[Reader-list] Battle for Justice and Democracy Laxmanpur-Bathe -Kavita Krishnan

Asit Das asit1917 at gmail.com
Sun Nov 10 04:10:00 CST 2013

Date: 10 November 2013
Subject: Battle for Justice and Democracy : Laxmanpur-Bathe - Kavita
Krishnan, EPW

Battle for Justice and Democracy Laxmanpur-Bathe *-Kavita Krishnan*

*The acquittal of the 26 people found guilty for the Laxmanpur-Bathe
massacre of 1997 by the Patna High Court is a grave miscarriage of justice.
This article traces the events of that time and the manner in which the
ruling of the sessions court, finding these accused guilty, was overturned.
It argues that Bihar does not witness a "caste war", rather it is a
situation where mainstream political parties have supported and defended
sustained violence against the dalits and lower castes, the landless and
the powerless by the likes of the Ranveer Sena.*

*Kavita Krishnan (kavitakrish73 at gmail.com <kavitakrish73 at gmail.com>) is a
politbureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist –

The acquittal of the 26 people found guilty for the Laxmanpur-Bathe
massacre of 1997 by the Patna High Court is a grave miscarriage of justice.
This article traces the events of that time and the manner in which the
ruling of the sessions court, finding these accused guilty, was overturned.
It argues that Bihar does not witness a “caste war”, rather it is a
situation where mainstream political parties have supported and defended
sustained violence against the dalits and lower castes, the landless and
the powerless by the likes of the Ranveer Sena.

For Batan Bigha, 1 December 1997 was a long night of terror. Fifty-eight
people of the “dalit tola” of the twin villages of Laxmanpur-Bathe, on the
banks of the Sone river in Bihar, were massacred by a contingent of the
Ranveer Sena, an organised landlord army with powerful political links.

That night, two boatfuls of armed Ranveer Sena men crossed the Sone river
from the Bhojpur side to Jehanabad. They killed five people near the river
itself, including the boatmen who had ferried them across. They were joined
by a waiting team of Sena men from nearby villages. In all, they totalled
around 150. They entered Batan Bigha, divided themselves into groups of 10,
entered houses, and slaughtered 53 sleeping people including 27 women and
10 children, one a baby. Those who were murdered included mostly people
from the dalit and extremely backward castes like the Mallah and some from
Other Backward Classes like the Koeri.

*Planning the Massacre*

Details of how the massacre was planned soon emerged. On 30 November, a
meeting of the Ranveer Sena was held at the house of one Dharma Sharma in
the neighbouring Kamta village. Apart from Ranveer Sena men from Kamta and
Laxmanpur-Bathe, the meeting was attended by those from the nearby villages
of Belsar, Chanda, Sohasa, Kharsa, Koyal Bhupat, Basantpur and Parshurampur.

Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist – Liberation) –
CPI(ML-Liberation) – activists in Bhojpur, who had already experienced the
Bathani Tola massacre of July 1996, had got wind of an impending
“mega-massacre”. They had intensified their vigilance and preparedness in
Bhojpur and had informed and warned the police. Despite these warnings, the
banned Ranveer Sena was allowed to hold its meeting by the police.

The scale and brutality of the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre prompted the then
President K R Narayanan to term it a “national shame”. But the hearing in
the case began in the Patna additional district and sessions court only on
2 January 2009, a full 11 years later, following an order of the Patna High
Court. The sessions court, hearing the case on a day-to-day basis, passed
its verdict on 7 April 2010, sentencing 16 of the 45 accused to death and
10 to life imprisonment.

The attitude of the prosecution and police in the case can be judged by the
fact that one of the main accused, the Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh
(who was subsequently killed by unknown persons while out on bail in 2012),
could not even be tried in the Bathe massacre case. The police and
prosecution had maintained the fiction that investigations into Brahmeshwar
could not be completed because he was “absconding”, while in fact, he had
for the previous eight years been lodged in Ara jail!

In October 2013, the Patna High Court overturned the sessions court
verdict, acquitting all the accused in the Laxmanpur-Bathe case. This
acquittal, while outrageous, was anticipated. The trend was set by the
Patna High Court in April 2012 when it overturned a trial court conviction
and acquitted all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre case; and in the
18 months since it had gone on to do the same in the Mianpur, Nagari
Bazaar, and now Laxmanpur-Bathe cases.

