“Are we expected to bring back the dead to give evidence?”
(Survivors of Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe Massacres speak at People’s Hearing For Justice. A report of the Hearing and the signature campaign and Journey for Justice that preceded it, in which 5 million signatures were collected on a petition to the President of India.)
“The Bihar government is in connivance with the Ranveer Sena. The lower court had awarded death sentence to 3 of the killers and life imprisonment to 19, but the High Court acquitted all these Ranveer Sena men. The High Court asks for evidence. Are we expected to bring back the dead to give evidence? There are 3 police pickets there, why don’t they ask those policemen? 14 witnesses braved life threats to give evidence, yet the High court let the murderers go scot free and called the witnesses liars. When Barmeshwar Singh was killed a CBI enquiry is ordered, but the poor are being subjected to injustice even through the court. We have gone to the Supreme Court to demand justice. Come what may, we will not give up our fight for justice.” These were the words of Bathani Tola eyewitness and survivor Naeemuddin Ansari at the People’s Hearing conducted at Jantar mantar, New Delhi by the CPI(ML) on 18 December.
In 1996 the Ranveer Sena had brutally massacred 21 people from dalit-minority communities, out of which 6 women and children belonged to Naeemuddin’s family. He testified in court as an eyewitness – but the Patna High Court rejected his testimony.
After the Public Hearing, 5 million signatures (collected between 30 October and 10 December in an intense campaign all over Bihar) were submitted to the President of India. Signatories included the general public, well-known intellectuals, litterateurs, cultural activists, journalists, and human rights activists. The petition appealed to the President to raise his voice in support of the struggle for justice, and to intervene to reopen the Justice Amir Das Commission that had identified the political figures behind the Ranveer Sena, but that had been disbanded by the Nitish Government before it could submit its findings.
The signatures had been brought to Delhi in a Nyay Sangharsh Yatra (Journey for Justice) that began on 10 December (Human Rights Day) from Bihar’s capital Patna. Traversing through the carnage affected areas and talking to the victims, holding public meetings in Durgavati, Mughalsarai and Benaras on the question of justice, the Yatra arrived in Delhi. Around 60 mass meetings were held during this period. CPI(ML)’s former MLA Arun Singh, Bihar State Committee member Mahanand, Anwar Hussain from Inqulabi Muslim Conference, RYA National President Amarjeet Kushwaha, Raju Yadav and Qayamuddin from Revolutionary Youth Asociation, folk singers Krishna Kumar Nirmohi, Raju Ranjan and others were part of the Yatra. The Yatra culminated in the Public Hearing held in Delhi on December 18th – the death anniversary of former CPI(ML) General Secretary Vinod Mishra.
At the hearing, Laxmanpur Bathe carnage survivor Ramugrah Rajvanshi said: “Nitish took our votes in the name of ‘mahadalit’ but got the perpetrators of the carnage acquitted, because he wanted to maintain good relations with feudal forces. It is only the CPI (ML) which is with us in our fight for justice.”
Laxman Rajvanshi who lost 3 family members in the Bathe carnage said, “After the acquittal, the killers are threatening us, saying now we will kill 116 instead of 58; we are all-powerful from top to bottom, what can you do against us?
Rita Devi, survivor of the Bathani Tola massacre, described the gory scene that greeted her eyes after the massacre – walls spattered with blood and flesh. She said, “People testified at risk to their lives, in the hope of justice – and their hopes were dashed to the ground.” Later, speaking to Delhi students, she said, “I had to go to court recently with my little son, in some other matter. My son, seeing the judges in the court, said – ‘Are these the judges who let the killers go scot free? I don’t want to be a judge when I grow up.’”
On 15 August 2013 feudal forces had attacked the dalits of Baddi village (Rohtas district) for daring to hoist the flag. Shriniwas Ram, son of 70-year-old Ramvilas Ram who was killed in this attack, said that he had also come to demand justice for his father’s murder. Madhuri of AIPWA who has been fighting for the victims’ struggle for justice, said that the then President KR Narayanan had called the carnages a national shame. Is the acquittal of the murderers not a shame? Sharing her experiences from the signature campaign she said that women feel that the High court verdict comes as a morale booster for criminals and today the women of Bihar are facing violence from such criminals. These women signed the petition not only to get justice for the carnage victims but also to deter the ongoing violence against women in Bihar.
