A local court on Wednesday convicted 23 people for perpetrating the horrific massacre of 21 Dalits at Bathani Tola in Bhojpur in 1996.

However, as with the April 7 verdict on the 1997 Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre, the notorious supremo of the Ranvir Sena and the prime accused - Brahmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya” - has been pronounced an “absconder” by the police along with five others in this case as well.

A total of 53 people faced trial, out of which 30 were acquitted. The quantum of the judgement is to be pronounced on May 12.

The carnage took place on the afternoon of July 11, 1996, when upper-caste landowners of the Ranvir Sena (a private militia of the landlords) stormed Bathani Tola in Bhojpur’s Sahar block and ruthlessly hacked 21 Dalits to death.

The slain included women, teenage girls and babies less than 10 months old.

An FIR was lodged against 33 people the day after the massacre. In all, the Bhojpur police framed charges against 63 persons in October 1996.

The case was committed to the court of the Sessions judge on January 24, 1998, with charges being framed against 62 accused (one person had died by that time) on March 24, 2000.

However, after the Central Bihar caste massacres violently concluded with the Mianpur carnage, the case against Brahmeshwar has been getting progressively murkier, with the police repeatedly failing to bring charges against the Mukhiya.

Listed as an “absconder” by the Sahar police since 1996, no FIR, quite inexplicably, has ever been registered by the police against Brahmeshwar till date.

The Mukhiya continues to be a non-FIR accused even after he was nabbed from Patna’s Exhibition road on August 29, 2002.

While the government dithers on Brahmeshwar’s case fearing an upper-caste backlash this crucial election year, highly sceptical ponderings which surfaced soon after the Bathe verdict, are slowly turning into a cruel certainty in what is being constituted as “an open cover-up” on part of the government in Bhojpur judicial circles.

“It is hard to fathom as to what is preventing the police and the government in bringing to book this criminal, who has been lodged in Ara jail since 2002,” said Special Public Prosecutor Mr. Rambabu Prasad, speaking to The Hindu from Ara. “This clearly shows that both the police and the government are not interested in ensuring that justice is meted out.”

When questioned, the SP Bhojpur told this correspondent that Brahmeshwar did not stand trial as “certain court proceedings initiated against him were yet to be completed.”

With the police’s failure to produce the “Butcher of Bathani Tola” in the Patna Sessions Court on April 7, a disturbing aspect of the case has been the repeated feigning of “confusion” on its part as to the status of Brahmeshwar’s investigation.

The police has also conveniently the blamed the prosecution for failing to serve them notice regarding Brahmeshwar’s location.

An absurd pretext, given that practically everyone in Bihar knows the Mukhiya to be safely ensconced in Ara jail for the last 8 years and counting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Prasad said that he has filed a petition in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Ara on April 19, urging the case against Brahmeshwar to be committed to the Sessions court.