Justice for Bathani Tola

The Bihar HC’s acquittal of all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre case, overturning a lower court’s conviction of 23, has shocked and outraged people across the country. The acquittal has raised urgent questions about justice for the victims of the massacres of rural poor in the 1990s by the feudal landlord army, Ranveer Sena. In the feature that follows, we revisit the pages of Liberation to recall the social and political context of those massacres and the struggle for justice that followed. We also follow the trail of political complicity and patronage that has allowed the perpetrators to go free, and the continuing struggle for justice.

On 11 July 1996, a private army of upper caste landlords (Ranveer Sena) brutally massacred 21 people (11 women; five girls below 10 years; four boys below 8 years; and one man) in the hamlet of Bathani Tola of Bhojpur (Bihar), most of whom were dalit and Muslim landless poor. The massacre began at 2 in the afternoon, and for the next three hours, assailants from the neighbouring Badki Khadanv village set fire to huts, slashed at women and children with swords, and fired shots. There was a police station a mere 100 metres away, and 3 other police camps about 1-2 kms away in different directions. But no police interrupted the dance of death, and Bathani Tola was left to defend itself.

An Ara sessions court in 2010 convicted 23 for the massacre, sentencing 3 to death and 20 to life. And in April 2012, the Bihar High Court acquitted all 23. The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar State Government has announced that it will challenge the acquittal in the Supreme Court. But its real intentions behind this formal posture can be gauged by the comments of one of its Ministers Giriraj Singh, who has opined that the “Bathani Tola massacre case should be nipped in the bud. The issue should not be discussed any more as it could vitiate the atmosphere.” Yet again, this episode illustrates the pro-feudal foundations of the Nitish Government that underlie its pro-poor posturing and rhetoric of ‘Justice with Development.’

“Who Butchered 21 in Broad Daylight?”

Nayeemuddin Ansari, one of the survivors and key witnesses, who lost 6 women and children of his family in the carnage, asks, “Who killed 21 people that afternoon, if it wasn’t those we named in the FIR?” Nayeemuddin, Srikishun Choudhury, Radhika Devi, Marwari Choudhury, Lal Chand Choudhury, and other survivors, ask: “Who will take responsibility for our lives, now that all those we gave evidence against are free?”
But the answer to those questions is one that feudal-communal forces and their political patrons seek to suppress and erase from history. But the survivors of Bathani Tola are not just victims – they were, and are, fighters, who refuse to be defeated or silenced. The memorial to the martyrs of Bathani Tola will not allow those 21 innocents to be forgotten – and the quest for justice for those 21 will continue.

So, who killed 21 at Bathani Tola and why?

Ranveer Sena: Fascist, Feudal, Communal Militia

Massacres of dalit rural labourers by dominant-caste armies were nothing new in Bihar. But in its sheer scale and ferocity, the Bathani Tola massacre marked a new phase and signified a new reactionary political mobilisation. The Ranveer Sena comprised of predominantly Bhumihar landed gentry but using the bond of caste and the shared social bias against the downtrodden, Ranveer Sena was able to sway large sections of Bhumihar peasantry as well as a section of Rajput landed gentry. The Sena had deep ideological and political linkages with the Sangh Parivar and BJP, apart from enjoying the patronage of Bhumihar-Rajput politicians from across the spectrum of ruling class parties. And their specific objective was to unleash terror, to suppress the growing mobilisation of agricultural labourers and poor peasants on socio-economic issues, and their political assertion, especially under the banner of the CPI(ML) Liberation.

One key context for the rise of the Ranveer Sena – and for the Bathani Tola massacre – was the victory of CPI(ML) in the Assembly seats of Sahar and Sandesh in Bhojpur in 1995. It was this political assertion that was the catalyst for the formation and virulent feudal reaction of the Ranveer Sena.

At Bathani Tola, one woman was gang-raped before being killed. Another’s breasts were chopped off. A baby girl was tossed in the air and slashed with a sword as she fell. One 10-year-old girl’s arms were shopped with a sword. Small boys lost their lives due to terrible sword injuries. Homes where people were sheltering were set on fire. Such acts by the Ranveer Sena appear to have provided a sort of template for some of the horrors of the Gujarat massacre by the Sangh Parivar.

