Convention Demands for Victims of Bathani Tola Massacre
Calls For Countrywide Movement Against
'Massacre of Justice' by the Bihar HC Verdict Acquitting All Accused
New Delhi, 24 April, 2012
A Convention was held in the national capital on 'Bathani Tola Acquittal: Political Complicity and Issues of Justice in Feudal and Communal Massacres', on 23 April in the evening, at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. The Convention had been held in the backdrop of the Bihar HC verdict earlier this month acquitting all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre in 1996 of 21 dalit and Muslim landless poor, all but one of whom were women and children. The Bihar HC overturned a lower court's verdict of 2010 sentencing three to death and twenty to life imprisonment.
Introducing the issue, Kavita Krishnan, Central Committee member of the CPI(ML) said that the Bihar HC verdict had serious implications for the struggle for justice, not only in the Bathani Tola case but for all victims of feudal-communal massacres in Bihar and the rest of the country. The verdict disbelieves the evidence of eyewitnesses, by suggesting that had they really been present, they too would have been killed by the perpetrators. The verdict therefore implies that only the dead can be accepted as truthful witnesses to a massacre! If we declare it impossible for there to be any survivors and eyewitnesses to a massacre, then how can we ever convict any perpetrators of a massacre?
Prof. Anand Chakravarty spoke about the deep chasm between the rule of law and 'justice'. He said that 'justice' should be understood not just in a judicial sense but in the wider sense of economic, social, and political justice. Citing instances of judicial bias against the dalit and adivasi agrarian labourers, he quoted the Tamil Nadu High Court verdict in the Kilvenmani massacre of 1969, which had found it 'astonishing' and 'difficult to believe' that 'rich men, owning vast extents of land', one of whom even 'possessed a car', could be guilty of burning alive 42 dalits! In the context of the Rupaspur (Purnea) massacre of 14 adivasi sharecroppers in 1971, he quoted the words of a well-known advocate who had justified the massacre, "It is because of me (i.e the landlord) that he had the land, it is because of me that he had a livelihood ... Now he is violating that relationship by refusing to share the crop; this is a breach of trust which cannot be tolerated." Prof. Chakravarty spoke of the principal social contradictions of Bihar, in the backdrop of which the Ranveer Sena had conducted more than 23 massacres in Bihar in the 1990s. The apparent reason for the massacres lay in contestations over land, wages and social dignity, he said, and the mobilizations of the radical Left groups on the latter issues, he stressed, were largely demanding rights within the Constitutional framework. The real reason for the massacres, he felt, was that the assertion of the underclass was viewed as an act of defiance against the hierarchical class and caste order. He held that the Bihar Government today, for all its rhetoric, is actually deeply inimical to the economic, social and political entitlements of the oppressed classes, and that therefore the prospects of justice for the latter are quite weak.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan spoke about the entrenched upper class and caste biases in the judiciary, and about how difficult it is for the poor and oppressed to approach the Courts for justice, or even to prove their innocence when they are falsely framed for some crime by the state machinery.
Prof. Nandini Sundar of Delhi University said that we should be hopeful and confident that the people of Bathani Tola would get justice – not so much because one has faith in the judiciary, but because one has faith in the commitment of the people and the party towards the struggle for justice. She said that the verdict seems to blame the survivors and witnesses for the weaknesses of the police investigators and prosecutors. She questioned the underlying assumption that the Bathani Tola massacre was a result of group rivalries (i.e between CPI(ML) and the Ranveer Sena), and that the survivors' political affiliation made them 'unreliable witnesses.' She said that P Chidambaram was being opportunist when he asked why no one demanded justice for the Bathani Tola victims; since he himself was in the habit of branding those who raised such matters as 'Maoist sympathizers.'
Jaya Mehta, economist and activist, spoke of her visit along with a team, to Amausi in Khagaria district of Bihar, which was the site of a massacre in 2009. She pointed out that in stark contrast to Bathani Tola where the Ara verdict had come out in 14 years later, a verdict sentencing 10 musahars ('mahadalits') including Comrade Bodhan Sada to death had come out within four years. She held that Amausi verdict to be deeply unjust and out of sync with the facts on the ground as emerged from the team's preliminary enquiry. Noting the Bihar Government's back-tracking on the question of land reform, she stressed the need for a united Left movement on the question of land reform and land rights to the oppressed.
Comrade Ramji Rai, politburo member of the CPI(ML), said that 16 years ago, Ranveer Sena committed the massacre in Bathani Tola, but now, what we are witnessing is a judicial massacre of Bathani Tola. And the foundations of this massacre of justice, he said, were laid long ago: when the Nitish Kumar Government came to power and disbanded the Amir Das Commission that been set up to enquire into the political patrons of the Ranveer Sena.
He reminded that the Bathani Tola massacre was a virulent feudal-communal backlash against the bid at political and social equality by the poor and oppressed of Bhojpur. The CPI(ML) had won two Assembly seats at Sahar and Sandesh in 1995 – and this was the immediate backdrop in which the Ranveer Sena came into being. He recalled speaking to Sheetal Choudhury from Ara, who had said that Bhojpur had witnessed a 'little revolution' (chhoti moti kranti) that had forced the feudal forces to accept the dalit and landless oppressed as political and social equals. The massacre was intended to punish this assertion and reestablish the old order.
He pointed out the strong ideological and political linkages between the Ranveer Sena and the Sangh Parivar, and the communal overtones of the feudal massacre at Bathani Tola, in which Muslim families had been singled out for the most barbaric crimes. There was documentary evidence, he said, that the Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh had called to 'throw out the red flag from India's soil.' Reminiscent of the Bajrang Dal, Brahmeshwar had called for liquidation of the 'Naxalites,' saying that when Hanuman burnt Lanka, he had not spared women and children. Brahmeshwar Singh, mirroring the nationalist posturing of the Sangh Parivar, had called his organization the 'nationalist' (rashtravadi) peasant organization. Nitish's predecessor Laloo Prasad, in spite of his anti-communal posturing, had never acted against the Ranveer Sena. Brahmeshwar Singh, the Ranveer Sena chief, had never been named in any of the FIRs of massacres. And the Nitish Government had failed even to oppose the bail plea of Brahmeshwar Singh, allowing him to walk free!
Comrade Ramji Rai called for a countrywide declaration of rejection of and struggle against the 'massacre of justice' represented by the Bihar HC verdict on Bathani Tola.
The Convention ended with recitation of poems by the people's poet and balladeer Vidrohi.