The struggles against feudal oppression and privilege in Bihar, especially against the brutal massacres perpetrated by upper caste militia such as Ranveer Sena, has necessitated a protracted and multifaceted campaign. It is a campaign which has seen a strikingly brave assertion of marginalized voices against communal and feudal oppression.
In this struggle, every act of social, economic and political assertion, every blow to feudal privilege was met with brutal reprisals. Ever since its formation, the Ranveer Sena – which has enjoyed the political patronage of a whole range of ruling class forces such as the BJP, RSS, Congress, RJD and JD(U) – has tried to terrorize the poor and the marginalised into submissive silence. Very public massacres of dalit and Muslim agricultural labourers were carefully scripted in order to instill the maximum terror, and to dissuade further assertion of marginalised forces. CPI(ML), which is the most consistent and radical voice speaking up for the rights of the rural poor in Bihar, has had to constantly contend with this well-orchestrated, powerful campaign of terror.
In 1996, brutal massacres were orchestrated in Nadhi and Bathani Tola (both in Bhojpur). In Bathani Tola, 22 dalit and Muslim agricultural labourers were killed – most of them women and children. The very next year, in 1997, 10 dalits were killed in Haibaspur (Patna) and 10 in Ekwari (Bhojpur). It was in this year too that 61 dalits were killed in Laxmanpur Bathe (Jehanabad) – which the then President termed as a ‘national shame’. The Nagri, Shankarbigha and Narayanpur massacres followed in the years to come.
Feudal-landlord armies were no aberration in Bihar’s landscape. What differentiated the Ranveer Sena, and rendered the struggle against them so difficult, was the massive political influence and patronage they enjoyed. From communal casteist fascist forces such as the RSS and the BJP, to the so-called ‘social justice’ forces such as RJD and JD(U) – across the political spectrum in Bihar, ruling class forces were united in their overt and covert support for the Ranveer Sena. Laloo Yadav is known to have remarked that in order to curb the growing assertion of CPI(ML), he was willing to join hands with the “forces of hell”! And, one of the first things Nitish Kumar did on coming to power in Bihar was to disband the Amir Das commission which had been set up in the wake of brutal massacres to look into the deep political connections of the Ranveer Sena with existing ruling class formations. Amir Das has publicly talked about the difficulties he faced in making his report, and has moreover said in no uncertain terms that several important leaders from across Bihar’s political parties have been implicated in his report for supporting the Ranveer Sena. This report, quite naturally, never saw the light of the day!
If brutal massacres were scripted in Laloo’s regime, legal massacres happened during Nitish’s purported ‘sushaasan‘! People who had lost their relatives, friends and comrades to the Ranveer Sena’s marauding mobs, braved a terrifying atmosphere of daily intimidation and even threats to their lives to depose against and identify the murderers. These depositions resulted in several convictions at the district courts in Bihar, and several members of the Sena were awarded life imprisonments and death sentences. However, the massive clout of the Ranveer Sena was soon to be seen: in case after case, the Patna High Court chose to disbelieve the brave testimonies of the witnesses of these massacres, and all the convicts were shamefully acquitted. It is as if no one killed in Bathe and Bathani! Right now, these acquittals are being challenged in the Supreme Court – and the struggles and campaigns for justice against caste-class and feudal oppression continue against all odds.
Dateline of a protracted political struggle against feudal-communal forces:
- 11 July 1996: Bathani Tola massacre
- 17 July 1996: 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.
- 22 July 1996: Assembly gherao of the Bihar Assembly in Patna, against the Bathani Tola massacres
- July 1996: Hunger strike by Comrade Ramnaresh ram and Comrade Taqi Rahim to ensure transfer of the Bhojpur DM and SPfor his failure in stopping a massacre of this magnitude that went on for hours, with a police station being present at a distance of just two kilometres, and three police camps between 100 metres to 1 kilometres from the massacre site, without a single bullet being fired by the police. Ranveer Sena officially banned, but no arrests made and the saga of massacres continues.
- 31 December 1997: Laxmanpur bathe massacre.
- 1998: A one-man commission, led by Justice Amir Das set up to investigate the political and administrative patronage behind the Ranveer Sena.
- 2002: Ranveer Sena supremo Brahmeshwar Mukhia ‘surrenders’.
- November 2005: Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) government comes to power. Amir Das commission disbanded.
- May 2010: After 14 years of a protracted legal case, during which witnesses deposed, braving life threats and intimidation, the District court in Ara sentences 23 people in the Bathani Tola case. 3 were awarded death sentences, and 20 were awarded life sentences. However, Brahmeshwar Singh was declared as ‘absconder’, even though he was in jail!