Bathani Tola’s landless poor dalits and minorities were being punished for the temerity of their political and social assertion with the CPI(ML). After Bathani Tola, other large-scale massacres at Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankarbigha, Narayanpur and Miyanpur followed, targeting variously the social base of the CPI(ML), the COC(Party Unity) faction which has now merged with the Maoists, and even poor Yadavs who were the social base of the RJD.

In the wake of the massacres at Bathani Tola and Bathe, there was a persistent discourse that ruling class parties, the mainstream media, and even the social democratic Left, sought to peddle. This discourse downplayed the massacres, speaking of them as part of a supposed ‘war of attrition’ or ‘caste war’ between the Naxalites and the Ranveer Sena. The struggles of the poor peasants and labourers for increased wages, land, and dignity were deemed to be a ‘provocation’ – and the Ranveer Sena rationalised as a natural response to such provocation. The CPI(ML) was accused of pitting agricultural labourers against peasants, and the Ranveer Sena posed as the representative of ‘peasants.’ In his press conference following the acquittal, Brahmeshwar Singh has again spoken of how some forces are seeking to break the ‘unity’ of peasants and agricultural labourers.

The myth that the struggle between Ranveer Sena and CPI(ML) was a ‘caste war’ is exposed totally by what a Ranveer Sena sympathiser told the correspondent of The Hindu, after the acquittal. Justifying the massacre as a “reactionary mobilisation” of the upper castes against “those Naxals,” the Ranveer Sena sympathiser declared, “The land is ours. The crops belong to us. They [the labourers] did not want to work, and moreover, hampered our efforts by burning our machines and imposing economic blockades. So, they had it coming.” The very fact that those who had been oppressed for centuries, were having the temerity to organise and assert themselves socially, economically, and politically, was enough to merit being massacred.

A booklet issued by the CPI(ML) (Yeh Jang Zarur Jiten, 2000) pointed out that by calling landlords and even big grain traders ‘peasants,’ and calling for unity of agricultural labourers with these ‘peasants,’ the Ranveer Sena and its apologists, as well as the ruling class parties, were actually rationalising oppressive class and caste hierarchies and atrocities. As long as agricultural labourers were willing to remain subordinate to the landlords, there would be ‘peace’, but as soon as they assert their independent identity and demand rights and dignity, they would be met with the full ferocity of feudal reaction.

The booklet recalled that Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, the Kisan Sabha founder whose legacy the Ranveer Sena was trying to appropriate, had written a book called ‘Khet Mazdoor’ (Agricultural Labourer) while in Hazaribagh Jail in 1943. While advising against an agricultural labourers’ organisation separate from the Kisan Sabha, Swami Sahajanand had emphasised that the Kisan Sabha must keep agricultural labourers at its core. In his words, “Agricultural labourers are the soul of agriculture.” Brahmeshwar Singh’s ‘kisans’ (‘peasants’) are those who massacre the ‘soul of agriculture’ – i.e the poor peasant and farm labourer. The Ranveer Sena is nothing but a private army of landlords and big traders: having nothing remotely in common with peasants.

A Massacre Foretold

What were the events that led to the Bathani Tola massacre?

Bathani Tola is a dalit hamlet attached to the Badki Khadanv village. There was no immediate wage struggle or economic blockade preceding the massacre. In 1988, agricultural labourers of Bathani Tola had launched a strike for minimum wages, which went on for a long while, until the then DM had intervened and an agreement had been reached between the labourers and landlords.

A young chemical engineer called Mohd. Yunus had defeated an oppressive feudal Mukhiya of Badki Khadanv, and been elected Mukhiya in 1978, supported by dalits and Muslims and a broad unity of rural poor. Ever since, the landlords and feudal forces of Badki Khadanv had sought to victimise the dalit and minority communities. Since then, the landlords had begun encroaching on Karbala (graveyard) land and razed an Imambada to the ground, which had stood on 1 decimal of land owned by the Bihar Government. For years the dalits and minorities had waged a battle in court in order to retrieve Karbala land in Kanpahari and Nawadih villages that had been grabbed by the landlords.

The CPI(ML)’s 1995 victories at the Assembly seats of Sahar and Sandesh were an especially sore point for the feudal forces, which organised themselves as the Ranveer Sena. Since January 1996, the Karbala Mukti Janjagaran Manch led by the CPI(ML) had struggled for the retrieval of the Karbala land. Peaceful protestors returning from a march were attacked by Ranveer Sena brigades – comprising mostly the same assailants who perpetrated the Bathani Tola massacre.