*Unjust Acquittal *

As in the Bathani Tola case, the Patna High Court’s verdict in the Bathe
case deems the eyewitnesses to be “unreliable”. In the Bathani case, the HC
had opined that eyewitnesses of a massacre are not likely to have lived to
tell the tale. In the Bathe case, there were witnesses who were injured –
proof that they were indeed present at the time of the massacre. The
verdict’s main basis for deeming the eyewitness testimony unreliable is the
fact that the first information report (FIR) filed on 2 December 1997
reached the Jehanabad Civil Court only on 4 December, coupled with the fact
that the three eyewitnesses whose statements were recorded by the
investigating officer (IO) on 2 December were not examined by the
prosecution, while the statements of the eyewitnesses who did testify in
court were not recorded by the IO on 2 December. It also observes that the
police did not verify the hiding places where the witnesses claimed to have
taken refuge. The HC concluded that the eyewitnesses who testified in court
did not know the names of the assailants on 2 December.

This conclusion is flawed because it fails to take into account the actual
circumstances following the massacre. Of the many possible explanations for
a certain set of facts, the HC chose the one best suited to benefit the
accused. The 2 and 3 of December 1997 were chaotic days in Batan Bigha. The
survivors were coping with shock and bereavement, while post-mortem of the
bodies and treatment of the injured had to be arranged. Moreover, the chief
minister’s visit on 3 December was an additional preoccupation for the

The HC also fails to consider the fact that the eyewitnesses who testified
did so against people who held social, economic and political power over
them. They did so withstanding immense intimidation and pressure to turn
hostile (several witnesses did, in fact, turn hostile).

The HC picks on the fact that several of the assailants who were from
Bhojpur rather than Jehanabad were not apprehended by the police and that
most of the 26 convicted are from villages near Bathe. But why assume from
this that those convicted have been maliciously and falsely named by the
survivors? The assailants came from both Bhojpur and Jehanabad; only 45 out
of the 150 or so were named; and of these only 26 convicted. The 26 men
whom the trial court held to have been identified beyond any shadow of
doubt, were mostly from villages adjoining Bathe – men on whose fields the
eyewitnesses worked, and with whom they would be extremely familiar.

Bela Bhatia’s (2013) observation regarding the HC verdict in the Bathani
Tola case holds true for the HC verdict in the Bathe case as well.1

In the wake of the Laxmanpur-Bathe acquittal, several reports and
commentaries in the media2 have spoken of a “resurgence of caste war” in
Bihar. In the 1990s, too, it was common to speak of the massacres in terms
of a “caste war”, a “war of attrition” or “battle for supremacy” between
“Naxalites” and the Ranveer Sena; or as arising solely as a response to
specific battles over agricultural labourers’ wages and land. Such
narratives are inaccurate, misleading and sometimes, motivated.

*Not a ‘Caste War’ *

Accommodating the massacres into a narrative of caste war is a way of
domesticating them. In such a narrative, even the quest for justice becomes
a way of “aggravating caste tension”. One of these recent pieces speaks of
the difficulties for the government in “maintaining caste
harmony”.3Another article stated that “CPI-ML national general
secretary Dipankar
Bhattacharya supported Laxmanpur-Bathe caste tensions during his recent

The innocuous term “caste harmony” is a loaded one. Ranveer Sena chief
Brahmeshwar Singh was known to have said that the CPI(ML) had “broken the
caste harmony of our social fabric”. In an interview days before his
killing, he said, “Violence for the restoration of peace and harmony is not
a sin.”5 It is no coincidence that the Ranveer Sena’s talk of “social
harmony” was identical to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) slogan of *samajik samrasta*, both implying the
subjugation of the oppressed castes. The slightest social, economic, or
political assertion by the oppressed was equated with “disharmony”, and the
massacres were justified as necessary to “restore harmony”.

What about the “war of attrition” argument, or the claim that “economic
blockades” by the Naxalites had provoked the massacres? The Bathe massacre
itself did not have its origin in any prior economic or political conflict
as such. The village was not a stronghold of either the CPI(ML-Liberation)
or the erstwhile CPI(ML-Party Unity). Though there were some members of
both these parties, there was no armed presence in the village. While there
had been some struggles over wages and land, there had been much sharper
battles elsewhere. Bathe was chosen as a “soft target”; caste and class
were factors but the purpose was political theatre – the enactment of a
deliberately sensational “record-breaking” massacre that would help to
consolidate upper caste support for the BJP on the eve of the elections.

The Ranveer Sena itself was substantially different from earlier caste
*senas*. The Ranveer Sena was formed to counter the rise and assertion of
the CPI(ML-Liberation) as an electoral and political force in that region.
The earlier senas had tended to be more local; the Ranveer Sena’s base was
spread over almost the whole of central Bihar. The Ranveer Sena displayed
an ideological cohesion and well-defined political role that was also
distinct from the earlier senas. The Ranveer Sena’s ideological debt to the
RSS was pronounced, and it distributed leaflets for the BJP in elections.
However, it received political patronage and funding from a range of
politicians across parties, as well as from global financial sources.

