Hearing of the petition in Supreme Court today against Patna High Court verdict acquitting all the accused

A day before the hearing of the petition in the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court verdict acquitting all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre of 1996, civil society activists on Sunday demanded justice for the victims of the massacre at a “Convention on Justice for the Bathani Tola Massacre 1996: Punish the Guilty” organised here. Expressing outrage at the acquittal jurists, advocates, academics as well as activists asked the institution of judiciary to prove “its impartiality before the people”.

Demanding prosecution of the police for “sabotaging evidence, failure to collect evidence and for deposing in favour of the accused in the Bathani Tola case”, the activists also asked the Nitish Kumar Government to ensure justice in other massacres committed by the Ranveer Sena during 1996-2002.

On 11 July 1996, 21 landless poor, mostly women and children from the Dalit and extremely backward Muslim communities were massacred by the Ranveer Sena, a private army of upper caste landlords. Though 23 of the accused were convicted for the massacre by an Ara sessions court in 2010, the Bihar High Court in April 2012 acquitted all the accused.

Eminent historian Prof. Uma Chakravarty argued that “private armies like the Ranveer Sena and the Salwa Judum are examples of a ‘public private partnership’, wherein governments and private conveniently collude with each other. The ‘public’ governments wash their hands off responsibility, claiming that ‘private’ bodies do the massacres, while the private militias continue killing people in the confidence that governments will never take any action on them.”

Referring to the argument made by the Patna High Court judge before acquitting the accused of the massacre where he refused to accept the statement of the survivors, saying they would have died had they witnessed the massacre, Ms. Chakravarty asked: “Does it mean that good witnesses are only dead witnesses? Should we start reading even the court orders in terns of caste equations?”

Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI (ML) Liberation, said the Ranveer Sena was formed to wipe out the resistance against casteist, communal and feudal forces . “The Ranveer Sena is several things rolled into one. It is not only against Dalits but also against backward castes, working class and Muslims.”

Talking about the State patronage to the upper caste army, the CPI (ML) leader said: “From the very first day of its inception, the Sena had overt and covert support of the respective State governments of Bihar. The Ranveer Sena enjoyed complete impunity even then and they are confident of the impunity especially after the Patna High Court acquitted all the accused of the Bathani Tola massacre.”

Former academician Prof. Anand Chakravarty argued that acquittal of the accused in the Bathani Tola case by the Patna High Court verdict was no less than “massacre” of justice. “The manner in which police collected evidence and sabotaged the entire case was in sync with the Ranveer Sena”, argued Prof. Chakravarty.

He said the Bathani Tola massacre and other massacres by the Ranveer Sena have strong caste, class aspect to them which were committed to safeguard a particular economic, social and political order.Prof. Nandini Sundar of the Delhi School of Economics said the Bathani Tola massacre was essentially political elimination of those who posed a political and ideological opposition to feudal forces.

Moving the resolution before the convention Kavita Krishnan of All-India Progresive Women’s Association said: “If required the Apex Court should order reinvestigation of the Bathani Tola and other massacre cases. If not, it should give credence to eyewitness accounts and punish the guilty.”

The convention also asked the State Government to provide full protection, including the means for self-defence, to the witnesses in the Bathani Tola, Bathe and other massacre cases in Bihar.

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