In April 1996, Ranveer Sena goons killed Mohd. Sultan and refused to allow his burial in Badki Khadanv. Nayeemuddin Ansari was among those who led the struggle demanding that Sultan be allowed burial in the Karbala land. Ranveer Sena attacks forced Nayeemuddin and around 58 other poor Muslim families to move from the main village to the dalit hamlet, Bathani Tola.

A vicious communal campaign ensued, targeting Bathani Tola. On 29 April, Ranveer Sena declared that the Muslims of Bathani would not be allowed to read namaz on Bakrid. Though the namaz was read in the presence of the BDO and police, the Ranveer Sena subsequently looted Muslim homes, and these attacks continued daily. The police refused even to file an FIR. On 7 June, the Muslim villagers appealed for protection to the then CM Laloo Prasad in his ‘Janta Durbar’, yet the attacks continued unabated. Ranveer Sena brigades would fire at Bathani villagers on 13 June, 3, 8 and 9 July, and the police station and camps, as well as DM and SP, were duly informed of each attack. Yet no action was taken against the perpetrators.

Delegations of CPI(ML) leaders repeatedly met the DM and SP and warned them that a major Ranveer Sena massacre was in the offing. The authorities were fully aware of the fact that the Ranveer Sena men held a huge gathering at Badki Khadanv, and had amassed weapons. Yet they did not respond to repeated appeals and took no measures to prevent the massacre. And when the actual massacre took place, in broad daylight, the police stayed well away and turned a blind eye. Three police personnel – including the Officer in-charge at Badki Khadanv Police camp, and two choukidars, witnessed the entire carnage passively. Significantly, in the court case, these three deposed as defence witnesses! There can be no more damning proof of the fact that the police and administration in Laloo’s regime had instructions not to discourage the Ranveer Sena in any way.

A Struggle In the Face of All Odds

Right from the start, it was a struggle even for medical care for the survivors, and for an FIR to be lodged. Daily protests swelled in numbers, and the CPI(ML) raised the demand that the DM and SP be penalised for their complicity in the massacre. On July 17, a Sankalp Sabha was held at Bathani Tola, attended by thousands, and addressed by the then CPI(ML) General Secretary Vinod Mishra, MLA and legendary Bhojpur leader Ram Naresh Ram among others.

On July 22, 1996, thousands of people laid siege to the Bihar Assembly. Inside the Assembly, the CPI(ML) legislators had raised their voice – and been marshalled out. CPI(ML) supporters had made it to the state capital, Patna, braving rains and police intimidation and violence all along the way. At R-Block (close to the CM’s residence), Liberation reported that “a pitched battle between the police and the demonstrators ensued for over two hours in which the police resorted to tear gassing, water cannons and lathi charging. Even the Patna City DM, Rajbala Verma and the ADM, Deepti Gaur, were themselves involved in stone pelting. But nothing, not even the gun-wielding policemen, could scare away the demonstrators who had not forgotten that the same police had quietly watched as Ranveer Sena butchered innocent women and children at Bathani Tola. The militant mood of the mass shook up the police as they were seen scurrying into nearby shelters every time the demonstrators moved forward breaking the barricade.” CPI(ML) MLAs Comrades Ram Naresh Ram and Mahendra Singh were both severely injured in the stone-pelting by police.

A contingent of around 50 student and youth activists of AISA and RYA managed to make it to the portico of the Assembly, where they raised slogans, and were then severely lathi-charged by police.

For over a month-and-a-half, senior leaders of the CPI(ML) sat on a fast-unto-death, demanding action against the DM and SP. Com. Rameshwar Prasad began his fast on August 3. He was jailed on the third day itself, and continued the fast for a full month in jail itself. Com. KD Yadav joined him on August 22, and septuagenarian Com.Taqi Rahim also fasted for 7 days, and was also arrested. The fast ended on September 3, achieving a significant victory when Laloo Yadav was forced to announce the transfer of DM and SP of Bhojpur. The BJP, Congress, Samata Party as well as local JD leaders together protested the transfer, calling for a Rasta Roko, Rail Roko, Bandh, etc, but these reactionary attempts failed for lack of mass support.

