Struggle caused the death of five persons and resulted in death sentence for six. Yet the case winds its way through courts
The burnt-out shell of a home stands still in the shade of a tree amid an eerie silence in the small village of Bajrakha, nestled along the Himalayan foothills.
“The firing went on for over an hour,” recalls Manorama Mishra. “The leaves from this tree were burnt, and several cattle [heads] died of gunshots, but there was no end to it.”
Her husband, Surender Mishra, was beheaded by the attackers and his head, along with that of his grand-uncle Bhubaneshwari Mishra and uncle Sukhdarshan Mishra, was paraded down the street. Another relative, Kamlesh, died of his gunshot injuries and the fifth, 10-year-old Sandeep was burnt alive.
Ironically, the dispute that sparked the bloodbath — a struggle for control of a cash-rich trust that runs a local temple — continues to wind its way through the courts.
More than two decades after June 6, 1990, the outcome of an incendiary combination of greed and vengeance, the massacre continues to cast a shadow over the survivors' lives.
Once the mistress of a prosperous household, Ms. Mishra now lives in penury. Along with her two sons and a daughter, she now lives in the nearby Sitapur town.
“I come here every two-three months only to make collection from the people who now look after our paddy fields,” she said.
During the visits, Ms. Mishra and her young daughter spend the evenings in fear. “I cannot go out to buy vegetables when I am here. It is our sympathetic neighbours, who help us survive in the village.”
Ms. Mishra was initially reluctant to speak to this correspondent, fearful of people she described as “enemies.” Later, though, inside her old home, she poured her heart out.
“We have seen such bad times ever since the incident,” Ms. Mishra said. “My husband's elder brother, employed with a paramilitary force, took care of the court case. But we had to sell our sugarcane crushing unit to take care of the expenses, and because there was no one left to take care of it.”
The murders revolved round a struggle for the Thakurji Trust, which controlled huge property. Bhubaneshwari Mishra won a protracted legal battle for control of the Trust against incumbent trustee Prem Giri. But Prem Giri appealed against the ruling.
Soon, the battle began claiming lives. Local resident Chandrika Passi, who allied with Prem Giri, was beheaded. His relatives suspected that the killing was carried out by Shiv Pal and Ram Ghulam, related to the Mishra family.
The slaughter at Bajrakha happened soon after.
Sukhdarshan Mishra's son Mahender Kumar, however, escaped the attack and became the main eyewitness. The evidence resulted in Shyam Manohar, Sheo Ram, Harish, Ravinder, Prakash and Suresh being sentenced to death. Fifteen other attackers received life term.
The Supreme Court upheld the sentence on October 21, 1997. They filed mercy pleas in 1998, but the Ministry of Home Affairs recommended that the President turn them down.
Kumar has since left the village and works as an agricultural assistant to a panchayat. Kamlesh's wife died soon after the murder of her husband, and their only child was in the custody of his maternal grandparents.
Kamlesh's brother Sunil Kumar is the only person from the extended family who now lives in the village.
The hardship and dislocation hasn't, however, led anyone to let go of the cause for which blood was spilt. Both the victims' families and the perpetrators have continued to pay lawyers to pursue their battle through appeal after appeal.
The attackers' families live just down the road from the burnt-out home. Despite the Supreme Court having upheld the death sentences, they insist that their relatives were wrongly convicted.
Such is the anger that attempts to speak to them were greeted with angry responses.
“You spoke to the others for two hours, why have you come to us now. Please leave now,” a relative told this correspondent.