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The Honourable Chief Justice,
Supreme Court of India
The recent acquittal by the Bihar High Court of all the accused in the horrific Bathani Tola massacre of 1996 is shocking.
On 11 July, 1996, 21 landless poor were slaughtered in broad daylight at Bathani Tola, a dalit hamlet in Bhojpur, Bihar, by the Ranveer Sena – a private army of landowners from the dominant castes.
All the victims were from oppressed castes and minorities, and 20 of them were women, children, and infants.
The Ara sessions court had convicted 23 people for this massacre in 2010, sentencing three to death and 20 to life imprisonment. But on 16 April this year, the Bihar High Court has overturned the conviction, and acquitted all the accused.
The fact that, 16 years after this massacre, not a single person stands convicted for the brutal and barbaric slaughter of innocents, raises disturbing questions about whether the oppressed and the poor victims of massacres can expect justice in our Courts.
It is relevant that the massacre was preceded by a series of attacks and a campaign of open terror against the people of Bathani Tola by the Ranveer Sena, which enjoyed the support of several powerful politicians and parties. In spite of repeated intimations and appeals to the district police and administration, no preventive action was taken. And when the bloodbath played out for hours, the police remained a mute and passive witness, while the mob of perpetrators used swords and guns to butcher people, and set fire to homes. This complicity of the police and administration with the perpetrators continued after the massacre, leading to the weakening of the case against the accused, as noted by the Bihar High Court. Shamefully, the three police eyewitnesses to the massacre deposed in Court as witnesses for the defence!
The Ranveer Sena was banned after the Bathani Tola massacre – but in spite of the ban, it continued to operate openly, committing several more such massacres in central Bihar. The Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre in December 1998 in which 61 dalit landless poor were killed had been called a ‘national shame’ President of India, Shri K R Narayanan.
The Commission of Enquiry headed by Justice Amir Das, which was set up after the Bathe massacre, to probe the political support received by the Ranveer Sena, was disbanded six years ago when the current State Government came to power in Bihar. The Ranveer Sena chief, Brahmeshwar Singh, is yet to be named in the FIRs of the Bathani Tola massacre and other massacres. In fact, the police informed the Ara court in 2010 that Brahmeshwar was an ‘absconder’ – when he was, at that time, a prisoner in Ara jail! Brahmeshwar Singh is now a free man – thanks to the fact that the State Governmentfailed to oppose his bail plea. The Bihar HC acquittal comes in the wake of this political climate of patronage for the perpetrators of massacres of the poor and oppressed.
One of the survivors of the massacres who lost six members of his family, responding to the acquittal, asked, “Who, then, killed 21 people that day?” We, the undersigned, believe that the entire country and our system of justice, owes the people of Bathani Tola an answer to that question. And we write to you in the hope that the Supreme Court will correct the deep injustice to victims and survivors of Bathani Tola, and will take all possible measures to ensure that the perpetrators of this and other heinous massacres of the poor and oppressed in Bihar are tried and convicted.