In 2010, soon after the Ara session court verdict came out, the people of Bathani Tola commemorated the martyrdom day (11 July) of the massacre victims by erecting a memorial. The sculpture by Manoj Pankaj shows the women and children emerging through stone, and in the centre is a child holding a butterfly with a hammer and sickle carved on its wings. The memorial was inaugurated by Comrade Ram Naresh Ram – in what was to be one of his last public appearances before his demise.

Bloodbaths Continued

After Bathani Tola, the Ranveer Sena was banned – yet the same macabre dance of death watched passively by police and administration, was to unfold again and again. 10 were massacred at Haibaspur (Bikram, in Patna rural district) on 26 March 1997. (Incidentally this was one of the immediate of the Bihar Bandh campaign during which Comrade Chandrashekhar was shot dead by RJD MP Shahabuddin’s men in Siwan on 31 March.)

One of the worst of the massacres was at Batan Bigha, the dalit hamlet of Laxmanpur Bathe. On the night of December 1, 1997, armed cadres of Ranveer Sena crossed the Sone river (that forms the boundary between Bhojpur and Jehanabad (now part of Arwal) districts) and arrived at Laxmanpur-Bathe village. Using swords and guns, they slaughtered 61 people including 27 women, 16 children and one infant). President KR Narayanan called this massacre a ‘national shame.’ But even this did not shame the Laloo Government, which continued to covertly encourage the Ranveer Sena.

JD MP Chandra Deo Verma had called for lifting the ban on the Ranveer Sena. And on 25 January, 1999, the latter massacred 23 at Shankarbigha, in Arwal (Jehanabad); 12 at Narayanpur (Jehanabad) on 10 February 1999; and yet again, on 16 June, 2000, 33 were slaughtered at Miyanpur – this time, most of the victims were poor peasants of the Yadav caste (Laloo’s traditional mass base).

The Butcher of Bathani and Bathe

The tale of how Brahmeshwar Singh ‘mukhiya’, chief of the Ranveer Sena and notorious as the Butcher of Bathani and Bathe, has escaped scot free all these years is a shameful one, implicating two Chief Ministers.

In the wake of Bathani Tola, the police removed the names of Brahmeshwar and his three lieutenants Bhola Singh, Sadhu Rai, and Bhoda Bhatt from the FIR, and in spite of protests being conveyed to the SP, his name was never added to the FIR. In the Bathe FIR too, Brahmeshwar is conspicuously absent. This decision to omit the Ranveer Sena’s top man from the FIRs in the worst-ever massacres perpetrated by this banned outfit, could only have come from the top man in the Government. Even today, Brahmeshwar Singh continues to be a ‘non-FIR accused’ in these cases.

And of course, the Nitish Government took the greatest care to protect Brahmeshwar.

When the Ara court convicted 23 in the Bathani Tola case in May 2010, Brahmeshwar was pronounced an ‘absconder.’ Strangely, though, this ‘absconder’ whom the police failed to find, had already been arrested in 2002, and was inside Ara jail! A Special Public Prosecutor told The Hindu, “It is hard to fathom as to what is preventing the police and the government in bringing to book this criminal, who has been lodged in Ara jail since 2002. This clearly shows that both the police and the government are not interested in ensuring that justice is meted out.”

Soon after the Ara sessions court verdict in the Bathani Tola case, the Additional District and Sessions Court of Patna sentenced 16 Ranveer Sena men to death and 10 to life imprisonment in the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre case. But both verdicts failed to indict Brahmeshwar Singh – and the fate of the Bathani conviction has shown the way for what lies ahead for the Bathe verdict as well.

Responding to the Bathe verdict, Barmeshwar Singh had given the JD(U)-BJP regime his accolade: had a government like Nitish’s been there to guarantee “law and order”, he said, there would have been no need to form the Ranveer Sena.

And in July 2011, Brahmeshwar ‘Mukhiya’ became a free man, since the Bihar Govt didn’t oppose his bail plea!

“Masterminds of the Massacre Are in Power”

Following the Bathe verdict, Justice (Retd) Amir Das who had headed a Commission of Enquiry into the Bathe massacre and the political linkage with the Ranveer Sena said, “the masterminds of the Bathe massacre are in power in Bihar today.”

