The Ara civil court on Wednesday sentenced three persons to death and 20 to life imprisonment for the infamous 1996 Bathani Tola carnage in Bihar in, which 21 Dalits were slaughtered by upper-caste landowners belonging to the Ranvir Sena (a private militia of the landlords).

On May 5, the court had convicted the 23 accused, while acquitting 30 for want of evidence.

Amid heavy security, Additional District and Sessions Judge (Ara) Ajay Kumar Srivastava pronounced the quantum of punishment in a jam-packed courtroom.

According to police sources, two companies of Special Auxiliary Police (SAP) jawans had reached Ara two days before the verdict.

Speaking to The Hindu from Ara, Special Public Prosecutor Rambabu Prasad disclosed that the case against the prime accused – Ranvir Sena supremo Brahmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya” -- was being reopened and would soon be submitted to the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Ara.

Mr. Prasad had filed a petition in the court of the CJM on April 19, urging the case against the Mukhiya to be committed to the District and Sessions court.

The step marks a beginning in bringing the Mukhiya to justice – a process which he has successfully been eluding for the last 14 years, often with the connivance of successive State governments.

Brahmeshwar, who had been listed as an “absconder” by the Sahar police since the Bathani Tola carnage, continued to be a non-FIR accused even after he was nabbed from Patna's Exhibition Road on August 29, 2002.

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.