Appeals to punish the culprits of the Shankar Bigha massacre (Bihar)

February 2, 2015

Justice Delayed, and Denied Yet Again: PUDR urges Supreme Court to suo moto intervene in the Shankarbigha and other massacres

People’s Union for Democratic Rights strongly condemns the acquittal of the accused in the Shankarbigha massacre (Jehanabad District) of 1999. On 14 January, 2014, a Trial Court in Jehanabad District of Bihar acquitted all the 24 accused members of Ranvir Sena in Shankarbigha killings on grounds of “lack of evidence”. All the 23 persons killed, of them seven children including a 10 month old child, five women and eleven men, were from families of landless agricultural workers from the Dalit and backward communities of Paswan, Chamar, Dushads, and Rajwar. A private militia of Bhumihar (loosely described as landlord) caste – Ranvir Sena (active from early 1990s) – unleashed the terror on the victims on the eve of the Republic Day, night of 25th January 1999. After 16 years of court battle the accused have been set at liberty. The verdict in the Shankarbigha case provides occasion to reflect on the caste massacres of the 1980s and 1990s in Bihar (undivided) and their aftermath.

The Shankarbigha killings were part of the series of “caste-cleansing” undertaken by the private upper caste Rajput and Bhumihar militias like Sunlight Sena, Savarna Liberation Front and Ranvir Sena in the agrarian ecosystem of central Bihar districts. In 27 incidents of massacres by Ranvir Sena 400 children, women and men perished. It is important to note that all these massacres took place in the context of peoples’ struggles over land and wages under the leadership of CPI(ML) Liberation, CPI(ML) Party Unity and Maoist Communist Centre and were resisted by the Rajput and Bhumihar landlords in Bihar in the 1980s-90s. The struggling poor largely comprised of landless Dalits, and other backward castes.

In October 2013, the Patna High Court acquitted all 23 members of Ranvir Sena accused of Laxmanpur Bathe massacre (1997) where 58 Dalit agricultural labourers were killed. On the other hand, the accused of Bara Massacre, Gaya (where members of Bhumihar caste were killed allegedly by erstwhile members of the Maoist Communist Centre belonging to Mochi, Paswan, Dussadh communities i.e. Dalit and backward castes) have been convicted and are in jail since 1992. The interplay of social stratifications and the resulting judicial bias can be clearly inferred from the fate of similar crimes but different accused.

It is also worth noting that the Shankarbigha verdict is the fifth in row of the recent acquittals, on the basis of either “lack of evidence” or absence of reliable eye-witnesses. Four Patna High Court verdicts in Bathani Tola (April 2012), Nagari Bazaar (March 2013), Miyanpur (July 2013), and Laxmanpur Bathe (October 2013) over the last two years acquitted all those upper caste persons who had been convicted by the Trial Courts. In the Shankarbigha case, where the acquittal has happened at the Trial Court stage itself, all 49 witnesses turned hostile and declared inability to identify the accused. Fear and social pressure of dominant castes are not to be taken lightly. Despite the fact that the Ranvir Sena publicly accepted that they had carried out the massacre, the allegedly insufficient evidence only goes on to highlight the bias of police in investigating the crime and collecting evidence to prosecute the case. The laxity of police in investigation of all other massacres of Dalit and backward peasants and agricultural labourers is evident from the results of the trial as mentioned above.

List of recent acquittals of upper caste persons in cases of massacres of lower caste persons in Bihar due to lack of evidence or unreliable witnesses
Year of massacreIncidentNumber of landless Dalits killedAcquittal of Upper Caste accused byAcquittal date
1996Bathani Tola20Patna High CourtApril 2012
1997Laxmanpur Bathe58Patna High CourtOctober 2013
1998Nagari Bazaar10Patna High CourtMarch 2013
1999Shankarbigha23Trial Court, JehanabadJanuary 2015
2000Miyanpur32Patna High CourtJuly 2013

 

Bias is also evident in the judiciary’s selective and differential use of laws. While TADA (since lapsed) was immediately slapped on lower caste accused of Bara massacre involved in killing of upper caste men and landlords in 1992. The provisions of even The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 were not applied in the case of Shankarbigha massacre. This is not to argue that extra-ordinary laws be imposed in all cases of massacre, where so far they have not been. What we sue for is impartial and thorough investigation, and just and fair trials so that justice can be delivered to all.

Shankarbigha trial and investigation when contrasted against Bara massacre yet again shows,  that the criminal justice system is loaded in favour of the powerful against the powerless, and that the awarding of punishments is itself in keeping with existing inequalities. Members of the police and the judiciary in the conduct of their duties replicate the same caste structures and prejudices that characterize the society from which they come. The arc of history of people struggling for justice in India is long but it bends in favour of injustice with a regularity which tends to make it a rule.

Since the matter is before the Court we urge the apex court to suo moto intervene in these instances of gross injustice and ensure that even if delayed, justice is done to the victims of the massacres and that perpetrators are not allowed to escape scot free.

Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl
(Secretaries)

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Memorandum

To,

The Resident Commissioner,

Bihar Bhavan, Delhi

Subject: Joint Appeal to Punish the Culprits of Shankar Bigha Massacre of Bihar

Sir,

The recent judgment of the Additional District and Sessions Judge of Jehanabad (Bihar), given in the much reported case of Shankar Bigha Massacre, has not only depicted the travesty of justice, but also exposed the frivolity of Bihar police and its prosecution machinery. The Judge of the trial court has acquitted all the 24 accused persons, of being involved in the infamous massacre, on 13th January, 2015, citing “lack of evidence”.