Laloo Prasad had no compunctions in sharing the stage with Ranveer Sena
supporters and, as he put it, in “joining hands with the forces of hell to
counter the CPI(ML)”. This would perhaps explain the frequency with which
the banned Sena committed atrocities with impunity during the Rashtriya
Janata Dal (RJD) rule. The answer to the appeasement of the BJP-backed
Ranveer Sena by the RJD and the Janata Dal (United) – JD(U) – can perhaps
be found in the “unmistakable coalescence of class interests on the ground
between the decaying feudal forces and the emerging kulak sections from
both upper caste-led camps as well as dominant backward castes”.6

It was the widespread outrage which followed the Bathani Tola and Bathe
massacres which forced the RJD Government of Bihar to constitute a
commission headed by retired Justice Amir Das, to enquire into the
political backing enjoyed by the Ranveer Sena. Justice Amir Das is on
record stating how basic infrastructure was denied to this commission and
efforts were made to subvert its working.7 The commission enquired into 34
massacres committed by the Ranveer Sena. The politicians it interrogated
about their financial patronage of the banned Sena and the political
services they in turn received from the Sena, included many senior leaders
of the BJP, JD(U), as well as of the RJD and Congress.

One of the first acts of the Nitish Kumar government when it came to power
in 2006 was to scrap the Amir Das Commission, which was in the final stages
of preparing its report, as many prominent BJP and JD(U) politicians were
likely to be exposed by the commission for Ranveer Sena links.

The claim that Nitish Kumar has somehow “changed the narrative” in Bihar
away from “caste war” to “development” is entirely mischievous as this
government has allowed the Ranvir Sena and other upper caste groups to
wreak violence on dalits and has scuttled even modest proposals for land
reforms by the government’s own Bandopadhyay Land Reforms Commission. Even
today, Ranveer Sena leader Sunil Pandey is the JD(U) MLA from Tarari in

*Justice Not Revenge *

Many well-meaning commentators like to warn that if the judiciary fails to
provide justice in the massacre cases, it could push the poor to seek
revenge. The fact, however, is that the question of justice is not one of
settling scores or getting revenge for events of the past. It is a question
of fighting for democracy in the present. The quest of the people of Bathe
and Bathani for justice is an integral part of their broader struggle for
social dignity and real democracy, and of their resistance to the forces of
feudal and communal fascism.

In an interview to a TV channel not long before his killing, Brahmeshwar
Singh said he had been an RSS cadre since childhood, and that he wished to
see Narendra Modi as prime minister. In 1994, he had declared the agenda of
killing dalits in the womb, even before they were born, “...the viper in
the egg will one day hatch and come to bite you. There is no sin in
crushing the egg.”8 At Bathani Tola, poor and backward Muslims alongside
dalits constituted the bulk of the victims.

In the wake of the Bathe massacre, then CPI(ML-Liberation) general
secretary Vinod Mishra wrote “the interests of the revolutionary peasant
movement as well as the national responsibility of halting the onslaught of
saffron army has merged into one and the same task – wiping out Ranvir
Sena.”9 The task of seeking justice for the massacres of the landless poor
today remains integral to the task of halting the onslaught of the saffron
army nationally.


1 Bela Bhatia 2013, “Justice Not Vengeance: The Bathani Tola Massacre and
the Ranbeer Sena in Bihar”, EPW, 21 September, pp 49, 52.

2 Santosh Singh 2013, “Spectre of Caste War Haunts Bihar”,* The Indian
Express*, 21 October; Rohit Singh, 2013, “Ghost of 90s Set to Re-visit
Bihar? Threat of Caste War Resurgence Is Real, Says Politicians”, *Headlines
Today*, 21 October; Manoj Kumar 2013, “Dangerous Signs: Is Bihar Moving
Back to Era of Bloody Caste Wars?”, *Firstpost*, 22 October.

3 Santosh Singh, Op cit.

4 Anonymous 2013, “Caste War Angers Bihar”, *New Delhi Post*, available at
http://thenewdelhipost.com/caste-war-angers-bihar-211910.html, accessed on
3 November 2013.

5 Dan Morrison 2012, “A Final Interview with Brahmeshwar Nath Singh”,
New York Time: India Ink*, 4 June,
accessed on 3 November 2013.

6 Dipankar Bhattacharya 2012, “Ranvir Sena Revisited: Feudal-Kulak Power
and Lalu-Nitish Continuum”, EPW, 28 July, pp 15-19.

7 Dipak Mishra 2006, “Cloud over Justice Amir Das Panel”, *The Times of
India*, 9 April.

8 Dan Morrison, op cit.

9 Vinod Mishra 1998, “This Battle Must Be Won”, *Liberation*, January.

Link : http://www.epw.in/commentary/battle-justice-and-democracy.html<http://www.epw.in/commentary/battle-justice-and-democracy.html>

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