| A memorial statue at Bathani Tola remembering the 21 people killed by Ranvir Sena in 1996. Telegraph picture |
New Delhi, July 16: The Supreme Court today agreed to hear the Bihar government’s appeal against a Patna High Court order acquitting all accused in the Bathani Tola massacre in which 21 people, mostly Dalit and members of a minority community, were killed allegedly by Ranvir Sena, the armed upper caste vigilante group.
The Ara sessions court had in 2010 convicted all the 23 accused in the case, but the high court overturned the judgment in April 2012. A Supreme Court bench, comprising Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Jasti Chelameswar, today issued notices on the state appeal, filed through counsel Abhinav Mukerji, to all the accused.
The state contended that the HC judgment had resulted in grave miscarriage of justice and deserved to be set aside. Notices were also issued on the state’s plea to stay the April 16, 2012, high court judgment. The high court had acquitted the 23 accused, all members of the Ranvir Sena, convicted by the trial court for the offences of rioting with arms and committing murder by intentionally causing death of the dead persons.
They were also convicted for making attempts on the life of Radhika Devi, Kusum Kumari, Shailendra Choudhary, the three who survived the incident, and committing mischief by fire by causing destruction of houses and several sections of the Arms Act.
“The findings of the HC are contrary to the record and the well-settled law…. The impugned orders unsettled the well-reasoned judgment of the trial court,” the state said in its appeal.
“… the HC failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation that prevailed at the relevant point of time…. on seeing a carnage of such widespread scale in which 18 bodies were lying all over the village with a number of houses burning and a number of injured persons were being taken to hospital and inclement weather conditions prevailing, steps taken by the authorities could not be faulted even if it was assumed that bona fide mistakes had occurred,” the state said.
“… the HC failed to appreciate that it was dealing with a case of the year 1996 of poor and illiterate villagers living in a rural and backward area who were totally in shock and grief having lost their near and dear ones in a brutal assault. It was extremely difficult for them to muster up courage and a calm mental frame of mind and to come and depose before the trial court and thereafter face gruelling cross examination of several sets of highly-trained lawyers appearing for the accused,” the state said.
“It is therefore quite natural that some of the answers would contradict each other. It is submitted that the HC failed to consider that it is natural for genuine witnesses to have minor contradictions during their cross-examination. In fact, this aspect shows the genuineness of witnesses rather than them being tutored witnesses.” The HC disregarded their evidence only on account of minor discrepancies despite the fact that their accounts were corroborated by medical evidence, the state argued.
The court erred in summarily rejecting all testimonies of prosecution witnesses who had lost their near and dear ones as unreliable, the state said. It is the duty of the court to separate the grain from the chaff, it said.
The state contended that the HC had not taken into account any of the reasons advanced by the trial court in its well-reasoned judgment. It said the HC decision to cite the alleged delay in filing the FIR as a ground for the acquittals in such a “heinous crime of mass carnage”. The state wondered whether the motive had to be proved in all cases with mathematical accuracy, failing which all accused would be acquitted. The state also questioned whether the failure to hold a test identification parade was fatal to the prosecution case even though the accused stood identified by the prosecution witnesses in court. “… the finding of the HC that it is inconceivable that accused would attack in broad daylight exposing their identity and thus requires to be rejected is not a correct finding in law,” the state said.
“The HC failed to appreciate that the object of the attack was to instil fear in the hearts of the residents. The HC erred in thinking it unnatural that the accused on seeing no male members did not search for them,” the state added in its appeal.