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