Dalit massacres in Bihar and acquittals: An ominous pattern

Written by: Dr Anand Teltumbde
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The recent Patna High Court judgment on the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre in 1997 acquitting all the 26 accused, who were convicted by the sessions court in April, 2010 has stunned all right-minded people.

The incident in which 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 16 children were brutally killed by the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of the upper caste landlords was the biggest and goriest one of the 23 major incidents of Dalit killings in Bihar in 1990s.

While they are ignored by the media, the outrage over this blatant miscarriage of justice is refusing to die. The only result it produced is the declaration of the Bihar government that it would go to the Supreme Court in appeal.

While it is a positive sign that such outrageous injustices to Dalits evoke condemnation from a section of public, howsoever small, each time it occurs, it gives an impression as though the instance is isolated one-off occurrence. It is forgotten that it is but a part of the pattern formed over the decades which reveals far more worrisome injustice embedded in the system.

This is the fourth time in quick succession that all accused have been acquitted

As for Bihar, it is an open secret that these killings were executed by the most notorious of such landlord Senas, the Ranvir Sena led by Brahmeshwar Mukhia, who was gunned down by an unidentified gunman last year.

The Ranvir Sena, as the aborted enquiry of Justice Amir Das Commission reveled was supported by cross section of political bigwigs from Bihar and outside. It had named as many as 37 politicians, who would have been in trouble if the report was published. Nitish Kumar, the chief minister abruptly disbanded the commission with an alibi that it had not submitted the report for nine years. One can assess the political clout this criminal outfit commanded.

But it is not only with Bihar or Ranvir Sena. This essential feature of the anti-Dalit formation pervades the entire country with some variation. The perpetrators of atrocities on Dalits have backing of political bigwigs who manage the entire justice delivery system right from the local police station to the highest courts. And this has manifested right from Kilvenmani in Tamil Nadu in 1969, the veritable marker of the new genre of atrocity stemming from caste-class contradictions of the new political economy of the post-colonial India.

In the Kilvenmani incident, 44 Dalit labourers mainly comprising women and children were herded into a hut and burnt alive by the landlords. After the incident, the district court had acquitted 15 out of 23 landlords arrested by the police and awarded liberal imprisonment ranging from one to ten years to the balance eight.

On appeal, the Madras High Court acquitted all of them, saying that it was improbable that the accused who were rich landowning gentlemen could commit such a crime. Interestingly, 22 Dalits were jailed for 2 months without trial. Eight Dalits, who lost close relatives in the fire, received jail sentences for the murder of a hit-man of the landlord that took place prior to the incident, ranging from one year to life imprisonment. The details will certainly vary from case to case but all later atrocity-aftermaths confirm to the pattern created in Kilvenmani.

Major incidents of caste atrocities present a pattern that the lower courts after years convict some of the accused and the High Courts acquit them all for want of evidence.

In Bihar this is the fourth time in quick succession that all the accused in massacre cases have been acquitted by the high court for "lack of evidence". Earlier in July this year, nine of the 10 persons convicted by a special district court for killing 34 Dalits at Miyanpur village in Aurangabad district were acquitted by the Patna High Court.

In March this year, all the 11 accused convicted by a lower court for the massacre of 10 CPI-ML sympathisers at Nagari village in Bhojpur district in November 1998 were acquitted by the High Court. It was a similar verdict in case of the infamous Bathani Tola massacre in which all the 23 convicts declared guilty by a lower court for the cold-blooded killing of 21 dalits were acquitted by the high court last year. And now follows the Laxmanpur-Bathe!

While lamenting the laxmanpur-Bathe aftermath let us not forget this ominous pattern.

[Dr Anand Teltumbde is a management professional, writer, civil rights activist, and political analyst. He can be contacted at tanandraj@gmail.com]

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