The Ranveer Sena was known to have BJP and Sangh Parivar backing; during the debate in the Bihar Assembly on the Ranveer Sena’s Bathani Tola massacre of 1996, then CM Laloo Yadav had placed a leaflet by the Sena calling for votes for BJP candidates. A Central Investigation Team (constituted after the Bathani Tola massacre) found that an RJD MLA from Mokama, Dilip Singh, had supplied sophisticated arms to the Ranveer Sena. In the wake of outraged protests following the Bathe massacre, and widespread allegations of political backing for the Ranveer Sena, the Government headed by Rabri Devi set up the Justice Amir Das Commission to probe the political linkages of the Ranveer Sena.

The Commission complained of non-cooperation even from the RJD Government. In 2006, when the Commission was on the point of preparing its final Report and had requested for a final extension of its tenure, the JD(U)-BJP alliance headed by Nitish Kumar disbanded the Commission in one of its first actions after it came to power.

According to Justice Amir Das, his Report had the evidence to indict 42 political leaders across the political spectrum, mostly from the BJP and JD(U) but also the RJD and Congress; leaders including BJP leaders like the present Deputy CM of Bihar – Sushil Kumar Modi and former Union Minister C P Thakur and former RJD Minister Shivanand Tiwari who is currently the JD(U) spokesperson. In response to a petition by the CPI(ML), the Patna High Court had then ordered that the findings of the Amir Das Commission be made public – an order that has been ignored.

The Nitish Government, in blatant betrayal of his poll promises of land reform and his rhetoric of ‘mahadalits’ and ‘most-backwards’, has essentially remained loyal to the traditional feudal support base of the JD(U)-BJP, and has proved that loyalty by disbanding the Amir Das Commission and jettisoning the recommendations of the Land Reforms Commission set up by his own Government.

In Nitish’s Bihar, 10 mahadalits are sentenced to death for the Amausi massacre while perpetrators of feudal atrocities against dalits and the rural poor go scot free. The hatred shown by the police to the poor Muslims at Forbesganj is reminiscent to what was seen at Bathani Tola.

It is ironical that today, the forces which patronised the medieval barbarism and feudal reaction in the form of the Ranveer Sena, are in power, being feted by the corporate media as messiahs of ‘development’ and ‘progress.’ Bathani Tola is a reminder of the real face of the BJP-JD(U) combine, which masquerades behind the talk of mahadalit empowerment and corporate ‘development.’

Calling the bluff of Nitish’s slogan of ‘Nyay ke saath vikas’ (Development with justice), the CPI(ML) will conduct a month-long Nyay Yatra from 22 April. The statewide campaign will link the massacre sites in Shahabad and Magadh region with other sites of feudal-patriarchal violence and state brutality elsewhere in Bihar and seek to bring together all justice-loving people in a shared quest for justice. The CPI(ML) will also challenge the Bihar HC verdict in the Supreme Court, and will seek Supreme Court intervention to ensure justice in the range of Ranveer Sena massacre cases in Bihar.

Box 1

Bathani Tola Massacre and Media Cover-up

(excerpts from a write-up by Comrade Vinod Mishra which appeared in the September 7, 1996 issue of Mainstream)

...Kanshi Ram as well as Ram Vilas Paswan, the two self-appointed spokesmen of the dalits, didn’t feel it necessary to even condemn the incident. VP Singh, the foremost votary of Dalit empowerment maintained a mysterious silence over the entire episode. No Muslim leader worth the name cared to visit the spot despite the fact that the Ranveer Sena is a frontal organisation of the BJP, that a considerable section of the victims belong to the Muslim community, that the immediate issue was the liberation of the Kabristan and Karbala lands and that the massacre had a strong communal overtone.

Indrajit Gupta, the Communist Union Home Minister, did fly to the spot and parroted the hackneyed phrase of lack of land reforms as the root cause of the problem and hence as the Home Minister he can hardly do anything. Gupta flew back to Delhi promising Central funds for the modernisation of the police force in Bihar and for raising new units of para-military forces as demanded by the Chief Minister and the police top-brass. One wonders whether it was really lack of arms which was the cause behind the police inaction! In Parliament, the Union Home Minister announced the formation of a task force comprising retired senior police officials to probe into the causes of the rise of extremism in Bihar. There was no word or action against the district administration for their criminal neglect of duty and even the earlier norm of setting up a judicial enquiry to probe such grave incidents was given a go-by under the cover of generalisations.