- July 2010: Martyrs’ Memorial installed in Bathani Tola by CPI(ML), inaugurated by Comrade Ramnaresh Ram in one of his last public appearances.
- July 2011: Brahmeshwar Mukhia granted bail.
- April 2012: All the convicts in the Bathani Tola massacre acquitted by the Patna High Court.
- April 2012: Protests by CPI(ML) across the country against the Bathani acquittals. Large protests in Ara, Patna and Delhi.
- 23 April 2012: Convention held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF) in New Delhi on ‘Political Complicity and Issues of Justice in Feudal and Communal Massacres‘.
- 15 July 2012: ‘Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola’ organised a convention in the Constitution Club, New Delhi ‘Justice for Bathani Tola 1996: Punish the Guilty’.
- July 2012: Appeal filed in the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court verdict.
- 20 June 2013: Nyay Sammelan, Patna demanding justice against feudal-communal massacres.
- 18 December 2013: Jan Sunwai organised at the Jantar Mantar demanding justice for victims of the Bathe, Bathani, Miyapur and other feudal massacres in Bihar. Panel included: Nandini Sundar, Prof. Nawal Kisore Chaudhary, Prof. Sonajharia Minz, Dr. Y.S. Alone.
At Patna, the CPI(ML) staged a protest march from the Gandhi Maidan to the Buddha Smriti Park on Thursday in protest against the acquittal of all the 26 people accused of massacring 58 dalits in Laxmanpur-Baathe village in 1997.
“An SIT should be set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the matter if justice has to be done to the carnage victims,” said CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya who led the march, christened ‘Aakrosh march’, in the state capital. Bhattacharya said President Pranab Mukherjee ought to meet the massacre victims during his visit to Bihar later this month. “We would move the apex court against the Patna high court verdict,” Bhattacharya said.
Terming the chief minister Nitish Kumar’s claims that his government was for ‘development with justice’ as a farce, Bhattacharya said Kumar would have to answer about his tall promises to deliver justice to the victims of massacres at Baathe and other places. Several members of the civil society, including N K Choudhary, Bharti S Kumar, Santosh Kumar and P N P Lal, also participated in the protest march. As the protestors began the march demanding the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the carnage, traffic was disrupted at several places in the city. Protests were also held in district HQ towns. Protesters also disrupted traffic on the Patna-Aurangabad NH 98 and the Gaya-Patna road at Jehanabad on Thursday.
In Delhi, the CPI(ML) held a protest demonstration against the acquittal. The protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar, raising slogans against the ‘massacre of justice’ and the Nitish Kumar Government for its betrayal of the promise of justice for victims of the dalit massacres. Protesters burnt the effigy of Nitish Kumar and a copy of the Bihar HC verdict too.
Addressing the protest demonstration, CPI(ML) State Secretary Sanjay Sharma asked, “On December 1, 1997, a feudal landlords’ private army the Ranveer Sena massacred 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 10 children, in Laxmanpur Bathe in Arwal, Bihar. Does the HC want us to believe that ‘noone killed these 58 people’? Does the HC hold that the dalit eyewitnesses can’t be believed? Or do the lives of dalits have no judicial value?”
AISA’s National President Sandeep Singh said that in repeated cases, the Bihar HC had overturned lower court convictions in the Bathani Tola, Nagari and Bathe massacre cases. In the Bathani case, the HC declared any true witnesses of the massacre could only be dead. But in the Bathe case, the court held that the eyewitnesses were genuine, yet chose to disbelieve their identification of the killers on the technicality that the actual names were added to the FIR a few days after the massacre. The HC, like in the Bathani case, has again held in the Bathe case that the IO and the prosecution have been biased and have weakened the case. But this bias can only be corrected by placing faith in the eyewitnesses who testified at risk to their lives. The HC has insulted the survivors by letting loose the killers – once again putting the eyewitnesses at risk. Human rights activist Mahtab Alam deplored the Patna High Court verdict and said that struggle for justice must go on. Aslam Khan, Vice President, Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) said that Dalit landless poor who assserted themselves politically by supporting the CPI(ML) were massacred by Ranveer Sena in Laloo’s Bihar, and now justice is being repeatedly massacred in Nitish’s Bihar, exposing the cruel truth behind his claims of ‘justice for mahadalits.’
