All the 26 convicted by the District and Sessions Court on the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre of 58 dalits 17 years back, have now been acquitted by a Divisional Bench of Patna High Court. The 58 dalits killed included 27 women and 10 children and was one of the most brutal caste killings in the country. The lower court had sentenced sixteen of the accused to death and given life sentence to ten others after a 13 year long court battle.
This is the third case of aquittal in such massacres; the earlier two are the Bathani Tola and Nagari Bazaar acquittals in July 2012 and March 2013. These set of massacres were widely known to be the handiwork of Ranvir Sena, the Bhumihar landlords' caste militia, which is now almost defunct.
In what can only be termed as a perverse judgement, the Division Bench “found” the prosecution witnesses in the Laxmanpur Bathe case as “not reliable” and “the appellants deserve grant of benefit of doubt”.
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One case may be an aberration, but if in 3 cases, the upper caste Bhumihars get the benfit of doubt from the higher courts which find the evidence of the dalit victims not reliable, it is difficult to believe that caste played no role in the judgement. These judgments -- Laxmanpur Bathe, Bathani Tola and Nagari Bazaar -- will be widely seen as “caste” justice and both the courts and the Bihar government held to have denied justice to those who were massacred in cold blood. Justice has not only been delayed, it has now been even denied.
If the Bihar government has to redeem itself, it needs to appeal this shameful verdict. We hope this time, it will do a better job and the higher court will be more responsive to the needs of justice. Otherwise, it will only reinforce the belief in the oppressed sections in India that the courts and the governments are there only to protect the rights of the rich and powerful.
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