The massacre at Laxmanpur Bathe village of Arwal district in Bihar was the most gruesome killing by Ranvir Sena, the upper-caste militia, where 58 people belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC) were killed, ostensibly in reprisal of the Bara Massacre- in which 37 people belonging to the upper castes were killed. Although, there was no direct link between the Dalits of Laxmanpur Bathe and the Bara massacre, and neither did any Dalit kill a Savarna.
Situated about 90 kilometres from the state capital Patna, Laxmanpur Bathe is a village in the Arwal district of Bihar. The districts of Bhojpur, Gaya, Jehanabad and Arwal were areas that were considered a toehold of Marxist and Communist parties. These parties had managed to cordon off the access of zamindars to their lands. These restrictions had irked the Zamindar community, primarily upper castes, and the Rajputs came up with the idea of violently reclaiming the right to their land. Hence an organisation named “Ranvir Sena” was formed to combat Naxalites.
On the night of 1st December, 58 Dalits of Laxmanpur Bathe were killed by the Ranvir Sena militia. The victims included infants, pregnant women, old people and they also slit the throats of the two rowers of the boat through which they had crossed the Sone River to reach the village.
At 11 pm in the night, the militants of Ranvir Sena busted through the doors and fired indiscriminately at the sleeping Dalits. The attack which lasted for about three hours wreaked havoc on Laxmanpur Bathe. The incident shook the nation.
Laxman (61) is the witness of the mass killings. He says that 20-25 people entered the village that night. Pointing towards a house, he says that “They entered this house first and killed 5 people. Then they entered my house and killed 3 people- Jumhara Devi, Malti Devi, Prabha Devi, who were the wife, sister-in-law, and daughter of Laxman.
Laxman says, “There was no discord in the village earlier. Had people known that such incidence is likely to take place, they would have left the place." He says that the people who murdered the people were offering 70-75 lakh for turning hostile. He also reveals that most of the people were from this village and were helping the people of Ranvir Sena, who came for assassinating people and included Bhumihars and Rajputs. Before entering the village, they held a meeting outside the village. They were armed with a sixer, rifle and cleaver,” says Laxman.
“They were convicted by the civil court. But they managed to get an acquittal from the High Court after they sold their farms and got Rs. 1 crore for paying to lawyers, judges and others. Then we approached the Supreme Court,” he says.
The Laxmanpur Bathe massacre saw unspeakable atrocities committed against innocent people, including babies and small children. In fact, the death toll of 58 included 27 women and 16 children, some as young as six months old. The dead were commemorated with a memorial that includes all of their names, including minors like Rita Devi (15), Kabootari Kumari (12), Amar Paswan (8), Kunwar Paswan(6), Anuj Kumar (4), Umanath Chaudhary, Anita Kumar (3), Savita Kumari (5), Chandi Kumari (10), Rohan Paswan (10), Arvind Chaudhary (5), Sumitra Kumari (six months), Saroj (11), Vishwanath Rajvanshi (10), and Chotey Lal (1). Pregnant women were also among the victims, and many of the children died in the wombs of their mothers.
The victims were landless agricultural laborers who supported the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML). The Laxmanpur Bathe village was targeted because members of the Ranvir Sena alleged that the Dalits in the village were supporters of the CPI(ML) and responsible for the murder of 37 people of upper caste in Bara village. The fact, however, is that the 37 people were not murdered by the Dalits. Another objective behind the pogrom was to terrorize sympathizers of the CPI(ML) to strengthen the landlords.
The Ranvir Sena was unnerved by the ideological leaning towards the communists of Laxmanpur Bathe village.
In 2010, the lower court had sentenced 16 people to death, and Additional District Judge Vijay Prakash Mishra had handed life sentences and a fine of Rs 50,000 to another 10 people. While delivering the judgment, session judge Vijay Mishra had called these killings a rare case of cruelty and a blot on "civilized society." The 16 people sentenced to death belonged to the upper castes: Girija Singh, Ashok Singh, Gopal Sharan Singh, Baleshwar Singh, Dwarka Singh, Vijendra Singh, Nawal Singh, Baliram Singh, Nandu Singh, Shiv Mohan Sharma, Pramod Singh, Shatrughan Singh, Ram Kewal Sharma, Dharm Singh and Nand Singh. Those who received life sentences included Bablu Sharma, Ashok Singh, Mithilesh Sharma, Dharikishan Chaudhary, Naveen Kumar, Ravindra Singh, Surendra Singh, Sunil Kumar, Pramod Kumar and Chandreshwar Singh. Two other accused, Bhukhal Singh and Sudarshan Singh, died during the trial.
However, on 9th October 2013, the Patna High Court acquitted all the accused, citing "lack of evidence." The CPI(ML) called for a bandh in central Bihar against this decision. The CPI(M) politburo said in a statement that "Is it a mere coincidence that all the accused have been acquitted when private militias execute Dalits? The party demanded that the Bihar government appeal against the "erroneous" judgment of the court.
CPI-ML (Liberation) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya invoked K.R. Narayanan, saying, "The then President K.R. Narayanan called this carnage a "National Shame." Bhattacharya added that judicial discrimination and the denial of justice are worse national shames.
People also questioned the role of the mainstream media, saying that it did not provide adequate coverage of the verdict of the Patna High Court and that the news was overshadowed by Sachin Tendulkar's retirement.
Story Translated by Pratikshit Singh
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