AISA Delhi President Sunny Kumar said that the first thing that Nitish Kumar did on assuming power was to abandon the Amir Das Commission set up to probe the political links with the Ranveer Sena, because it was well known that BJP and JDU leaders formed the bulk of political support for the Sena, while some RJD and Congress leaders too were known to support the Sena.
JNUSU General Secretary Sandip Saurabh reminded that when Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar was killed recently, the Ranveers unleashed violence on dalit hostel students in Ara – even as Nitish’s police took a leaf from Modi’s book and let them ‘vent their rage’. Santosh Roy, CPI(ML) State Committee member, said that Rahul Gandhi speaks of Dalits moving ahead powered by ‘Jupiter’s velocity’ – but he’s silent on the Bathe verdict. Meanwhile Congress, earlier partner of Laloo who presided over the massacres, now cosies up to Nitish Kumar, who presides over the massacre of justice! And on Independence Day this year, the Baddi dalit atrocity took place in Bihar, reminding everyone that Bathani and Bathe are not horrors of the past, but terrors of today in Nitish-ruled Bihar.
Many concerned citizens and AISA activists also demonstrated at Bihar Bhavan on the same day.
Predictably enough, the Patna High Court has acquitted all the 26 persons convicted by the trial court in the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre case. This is the fourth successive instance of wholesale acquittal of convicts by the Patna High Court in cases of massacre of the oppressed rural poor in Bihar. Once again eye witness accounts have been dismissed as being not fully credible and convicts granted acquittal on ‘benefit of doubt’. The judges could not however disprove the fact that 58 people had been killed and post-mortems done, and hence they asked the trial court to calculate the compensation payable to the nearest kin of the victims as per relevant provisions the Motor Vehicles Act on the basis of the minimum wage prevalent in the area at the time of the massacre. They of course did not forget to add that any ex gratia paid after the massacre should be deducted from the amount of compensation!
When the trial court verdicts had been announced in 2010, Nitish Kumar was quick to showcase them as the sure signs of justice for the oppressed poor who had experienced a series of massacres during the reign of Lalu Prasad. Never mind if he had disbanded the Amir Das commission to save the political patrons of the Ranvir Sena from being exposed and punished, at least the perpetrators were being brought to justice. And over a period of 18 months the script has been thoroughly reversed by the High Court. The myth of ‘development with justice’ stands brutally shattered.
The acquittals amount to nothing short of a judicial scam. How on earth can it be possible that the very evidence which the trial courts found sound enough to hand out convictions has become dubious and unreliable in the judicial lens used by the High Court? Are we to believe that trial courts in Bihar do not bother about the nature and quality of evidence? If that is so, then the judiciary has collapsed in Bihar and it is time to reinvent it. And let us not forget that the same High Court has never granted any benefit of doubt to the oppressed poor and their political representatives to annul their convictions, it is only those who have been found guilty of slaughtering the rural poor by the dozen who are being let off through the ‘benefit of doubt’ argument. While the perpetrators of Bathanitola and Bathe walk free, Bodhan Sada and a dozen other people belonging to the Mahadalit Musahar community languish in jail having been falsely implicated and convicted in the Amausi massacre case.
The massacres perpetrated by the Ranveer Sena in Bihar were not isolated events, they were episodes of a bloody war that the Sena waged with complete impunity on the oppressed rural poor in Bihar to crush their fight for freedom, dignity and democracy. The Sena had openly and arrogantly declared that the communist movement had no right to exist in Bihar and that the people must not look beyond the feudal order. Yet the self-styled champions of ‘social justice’ or ‘development with justice’ always made common cause with the Sena. Despite the anti-BJP bravado of the RJD and JDU, the policy of appeasement of Ranveer Sena pursued by both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar made sure that the BJP kept growing in Bihar. And if one ever needed a proof about the organic relationship between the Ranveer Sena and the RSS-BJP, one only needs to remember how BJP leader Giriraj Singh described the Sena supremo after his assassination: he called him the Gandhi of Bihar.
The judicial issues that have been thrown up by the Patna HC acquittals can only be resolved by the Supreme Court. President KR Narayanan had termed the Bathe massacre as a matter of national shame. What has happened now is even more shameful. There is a growing opinion that the apex court must constitute a Special Investigation Team under its own supervision and re-examine all the massacre cases in which the guilty have been let off. But the battle for justice for Bathanitola and Bathe is clearly much bigger than the question of righting a judicial wrong. It is about checking the feudal-communal marauders who have been strengthened by the politics of appeasement and impunity and now feel emboldened by such shameful judicial acquiescence. This is a battle that concerns not just the oppressed poor of