be conducted on a daily basis and the culprits should get severe punishment as early as possible for the heinous crime”.

During the 11 month trial, the prosecution examined 31 witnesses and concluded that while the prime accused, Jitendra Shinde, raped and murdered the minor, the two accomplices, Nitin Bhailume and Santosh Bhaval, conspired with him.  

Public prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam conceded that Bhailume and Bhaval were not physically present at the scene of the crime when the 15 year old was raped but Shinde had given a missed call to Bhailume when the duo was in the vicinity of the crime. The prosecutor also argued that the two accomplices were present when Shinde had “eve-teased” the 15-year-old two days prior to the incident.

The entire case was based on circumstantial evidence in the absence of an eye witness. “The forensic tests proved that blood stains of victims were found on the clothes of the convict (Shinde)“ said Nikam. The defence lawyers however argued that there was no medical evidence against Bhailume and Bhaval.


What Is the Status Now?

On 29 November a fast track court in Ahmednagar sentenced all the three accused in the Kopardi case- Jitendra Shinde, Nitin Bhailume, and Santosh Bhaval- to death. They were earlier held guilty of conspiracy, sexual assault, and murder.

“The convicts must be hanged for killing my daughter” said the girl’s mother reiterating her family’s demand since day one.

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