This is not the only case in which the accused were acquitted by a court in Bihar, stunning the families of the victims of caste massacres in Bihar. Last year the Patna High Court acquitted 23 men in the 1996 Bathani tola massacre of 21 people, mostly Dalits and Muslims, by the Ranvir Sena militia in Bhojpur district.
In March, the Patna High Court acquitted 11 people accused in the Nagari Bazaar massacre in which 10 Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) supporters, also mostly Dalits, were killed in Bhojpur district in 1998. At that time, the families of the victims had expressed their displeasure and staged angry protests.
Earlier this week, the Patna High Court acquitted 26 people in the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre, citing lack of evidence. Now, there is total silence in the village and no signs of the Durga Puja festivities.
"The court has disappointed us. We expected the death sentence for the accused but the court has acquitted them. This is injustice," Rajwar told IANS.
Binod Ram took a deep breath before saying the accused were acquitted due to the failure of the police to properly frame charges against the accused. "I strongly feel that the accused were acquitted because the police did not properly collect evidence against the accused," he added.
Activist Mahender Yadav said that anger is running high among the helpless kin of the victims. "The acquittal of all the accused has made the families think that the poor and marginalized will never get justice despite the killing of their dear ones," he said.
Rajwar recalled that he and other villagers were happy in April 2010 when 16 people were sentenced to death and 10 were awarded life imprisonment by the additional district and sessions judge of the Patna civil court, while acquitting 19 people.
"We celebrated then as the verdict gave us hope for justice. Now, after the high court acquitted all of them, our hope for justice is dying," Rajwar told IANS.
Binod Ram said that the high court had snatched away the last hope for justice."We failed to understand how a lower court convicted them and awarded death sentence to life imprisonment, but the high court acquitted them. It is a big game. The poor like us will never get justice because it is favouring the powerful to deny us justice," he said.
"The poor like us cannot challenge it in the apex court. Where is money for this? We are fighting for survival after a drought hit this year again," said Binod Ram, who is a farm labourer.
CPI-ML general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said that it will move the Supreme Court against the high court verdict and ask for the appointment of a special investigation team (SIT) on the lines of the one that probed the 2002 Gujarat riots.
"The Supreme Court should take cognizance of the acquittal of the massacre convicts and order an impartial probe under its direct supervision," he said.
Ironically, except for the CPI-ML, none of the political parties has come forward to say anything on the Laxmanpur-Bathe acquittals.
Ranvir Sena men had allegedly carried out the killing, borne out of caste animosities, on Dec 1, 1997, with the victims including 27 women and 10 children. Charges were framed Dec 23, 2008, against 44 people. According to police records, four Dalit families were completely wiped out in the bloodbath.
The then Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government led by Rabri Devi set up the Amir Das Commission to probe the political connections of the Ranvir Sena. However, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wound up the commission after coming to power in 2006.
Opposition parties, including the RJD and the CPI-ML, alleged that the Nitish Kumar government was protecting the interests of the Ranvir Sena and suppressing the voices of the poorest of the poor.
Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh was killed at Ara, district headquarters of Bhojpur, last year.
(Imran Khan can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 12-10-2013)