Gupta’s reference to lack of land reforms as the root cause was much acclaimed by the liberal media as touching the raw nerve of the problem. However, a close scrutiny will reveal that it was the most ridiculous of statements in the concrete context and with regard to its particular timing. One often reads editorials and social analyses that point to the lack of land reforms as the root cause behind the growth of Naxalism. Gupta was obsessed with the same concern and hence handed out the usual recipe. In his misplaced zeal of scholarly adventure he failed to grasp that Bathani Tola was the reverse case of growing feudal backlash.

In Bhojpur in general, and the main village of Barki Kharaon near Bathani Tola in particular, people relying on their organised strength and increasing political might had already snatched reforms over wages and land. The feudal backlash, emboldened by the ascendancy of the BJP in the last parliamentary elections in Bihar, was precisely meant to snatch these gains and re-establish the savarna hegemony. Incidentally, Ranvir was a Bhumihar hero of yesteryear who fought against Rajput domination and, therefore, Rajputs were generally wary of joining the Ranvir Sena. At Barki Kharaon, the unity between the two castes was effected by the BJP elements using the convenient communal pretext as the current struggle there was over Kabristan and Karbala lands which have been forcibly occupied by savarna landlords; the confrontation has its genesis in 1978 itself when Yunus Mian defeated Kesho Singh in the Panchayat elections for the post of mukhiya, and then the subsequent razing to the ground of the Imambara.

Bathani Tola is a typical case of open class war which, though rising at grassroots, is defined by the parameters of political struggle at the top, a typical case where caste as well as communal antagonisms - the two major social parameters of contemporary Indian society - are blended within the framework of class struggle. It is no accident that the revolutionary Left and the communal fascist forces of the extreme Right stand face-to-face in a headlong battle in this class war which has engulfed the entire district of Bhojpur and is fast spreading to other parts of Bihar. Neither is it incidental that with the outbreak of open class war the centrist and social-democratic forces have turned impotent often adopting a neutral position that only goes to benefit the predators.

This class war, which subsumes within itself the issues of caste and communal discriminations, is at the same time the negation of the post-modernist agenda for which the priority is the other way round.
The media cover-up as well as the silence of all the proponents of Dalit and minority empowerment has to be seen against this backdrop.

If the 25 years of the history of Bhojpur is any guide, the struggle has never stopped half-way here. The rural poor, compared to their position 25 years ago, have snatched socio-economic gains and have advanced politically to a considerable extent. No Bathani Tola is going to make them surrender even a small bit of their gains. The battle, therefore, goes on and shall continue till the last vestige of feudalism is ultimately razed to the ground.

Box 2

Major Massacres by Ranveer Sena

Bhojpur District

Village -- Khopira // Date -- 29.4.95 // No. of Dead -- 5

Village -- Sarthua // Date -- 25.7.95 // No. of Dead -- 6

Village -- Norpur // Date -- 5.3.95 // No. of Dead -- 6

Village -- Chandi // Date -- 7.2.96 // No. of Dead -- 4

Village -- Patranpura // Date -- 9.3.96 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Nanaur // Date -- 22.4.96 // No. of Dead -- 5

Village -- Nadhi // Date -- 5.5.96 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Nadhi // Date -- 19.5.96 // No. of Dead -- 3

village -- Morath // Date -- 25.5.96 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Bathani Tola // Date -- 11.7.96 // No. of Dead -- 21

Village -- Purhara // Date -- 25.11.96 //No. of Dead -- 4

Village -- Khanet // Date -- 12.12.96 // No. of Dead -- 5

Bhojpur District

Village -- Ekwari // Date -- 24.12.96 // No. of Dead -- 6

Village -- Bagar // Date -- 10.1.97 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Ekwari // Date -- 10.4.97 // No. of Dead -- 9

Village -- Nagri // Date -- 11.5.97 // No. of Dead -- 10

Village -- Sonbarsa // Date -- 28.3.2000 // No. of Dead -- 3

Jehanabad District

Village -- Maachil // Date -- 31.1.97 // No. of Dead -- 4

Village -- Akopur // Date -- 28.3.97 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Khadasim // Date -- 2.9.97 // No. of Dead -- 8