CPI (ML) Arwal district Secretary Com. Mahanand said that if the Supreme Court does not give us justice we will go back to the same 5 million signatories of the petition for justice. Com. Anwar Hussain, CPI(ML) leader from Bihar, said that the Nitish government has provided all amenities to the villages which attacked Miyanpur, while Miyanpur itself lacks even basic amenities and the licences for weapons which had been provided for self defence are not being renewed.
Prof. Nandini Sundar of Delhi University, Chittaranjan Singh of PUCL, Prof. Sona Jharia Minz and Dr. YS Alone of JNU, Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhary of Patna University, and JNUSU Vice President Anubhuti Agnes Bara were the Jury members at the People’s Hearing. Prof. Nandini Sundar condemned the High Court verdict as the worst possible verdict and said that we all want justice for the victims; this fight is not only for these victims but also for the victims of violence all over the world. Chittaranjan Singh of the PUCL condemned the refusal of the President to give time to meet the deputation from the People’s Hearing.
The Jury said that it expects the Bihar government to file an appeal in the Supreme Court without delay, guarantee safety of witneses, reinstate the Amir Das Commission and make its report public. At the same time the Union Home Ministry should also give the necessary directives to the Bihar government. Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhary said that the Nyay Yatra (journey for justice) is not over yet. The killings at Bathani, Bathe and Miyanpur were not ordinary killings but tantamount to the murder of Indian democracy, Constitutional values and human rights. It is the minimal responsibility of the Indian State to fulfil the demands of this Jury and the duty of every citizen to fight against massacres.
At the start of the People’s Hearing Bihar State Committee member and former MLA Arun Singh said that the Ranveer Sena was not just a criminal gang, it had the full protection of political parties. Feudal-communal in character, it was supported by the BJP, and also by the Lalu-Rabdi and Nitish governments. On this occasion the founder of People’s Front of India (PFI) and Supreme Court lawyer Tahir Hussain said that even in the case of a single murder, the High Court has to think a hundred times before overturning a Lower Court verdict; the acquittal by the High Court of these brutal mass murderers is astounding. Taramani Rai of the CPRM said that he would mobilise public opinion on this issue in Darjeeling. Atul Dighe of the Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) said that the fight against feudal forces would continue till the end, and PFI National Vice President Satyapal Singh assured full support in the fight for justice. Former CPI(ML) MP Rameshwar Prasad was also present on the dais.
Addressing the People’s Hearing, CPI (ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya said that after a long and brave fight the people got justice from the lower court but the High Court cast suspicion on the witnesses, which is a matter of great shame. Today this fight belongs not only to Bathani, Bathe and Miyanpur but to all poor, oppressed, dalit, and working people of the entire country. This fight is related to the fight for justice and freedom for women which the streets of Delhi have seen during the past year. It is related also to the fight for justice for the oppressed minorities in the relief camps at Muzaffarnagar. From Kashmir to the North East, wherever people are fighting for their rights, we are fighting with them. Com. Dipankar said that the CPI(ML) is going to launch a countrywide campaign in the new year, on 2nd January, to demand justice for the Muzaffarnagar victims. He stressed the demand for an effective anti-communalism law, pointing out that throughout the country youth belonging to the minority communities were being hounded and witch-hunted. The question of people’s justice includes the release of all the innocent people languishing in jail.
The proceedings were conducted by Com. Ravi Rai, RYA General Secretary. Com. Krishna Kumar Nirmohi, Raju Ranjan, and Nanhaku Paswan presented folk songs on the theme of justice: “Kaahe bhayil Bathani se beimaani, Bathe se beimaani ho judge sahib poochh taani, nyay ke murti hoke anyay kari dihal, nyay sange kayil manmaani” (Why did you betray Bathani and Bathe, we ask you Mr.Judge, being a representative of justice why you do this injustice, why did you interpret the law according to your whims?)
