Patna High Court acquits 11 Ranvir Sena members accused of gunning down 10 persons in 1998

Uma Shankar Singh refused to go to his village. “After the incident, I have not gone back,” he said. A liquor shop now stands where his flour mill once stood 15 years ago at Nagri. Where his brother Sunil Kumar Singh was gunned down, allegedly by a group of Ranvir Sena members, on the evening of May 11, 1998, the day India conducted the Pokran-II nuclear tests.

Sunil Kumar Singh was among the 10 killed; the victims include wage labourers, sharecroppers and small vendors, some of them supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

A pall of fear hangs over the village in Charpokhri block after the Patna High Court last week set aside the trial court’s order and acquitted all 11 accused for want of evidence. Three of them — Chandra Bhushan Singh, Sudarshan Pandey and Ravindra Singh — had been sentenced to death by the trial court. While Arvind Pandey; Kameshwar Rai alias Kameshwar Singh; Sri Kant Pandey; Dadan Pandey; Salik Pandey alias Shaligram Pandey; Janeshwar Pandey; Anil Kumar Singh; and Virendra Pandey — had been handed down rigorous imprisonment for life.

“How is it that under the same law there are two judgments? The same evidence is used to convict and acquit? This puts a question mark over the judicial process. The massacre took place during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s rule. And under Nitish Kumar’s rule, the accused are acquitted. The government has no intention of delivering justice to us,” Uma Shankar, an informant in the case, said at the CPI(ML) office at Ara.

The High Court rejected the evidence Mr. Uma Shankar tendered, finding his presence at the place of occurrence “doubtful.” It also rejected his “claim” of having identified the accused. It found his conduct “indicative of the fact that he is in the habit of falsely implicating innocent persons.”

The Nagri incident was part of a series of brutal massacres, a hallmark of the running feud between the Ranvir Sena and the CPI(ML) in Bhojpur in the 1990s. “We hoped to get justice, but we did not get it,” rued Mohammad Altaf Ali, whose father Gaffar Ansari, a tailor, was killed in the attack. “Besides justice, what strength do we have? The government is encouraging crime. If the perpetrators go unpunished, we will lose faith in the judiciary.”

“What can I say?” this is what Dularu Kunwar, the aged mother of Sudarshan Paswan, one of the victims, could say under her breath. The acquittals have shattered the calm in the village, with the residents fearing a repeat attack in “a show of supremacy,” especially since they follow the Bathani tola acquittals last year by the High Court. Sarpanch Shiv Kumar Paswan has been waiting in vain for an extension of the validity of his arms licence. His need is more pressing now. “I have been writing to the district magistrate for the past one-and-a-half years… We want a guarantee of our security. I am an eyewitness in the case. I am not afraid of death; but if something happens to me the police and the administration will be responsible. Attempts have already been made on my life, and to buy me off. As a witness, I feel threatened,” Mr. Shiv Kumar said.

With the protracted wait for justice, the past has come to haunt Nagri.

Keywords: Ranvir Sena