When Bathani Tola bathed in blood 17 winters ago

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By Mumtaz Alam, India Tomorrow,

New Delhi, 18 Dec 2013: This month 17 years ago, Bathani Tola village in Arwal district of Bihar witnessed a bloodbath when armed troopers of feudal private army called Ranveer Sena brutally killed innocent men, women and children of the Dalit and Muslim community. Survivors of the massacre and family members of the victims are still awaiting justice. Today hundreds of people from the affected village gathered here at Parliament Street to send their voice to the corridors of power.

“We have not got justice yet. The Patna High Court acquitted all the accused convicted by the lower court. We demand the central government and Supreme Court of India to intervene and ensure us justice,” said Mohammad Nayeemuddin of Bathani Tola while talking to India Tomorrow at Jantar Mantar where a public hearing on the massacre was organized by Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

Nayeemuddin lost six members of his family – two sons, two daughters, one sister and one daughter-in-law in the 1996 massacre. In all 21 people were killed by Ranveer Sena – 15 of them were from the landless Dalit community.

It was not the only massacre. Ranveer Sena repeated it at a larger scale a year later in 1997 when they butchered 58 landless Dalits in Laxmanpur Bathe village of the same district.

Ram Ugar Rajbansi, one of the survivors of the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, was also at the Jantar Mantar hearing which covered this incident also. Rajbansi lost three members of his family – elder brother’s wife, daughter-in-law and brother’s sister – in the cold night massacre.

“It was 8 pm in the night on 31st December 1997 when Ranveer Sena attacked at our village. When we protested they started killing us. They shot dead my elder brother’s wife, daughter-in-law and brother’s sister,” recalls Rajbansi while talking to India Tomorrow.

The accused people of the two massacres were found guilty and convicted by the lower court. However, in 2012 the Patna High Court acquitted all 23 Bathani Tola massacre convicts found guilty by the sessions court. And in 2013, the same High Court acquitted all 26 convicts of the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre case. The victims have challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Today’s public hearing at Jantar Mantar challenged the series of Patna High Court verdicts that acquitted all accused of the massacres by the Ranveer Sena. The hearing was addressed by survivors and eyewitnesses of the Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe and Nagari Bazaar massacres, and family members of the victims.

Several survivors of the Laxmanpur Bathe and Nagari Bazaar massacres spoke of their long struggle for justice, battling all the efforts to terrorise them into silence. “Foetuses were ripped apart from the stomachs of eight women, and flung in the air”, said Madhuri, recounting the horror of Laxmanpur Bathe.

A delegation of the massacre survivors accompanied by eminent citizens and activists submitted an appeal to the President of India, signed by 5 million people of Bihar, including several writers, intellectuals and journalists, over the past month.

Bathani Tola massacre survivor Naeemuddin recalled that President KR Narayanan had in 1997 called the Bathe massacre a ‘national shame.’ “We hope President Mukherjee too will raise his voice for the cause of justice against this second national shame – the acquittal of all the accused,” he said.

The jury at the public hearing included Prof. Nandini Sundar of Delhi University, Profs. Sona Jharia Minz and YS Alone of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof Nawal Kishor Choudhury of Patna University, and JNUSU VP Anubhuti Agnes Bara, Chittaranjan Singh, PUCL and others. Among those who addressed the gathering were CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPRM General Secretary Taramani Rai, and Comrade Atul Dighe of Lal Nishan Party (Leninist). The proceedings were conducted by Revolutionary Youth Association General Secretary Ravi Rai.

Terming the acquittals a ‘massacre of justice’, CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said the erstwhile Laloo-Rabri regime and the current Nitish Kumar regime had betrayed the massacre victims alike, and protected the perpetrators. Talking to India Tomorrow, Bhattacharya said the acquittal is a massacre of justice. He said that without justice to victims India will be a hollow democracy. “There is a need for a powerful movement for justice for all.”

Follow the writer on Twitter @MumtazAlam1978

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