Manoj Chaurasia/The Statesman
PATNA: Bihar was on the boil a day after Patna High Court, citing "defective evidence," acquitted all 23 people who had been convicted by a lower court for the massacre of 21 Dalits.
Angry CPI-ML workers and activists took to the streets in several districts, shouting slogans against the government, and demanding justice for the victims' families. Hundreds of CPI-ML workers and activists marched through Patna, badly disrupting traffic for hours.
The killings were executed 16 years ago at Bathani Tola in Bhojpur district by the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper-caste landlords. District judge Ajay Kumar Srivastava in 2010 gave 20 accused life terms, and three death sentences for the massacre.
A division bench of Patna High Court comprising Mr Justice Navniti Prasad and Mr Justice Ashwini Kumar Singh yesterday freed them all. "The investigation was not fair to the persons who perpetrated the ghastly crime," the Bench explained.
"Apparently, the investigation was directed in a particular direction far from the truth, and not above suspicion," according to the Bench, which observed that the truth had been deliberately "suppressed" by the investigating agency and the prosecution, to project the involvement of the accused.
The protesters, though, were unconvinced by this explanation, seeing the court's decision as part of a deliberate pattern of actions by the state government. "What kind of justice is being delivered under Nitish raj?" asked Mr Kunal, the CPI-ML's state secretary. "While a woman accused in the BJP legislator Raj Kishore Kesari murder case is given life term under speedy trial, and 14 accused from a poor community are given death in Amausi massacre case, the feudal-communal elements are being allowed to go scot free."
The NDA government has been working against the poor, Mr Kunal said. "The first step in that direction was the scrapping of Justice Amirdas Commission probing the links of politicians across the political parties with the Ranvir Sena." The commission was scrapped in 2006 just when it was about to submit its report.
The self-proclaimed chief of the Ranvir Sena, Mr Barmeshwar Singh Mukhia, despite being the alleged mastermind behind several caste-massacres in Bihar, remains free. He was granted bail in one case in July last year, after having been granted bail in five other cases, earlier. He has been acquitted in 16 cases related to massacres he had allegedly engineered, leading to caste tension in the state in late 1990s and early 2000s.
Referring to yesterday's decision, senior CPI-ML leader Ramji Ram said: "The marauders only killed the poor, but the Nitish Kumar government has executed a 'judicial massacre,' by showing gross negligence towards this case. The people of the state will never forgive him for his double-standard."
Another senior leader, Ms Meena Tiwari, said chief minister Nitish Kumar had done a lot of talking about his government’s "development with justice" agenda, but yesterday's decision had exposed the real face of his government. "His development with justice agenda is a sham now," she said.
The leaders said they would not sit idle until justice is delivered to the victim’s families. They demanded that the perpetrators of the massacre be hanged.