Bihar Fights for Justice
A signature campaign to the President demanding justice for carnage victims was flagged off by CPI(ML) on 14 November in Patna with the slogan “Bihar fights for Justice”. Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, Prof. Nawal Kishore Chowdhury, Sahajanad Saraswati, Raghav Sharan Sharma, Javed Ahmed, Akbar Choudhury, writer Shekhar, AIPWA, AISA, RYA, Hirawal activists, intellectuals, students, youth and women were among the first signatories.
Com. Dipankar appealed to the public to make the campaign a success and take the voice of Bihar against the massacre of justice, to Delhi. He said that the signatures collected would be taken by road from Bihar on 10 December in a “Nyay Sangharsh Yatra” and would reach Delhi on 18 December when there would be a Jan Sunwai (Public Hearing) before the signatures were submitted to the President.
Prof. Nawal Kishore Chowdhury said that the entire intellectual community was shocked at the High Court acquittals and demands justice for the victims and punishment for the guilty. JNUSU President Akbar Chowdhury spoke of the anger in the student community against the acquittals and said that the anti-dalit, anti-minority character of the Nitissh Government stands exposed.
The first day of the campaign saw over one lakh signatures, including from various places like Masaudhi, Paliganj, Punpun, Bihata blocs in Patna rural, Bhojpur, Gaya, Jehanabad, Arwal, Siwan, Samastipur, Darbhanga and other districts.
Bathe Massacre Day In Bihar
1 December, the anniversary of the Bathe massacre was observed across Bihar as a day to demand justice for carnage victims and to pay tribute to them. Marches and meetings were held in Patna, Arwal, Siwan, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Buxar, Darbhanga, Bhojpur, Aurangabad and other districts. By this date over 25 thousand signatures had been collected. Nyay Sammelans were organized at Bhojpur and Ara (29 November), Gaya (30 November) and Aurangabad and Daudnagar (1 December). Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya addressed the meetings and lent impetus to the campaign. The meetings were also addressed by intellectuals, activists, advocates, and academics. The slogan “Bathe Bathani Miyanpur, Nahi Chalega Yeh Dastoor” reverberated throughout Bihar. Com. Dipankar pointed out that there had been massacres earlier, but the difference in the Bathani-Bathe case was that the massacres were done with a political motive to punish the people for the rising popularity of the CPI (ML) in Bihar and to curb the growingpeople’s movements. There is also a communal element involved in the massacres as was seen in Bathani. That is why late Com. Vinod Mishra had said that the fight for justice for Bathani and Bathe, and the fight against communalism have converged into a unified struggle.
Nyay Sangharsh Yatra
The Nyay Sangharsh Yatra carrying over 5 million signatures petitioning the President for justice for massacre victims in Bihar started out on 10 December. Apart from leaders of CPI(ML), RYA, AIALA, AISA and AIPWA, family members of victims including Naeemuddin Ansari, Uma Shankar Singh, Ramugrah Rajvanshi, Laxman Rajvanshi, folk singers Krishna KumarNirmohi, Raju Ranjan and Nanku Paswan and others accompanied the yatra which passed through the carnage affected areas and other districts of Bihar and conducted many meetings en route to Delhi.
The Yatra passed through Uttar Pradesh on its way to New Delhi. The Yatra reached Mughalsarai in Chandauli district of UP on 16th December after leaving Mohania in Bihar. The Yatra was welcomed by more than 200 people there and a mass meeting was organized near the Railway station. More than 3800 signatures addressed to the President of India were handed to the leaders in Yatra. Varanasi was the next stop of the Yatra. Here, about 300 people from the three districts of Varanasi, Sant Kabir Nagar and Ghazipur had gathered to welcome the Yatra. A mass meeting was held here which was addressed by Comrades Mahanand and Anwar Hussain who were part of the Yatra. Com. Manish Sharma, SCM, CPI(ML) Uttar Pradesh also addressed the meeting. More than 6000 signatures were handed to the Yatra leaders. In the evening, the Yatra left for Kanpur on its way to Delhi.