Justice starves carnage victims
Big blot on Bihar police
Amit Kumar Pandey
Democracy was young in the country. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the President. He was at home with a co-villager in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Pleasantry over, the man told him in Bhojpuri: “Babu, raaur raj me noon, khun aa kanun sasta baa” (salt, blood and law are cheap in your rule).
This anecdote still holds true. Blood-letting and manipulating laws of the land are still cheap, albeit salt price has sky-rocketed. That justice is dependent on ‘resourceful people’ is evident from the reprieve the marauders of Bathani Tola carnage got from the Patna High Court. The court cited ‘lack of evidence’ as the reason for acquitting three persons sentenced to death and 20 given life imprisonment. The massacre in Bhojpur’s Bathani Tola had claimed life of 22 people, mainly Dalit and Muslim children and women, in 1996. They were butchered allegedly by Ranvir Sena, an army of upper caste peasants. Thus, the struggle for justice by the hapless people of Bathani Tola for 16 long years has come a cropper. The police played the spoil sport. The police charge-sheet found no ‘evidence against accused persons’. Two years ago, an Ara court had found guilty and pronounced the sentences against 23 persons.
Police is the most important arm of justice. The men in uniform play crucial role in the carriage or miscarriage of justice. Though the Bihar government plans to re-investigate the Bathani Tola massacre case, the state police would find it difficult to wash clean the black spot on its face. Corruption in police network is older than the democracy in the country. Money and political pulls play crucial role in the investigation of any criminal case. And the political party in power has the last laugh.
Police inaction and vote bank politics ‘nourished’ massacre business that grew into an industry. Head-hunting became a lucrative job. Arms and ammunition merchants never had such a boom. Cadre members of both Maoists and private armies were provided hefty life insurance covers. As a result, what began as a driblet in 1978 (three persons were killed) grew into an ocean with blood accrual of about 800 massacred men, women and children by end of the century. 1999 became the bloodiest year with the reported mayhem of 110 persons. (See the killing chart)
In fact, nineties had been the bloodiest period in the history of Bihar (Jharkhand included), though massacre had started in the second half of the sixties. Some 11 persons had been killed in Chouri village of Bhojpur district in 1968. In course of time private armies of all hues ruled the roost. The state power was in an almost moribund state. Both Maoists and Ranveer Sena recorded rich harvest of human heads. Blood flowed in villages faster than water in the Ganga and Sone rivers. Killing upon killing had turned the land of Buddha-Mahavira red with blood of the innocent people. The state police forces were mute spectators to mass killings. They dreaded to tread in the ‘liberated fiefdom’ of the outlaws.
It is not for nothing that majority carnage cases are yet to see their logical conclusions. And the perpetrators of massacres have acquired ‘social clouts’ and a few of them have managed to be become important ‘priests and law-makers’ in the temples of democracy. It is an open secret that money and political clout played decisive role in the police investigations. The situation has reached such a pass that many of the investing officers (IOs) have retired from the police service, albeit cases are dragging feet in law courts. A senior police officer at the police headquarters lamented that many of new police bosses in the districts do not know case details and whereabouts of the IOs still in service.
Nineties have been the darkest and bloodiest period in the history of Bihar, including Jharkhand. Sone canal irrigated crop fields yielded more human heads than foodgrains. Massacres had been order of the day. Private armies, like Bhoomi sena, Sunlight sena (Gaya and Palamu), Lorik-Shrikrishna sena (Kosi belt), red sena of all hues in South Bihar) and Ranveer sena (of landowning Bhumihars) mushroomed and proliferated like water hyacinth. Patna itself was flooded with caste rallies. Political permutations and combinations worked overtime. Even Maoist outfits saw alignment and realignment on caste and backward-forward lines. Finally, Maoists and Ranveer sena emerged as main rivals. Dalits were sucked in the vortex. Tooth for tooth and eye for eye battles were fought incessantly. Mayhem was replied by mayhem. Mile upon mile of fertile land that once grew golden crops remained fallow. Ironically, the marauders of all hues enjoyed state patronage. Poll battle were won or lost on the strength of these outlaws.
The caste of massacred villagers weighed heavily in police response and follow-up action and compensations by the state government. Under the situation, there was nothing surprising if cases lingered in law courts. The state’s biggest-ever carnage that left 58 Dalits dead in Laxamanpur-Bathe village occurred in 1997. The extremists had retaliated by killing 37 upper caste men at Senari in 1999. We give below selected cases and their status.
On January 25, 1999, 23 scheduled caste members were killed by suspected armed men of Ranveer Sena at Shankerbigha village in Jehanabad district. Mehandia police station, case, number 5/99 GR 171/99, State vs. Barmeshwar Mukhia, Ranveer Sena chief and others. There were some 24 accused persons and 76 witnesses.
The Status: Charge-sheets submitted but charges could not be framed as all accused persons were not present in the court. Most of the accused, including Barmeshwar Mukhia, are out on bail. Even after 13 years of the incident, the accused are yet to be tried for the crime. The attitude of the prosecuting agency assumes significance in the light of acquittal of all the 23 accused of Bathani Tola in Bhojpur massacre by the Patna High Court on April 17 last. The Shankerbigha massacre was carried out allegedly to avenge the killing of Nawal Singh by the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre. Singh was on the hit list of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) ever since the 1992 Bersinha Mein massacre. There Ranveer Sena had allegedly killed six SC men. The MCC retaliated by allegedly killing 37 upper caste people at Bara village in Gaya district in February 1992.
The killing of Nawal Singh had delivered a deadly blow to the Ranveer Sena. Nawal, a self-proclaimed commander of a 500-odd armed squad of the Sena, had allegedly unleashed a reign of terror in the area. After his killing, it was the turn of the Sena to hit back. The Sena chose January 25. A group of upper caste men from nearby Dhobibigha village came to Shankerbigha to buy chickens. They had reportedly bought 30 kg of chicken and enjoyed a lavish party with liquor. The residents of the area found the visit of the men from the neighbouring village amusing. But they were happy, as they thought it had ended a period of tension. By 8 pm, more people from Dhobibigha village came to Shankerbigha in small knots. The residents did not find anything unusual. The women were in the kitchen while the men and children were loitering around. Shankerbigha was preparing to retire for the night.
The ‘guests’ struck suddenly. They surrounded the entire village and broke open the doors of SC houses and shot dead 23 people, including a ten-month-old kid. Only Lallan Sao survived to tell the gory tale. The door of his house was too strong to be broken. As a result, the invaders had to return. Sao, however, heard attackers shouting ‘Ranveer Baba ki jai” before they vanished into Dhobibigha, Daulatpur and Hadia villages.
Justice still eludes the relatives of those, who fell victims to so-called agrarian clashes. The Shankerbigha massacre is not an isolated case. Similar is the fate of the victims of Senari massacre of 1999. MCC cadres at Senari village in Arwal district killed some 35 people from the upper caste in March 1999. The incident was fallout of the mass killings at Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankerbigha and Narayanpur. Allegations flied fast that the carnage victims were discriminated against in the matter of paying compensations and relief by the state government.
The accused persons of some important carnage cases like Laxmanpur Bathe and Mianpur have, however, been held guilty and awarded punishment by lower courts. They have moved the Patna High Court challenging the verdict of the lower courts and verdict is awaited.