Village -- Katesar Nala // Date -- 23.11.97 // No. of Dead -- 6

Village -- Lakshmanpur Bathe // Date -- 31.12.97 // No. of Dead -- 61

Village -- Aiyyara Rampur // Date -- 25.7.98 // No. of Dead -- 3

Village -- Shankarbigha // Date -- 25.1.99 // No. of Dead -- 23

Village -- Narayanpur // Date -- 10.2.99 // No. of Dead -- 12

Patna District

Village -- Haibaspur // Date -- 26.3.97 // No. of Dead -- 10

Gaya District

Village -- Sindani // Date -- 21.4.99 // No. of Dead -- 12

Rohtas District

Village -- Panchpokhri // Date -- May 2000 // No. of Dead -- 5

Aurangabad District

Village -- Mianpur // Date -- 16.6.2000 // No. of Dead -- 33

Nawada District

Village -- Rajbigha // Date -- 3.6.2000 // No. of Dead -- 5

Box 3

Bihar HC Verdict

A Good Witness is a Dead Witness

The Bihar HC verdict of 16 April, acquitting all Bathani Tola accused, repeatedly holds that the witnesses (survivors) are ‘lying’ and ‘spinning tales’ and being ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘totally unreliable.’

At one point, the verdict observes (see below) that the witnesses claim to have run away and hidden in bushes or ditches. But the IO, according to the verdict, did not find any bushes or ditches. The verdict asks that if we accept that the assailants had come to liquidate everybody, would they not have found and killed these men too?

The verdict implies: since these people are alive, we must assume they are lying about being eyewitnesses.

In other words, the verdict suggests that in any massacre, the only truthful witness can be a dead witness. Dead men and women, (un)fortunately, tell no tales, and cannot give evidence in court.

The ones who survive a carnage alive, according to the verdict, are by definition, dubious and suspicious witnesses, since if they were indeed present to witness the carnage, how come they are alive to tell the tale? Only if they were killed could they have been credible and trustworthy.

Going by this impeccable logic, can anyone ever be convicted for a carnage?

Excerpt from the verdict:

“In the present case, we find it quite conflicting that the allegation and the act are such that the miscreants had come to eliminate everyone in the village. After killing, they set fire to the houses. How could they did not bother to look for people in hiding in close vicinity of the village itself? The witnesses and the accused are neighbours and of neighbouring Tola. They would not be exposing their identity in broad day light giving people opportunity to identify them. Some prosecution witnesses say they hid in a ditch. IO says no ditch was shown nor was it there which could show a hiding place. Ahar (irrigation channel) is conspicuous place but surprisingly the witnesses hide there and, from time to time, were able to peep out unconcerned of their safety which is quite unnatural. Some witnesses are said to have hidden in bushes like jungle but on objective finding of the IO, there was no such place. People, who were intent to liquidate everybody, naturally would have seen that there were no male members, they would have searched for male members who were all hiding in very close proximity to the village itself. This is unnatural for the prosecution witnesses. Because of these reasons, we have found the identifications made by the prosecution witnesses not worthy of reliance for the purposes of this extreme punishment of either death or life imprisonment.

The verdict does say, “thanks to the investigating agency and the administration the true culprits have escaped.”

But the verdict does not contain a breath of uncertainty about the innocence of the accused who have been named by the eyewitnesses!

Says the verdict, “People suffered, their families obliterated with no solace as to the punishment to the perpetuators. Thanks to the misguided investigation and prosecution.” But the verdict itself seems to wilfully forget that those suffering families are the ones who bore witness. By branding these sufferers and anguished survivors as “witnesses who were totally unreliable”, the verdict has rubbed salt into their wounds, and rendered them terribly vulnerable to retribution from those it set free.

The verdict has held that the prosecution and eyewitnesses were both equally malafide, and that both conspired to frame innocents. The witnesses have been spoken of as though they are the ones in the dock.

In fact, the verdict goes to the extent of apologising to three of those accused by eyewitnesses of some of the most heinous crimes – on the claim that they were juveniles at the time of the incident, and yet have spent time in jail and been sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

What will be the impact of such a verdict on the ground in Bathani Tola?
Are the accused who have just been acquitted, being emboldened by the verdict’s implied message: that they are now free to avenge the injustice done to them by the witnesses who helped send them to jail?

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