But, look into the brief history of the case of this massacre, which will reveal the real nature of this judgment.

Ranbir Sena was formed in 1994 in Bhojpur district of Bihar, as a private army of upper caste and upper class, with a clear-cut aim of crushing the ongoing revolutionary peasant movement of Bhojpur and adjoining areas. Ranveer Sena organized more than two dozen massacres in Bhojpur, Jehanabad, Aurangabad and Gaya districts of Bihar, such as Bathani Tola, Ekawari, Laxmanpur Bathe, Nagari Bazar, Shankar Bigha, Narayanpur and Miyapur.

They butchered 23 and severely injured 14 residents of Shankar Bigha village of Jehanabad district, at the night of 25th January 1999. Five women and seven children, including a 10month-old, were among those killed. All the killed persons were from families of landless agricultural workers, belonging to the dalit and most backward communities. They were the part of a democratic peasant organization and raising their voices against atrocities and exploitations, imposed upon them by the local landowners of upper castes and state forces.

Since, the heinous massacre took place on the eve of the Republic Day, there had been much hue and cry among the political circle of Bihar and other places. Many political parties and democratic-revolutionary forces rushed to Shankar Bigha to express their solidarity to the fighting people and to share the grief of the affected families.

Since assembly elections in Bihar were due by March 2000, Bihar Chief Minister Rabari Devi and her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav also reached at the site of the carnage in Shankar Bigha village on 26 January, 1999. Rabari Devi promised to bring the guilty to book. But the villagers pointed out that the perpetrators of the Laxamanpur Bathe carnage (where 58 dalit and most backward people had been killed more than 2 years back by the same army) were yet to be arrested. The Chief Minister announced a compensation of Rs.1.4 lakhs, free rations for six months, a government job and pucca houses for the victims’ kin. She also announced that a special court would be set up to try the accused. But, the affected family members replied to the Chief Minister, “Give us guns, not compensation. We do not want your money. We want to fight with those who have been killing us and moving around freely.” They were almost sure that many of the promises, given by the Chief Minister would not be fulfilled.

Many opposition parties, including CPI and CPM demanded to dismiss the Rabari govt. and impose the President Rule, immediately, The Governor of Bihar Sunder Singh Bhandari also presented to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, a fresh case for the dismissal of the Rabari government.

After all these, the President K.R. Narayanan virtually ticked off the Bihar Government for laxity and called for “stringent and urgent action” against persons responsible for the slaughter. He also remarked: “Law-enforcing agencies have a responsibility, by timely and decisive intervention, to prevent recurrence of such acts and obvious reprisal action,”

But, all these actions and reactions went in vain. Though the FIR of this case was registered on 26th January, 1999, but the Charge Sheet filed in 2001. And all the 24 accused of this case were granted bail in 2001itself. The trial of this case was completed in about 15 years! Altogether 50 persons (49 witnesses and 1 Informant) were brought in the trial court to provide evidence against the accused of the carnage. But, in the order of acquittal, the judge cited ‘lack of evidence’, including the fact that all of the 50 witnesses ‘turned hostile’ in court. At Shankar Bigha though, it isn’t difficult to perceive why. All the 24 accused and their family members and supports exerted many kinds of pressure upon the informant and witnesses of this case. They were even threatened to kill them and their family members. This fact was brought to Police and the trial court Judge. The police emphatically refused to provide any kind of protection to them. Then, they requested the Judge: ‘Let them take us to Patna, let them give us some assurance of protection, and we will not hesitate to recognize the accused.’ But, the Judge couldn’t provide any protection and assurance to them. So, they told the trial court that they “had not seen anyone clearly that night.” Thus, this was the ‘hostility’ of the witnesses, which prompted the Judge of the Jehanabad trial court to grant acquittal to all the accused of the Shanker Bigha massacre case.

The past two years, though, have thrown up a disturbing trend of acquittals in massacres’ cases of Bihar, particularly in those where dalits were killed. Acquittals in the massacre cases of Nagari Bazar, Miyapur, Bathani Tola and Laxamanpur Bathe are the conspicuous examples. In all such cases, the Bihar government’s response has been to go in for appeals in higher courts. And the poor dalits have been bearing the brunt of this apathy. In real sense, these acquittals are nothing, but the massacres of justice.

In this unprecedented situation, we have to come to you jointly, to place the following demands for your kind and urgent consideration:

  1. Form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to start fresh investigation of the case of Shankar Bigha massacre.
  2. Provide proper police protection to all the witnesses of these massacre cases and provide employment to those witnesses, who want to live in cities.
  3. Appoint a new Commission to investigate the nexus of Ranveer Sena and other private armies with the political parties and police personnel.
  4. Make public the Preliminary Report of Amir Das Commission, which were dissolved by the Nitish govt.
  5. Higher Judiciary should interface in the matter to check the travesty of justice in Bihar and provide proper justice to the affected people, so soon as possible.

WE, the undersigned:   

  1. All India Federation of Trade Unions (New) ………………………………….
  2. Inqalabi Majdoor Kendra………………………………………………………
  3. People’s Front………………………………………………………………….
  4. Krantikari Yuva Sangathan…………………………………………………….
  5. New Democratic Party of India………………………………………………..
  6. People’s Democratic Front of India………………………………….
  7. Jati Unmulan Aandolan………………………………………………
  8. Pragatisheel Mahila Ekata Kendra……………………………………
  9. Nowruz……………………………………………………………….
  10. People’s Union for Democratic Rights……………………………..
  11. Sanhati………………………………………………………………