Bathani Tola is just one among many anti-people verdicts

May 2, 2012

by Arjun Prasad Singh

Translated by Shiv Sethi and Amit Basole

Click to read a report on the Convention held to demand justice for victims of Bathani Tola Massacre

It is often claimed that the hands of law enforcement are very long and no criminal can escape its reach. It is also often explicitly stated, or implicitly assumed, that the law is impartial. The ruling elite of the country, who live off the labour of the toiling masses, try their level best to continually prove the impartiality of the legal system. This also means that whoever, be it Prashant Bhushan or Arundhati Roy, questions the impartiality of the legal system, they are tried for contempt of court.

The truth cannot be suppressed. In recent years both the high court and the supreme court have given many anti-people and anti-working class verdicts that seriously question their impartiality. The April 16, 2012 verdict of the two-member bench of Patna High Court on the Bathani Tola massacre has unmasked the real face of the judiciary.

Bear in mind that on July 11, 1996, the upper-caste backed private militia, Ranveer Sena, attacked Bathani Tola in Bhojpur dsitrict, and massacred 21 people including three infants, six children, and 11 women; one infant was three months old. The dead included six members of the family of Naeemuddin Ansari, a bangle-seller and his two-month old infant girl. The rapacious beasts of the Ranveer Sena tossed this two-month old baby in the air and cut her with swords. This was widely discussed in the newspapers. The 7 year old son of Naeemuddin, Saddam, received severe sword wounds on his neck, which caused his death in Patna medical college a month later.

The very next day, Kishen Chaudhury filed an FIR in Sahar police station naming 33 attackers and by October 1996 a charge had been framed by the police. But the case dragged on the Ara sessions court for 14 years. Eventually, the trial court reached its verdict against the accused in 2010. Three of the accused – Ajay Singh, Manoj Singh, and Narendra Singh – were sentenced to death while 20 others were given a life sentence. The testimonies of Naeemuddin Ansari and six others were considered water-tight by the court, which helped establish the exact crimes of the accused : Ajay Singh killed ten year old girl Phool Kumari; Manoj Singh killed a three-month old infant; Narendra Singh brutally murdered two women, Sanjhru Devi and Ramratiya Devi.

When the session court verdict was challenged in the Patna high court, the case was turned on its head. The high court bench consisting of Justice Navneet Prasad Singh and Justice Ashwini Kumar Singh, acquitted all the accused citing insufficient evidence.

This biased high court decision has drawn a sharp response from the media and political circles. Civil society is of the view that this unfortunate verdict will strengthen feudal forces not only in Bihar but across the country. This verdict has also sullied the reputation the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar which professes to stand for the rights of the mahadalits.

However, the politically aware citizens in Bihar and across the country know that this is the same Nitish Kumar government that deliberately suppressed the Amirdas Commission report that had revealed close ties between the Ranveer Sena and politicians in high places. This report showed that the dreaded Ranveer Sena got direct support and backing from many leaders of BJP and Janta Dal (U). Even the current deputy Chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi was implicated in this collusion.

As far the verdict of Patna high court on Bathani Tola case is concerned, this is not a matter of surprise. In the past, respected justices of this courts have given similar verdicts on the cases of large scale massacres. In the decades of 1980s and 1990s, many dreaded private militias of the upper-castes, such as Bhoomi Sena, Lorik Sena, Brahmarishi Sena, Satyendra Sena, Savarna Liberation Front, Sunlight Sena, and Ranveer Sena, had committed dozens of massacres. The victims of these massacres were the poor dalits and some of the most backward sections of the society. Just in the Lakshman Pur Bathe (1997), Shankar Bigaha (1999) and Miyapur (2000) massacres a total of 116 people were killed, with a large fraction of them being women and children.

Ranveer Sena’s head Bramheshwar Singh had personally led over a dozen such massacres in Bhojpur, Jahanabad, Gaya, and Aurangabad districts. He even admitted to his role to the police and the media. Even then he was released from prison last July. Similarly the head of the dreaded Savarna Liberation Front, Ramaghat Singh aka Diamond, was also acquitted by the court; this group was directly responsible for brutal killings in Sawan Bhighya (Jahanabad) and Main-Barsimha (Gaya). At present, most of the leaders of these criminal gangs have either been acquitted or granted bail by the court.

Around 2 years ago, in April 2010, the Patna sessions court had sentenced 16 members of Ranveer Sena to death and 10 other members of the group to life imprisonment, for their involvement in the Lakshmanpur Bathe massacre. In this massacre, a total of 58 people, including 10 children and 27 women, belonging to dalit and other poor communities were killed. An appeal in the high court to challenge this verdict is still pending. High court’s decision in the Bathani Tola case lends support to the notion that the accused of the Lakshmanpur Bathe massacre will also be eventually acquitted.

There is another side of the story, which reveals the other face of the judicial system. In response to these massacres carried out by criminal groups backed by upper castes and dominant classes when the MCC, which is active in the Magadh region of Bihar, carried out ‘retaliatory attacks’ in Dalel Chak Bhagora, Bara, and Senari, there was a qualitatively different response from the police, the state administration, and the judicial system. As these ‘retaliatory actions’ have resulted in the deaths of dozens of upper caste people it has induced the state to carry out arrests of activists and supporters of the MCC and other Naxalite groups on a much larger scale.

Dozens of accused in such cases have been charged under harsh and repressive laws such as TADA. So far, seven people (Veer Kunver Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Nanhe Lal Mochi, Dharu Singh, Vyas Kahar, Naresh Paswan, Yugal Mochi) have been sentenced to death by a special TADA court in Bara incident (1992). The sentences of the first four in this group have been upheld by the Supreme Court, and the outcome of their mercy petition to the president is pending.

In the past two decades, nearly 150 accused dalits and members of other extremely backward communities have been sentenced to death by special courts in Bihar. These communities have full reservation when it comes to receiving harsh sentences from special courts.

People in Bihar and across the country are asking why the leader of Ranveer Sena, Bramheshwar Singh, responsible for dozens of massacres, was released by the court. Why were the accused of Bathani Tola acquitted by the High Court in spite of water-tight testimonies? And why death sentences for dalits and the poor accused in the Bara incident?

Sooner or later, these questions will have to be answered.

The Hindi version of the article appeared in Janjwar