Patna, April 7: A Bihar court today awarded death sentences to 16 members of an erstwhile army of upper caste landlords and life-terms to 10 others for the massacre of 58 Dalits at Laxmanpur-Bathe village in Jehanabad district 13 years ago.
While pronouncing the verdict, additional district and sessions judge (I), Patna, Vijay Prakash Mishra described the December 1, 1997, killing as a stigma on civil society and rarest of rare cases of brutality.
More than 40 members of the dreaded Ranvir Sena, a militia group of Bhumihar upper castes, used guns and swords to butcher 58 people, including 27 women and 10 children, in Jehanabad.
But, the mastermind of the killing, Ranvir Sena founder Barmeshwar Mihiya, and another person, were never brought to book as they are absconders in police records.
Of the 46 accused, charges were framed against 44. Of the 44, the court acquitted 18 people, for lack of evidence. Those served life-terms were also fined Rs 50,000 each.
Defence lawyer Sunil Kumar said todays lower court order would be challenged in the high court.
Laxmanpur-Bathe village is located on the southern bank of river Sone which the armed Ranvir Sena men had crossed in boats to unleash an orgy of violence that shocked the nation.
The massacre was a result of a series of clashes between upper caste Bhumihars and farm workers, primarily Dalits, enjoying the patronage of the then Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and CPI-ML which later merged to form CPI (Maoist).
In March 1999, the Maoists admittedly avenged the Laxmanpur-Bathe carnage by massacring as many as 34 Bhumihar men, aged 19 to 34 years, at the adjoining Senari village in Gaya district.
The retaliatory attack on Senari, an affluent village of upper caste Bhumihars, virtually led to the dismantling of the Ranvir Sena with the Maoists gaining in strength and fire power.
Prosecution lawyer C.K. Sinha described the courts verdict as an achievement of the Nitish Kumar government which has facilitated speedy trials in pending cases.
The Laxmanpur-Bathe case was pending with no witnesses turning up and the police sitting over it. But it was only in December 2008, that charges were framed against the accused Ranvir Sena men. The government also instructed the police to follow up on the case and ensure the presence of witnesses which has resulted in justice today, said Rajesh Kumar, another prosecution lawyer.
The case was initially registered in a Jehanabad court. It was transferred to the Patna district and sessions court in 1999 on the orders of the Patna High Court.