| A resident of Laxmanpur Bathe at his home on Thursday. Picture by Ashok Sinha |
The residents of Laxmanpur Bathe are furious after the Patna High Court’s verdict yesterday, acquitting all the 26 convicted in connection with the massacre of 58 Dalits — the biggest ever carnage in the state on December 1, 1997.
“Yeh aadesh December 1, 1997 ko jo hum logon par gujra, usse bhi bara crime hai (Such a verdict is a more heinous crime than what had been inflicted on us on December 1, 1997),” said Laddu Choudhary (38), who lost nine of his family members, including his father Garibchand Choudhary, mother, brothers and sisters.
“We are shocked. We fear the verdict will embolden the marauders to regroup and perpetrate another spell of mayhem on us,” said Ajay Kumar (18). His father Chenari Choudhary and six others of his family had fallen prey to the killers’ bullets in the village, now in Arwal (a part of Jehanabad then) district, 100km south of Patna.
About 50 armed assailants allegedly belonging to the dismantled Ranvir Sena, headed by late Brahmeshwar Mukhiya, had descended on this (then inaccessible) village on the banks of the Sone in four-five boats. The killers had boarded the boats at Lodiput village in Bhojpur district and had crossed the river to reach Laxmanpur Bathe, then under the jurisdiction of Mehandia police station. Now it is under the Parasi police station, opened after the massacre.
The deceased included 27 women, several of them pregnant, and 10 children, including one-year-old Chhote Lal. The massacre of 58 people — all belonging to the Dalit castes Paswans, chamars (cobblers), mallah (boatmen) and machhuwara (fishermen) — had fuelled national outcry.
The high court’s verdict, letting all the 26 accused free, has fuelled as intense an anger among the residents. Though angry, most of them fear a rerun of the December 1, 1997 attack on them after the verdict. “Is verdict se badmashon ka man barh gaya hai. (This verdict has emboldened the wicked people),” said Lalmohar Paswan (50), who had survived the marauders’ bullets by sneaking into the nearby bushes.
Most of the 900 residents dwelling in about 300 homes in the village had departed for Arwal, the district headquarters, to organise the CPIML-Liberation-sponsored rally against what they described as the “abortion of justice”. Some old and infirm males, women and children were in the village to tell the tale of woes when The Telegraph reached there around 5pm on Friday.
From the infrastructure point of view, the village has undergone a sea change. It was a cluster of huts and thatched houses, 7km away from Walidad on the Patna-Aurangabad highway, in 1997. One could reach there only by boat or walking from Walidad.
Thanks to the compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the next to the kin of the deceased and fast execution of Indira Awas Yojana by the then Lalu-Rabri regime, the villagers have concrete houses now. The government built 7km motorable road from Walidad to Laxmanpur Bathe, which is in a dilapidated condition now.
Coincidentally, the massacre had happened when Lalu was behind bars in connection with the fodder scam case (RC-20A/1996). The verdict — that the villagers unanimously described as an extension of the 1997 mayhem on them — also has come when Lalu is in jail, convicted for five years in the same fodder case.
The villagers missed Lalu as much as they were angry with the Nitish Kumar-led state government. “Jab Lalu Prasad jail jate hain to humpar kahar barasta hai (We are subjected to mayhem whenever Lalu Prasad goes to jail),” said Lalmohar.
“Nitish talks so much about the uplift of Dalits. But see how we have been denied justice. His police and administration were not honest. They did not work to collect the evidence to punish the guilty,” said Lalparia Devi (70), a woman who had gone to her relatives’ home in another village to survive on that fateful day.
The villagers recalled how Rabri Devi had come to see them and how Lalu also came amid them after coming out from the jail. The then government constituted a judicial commission headed by retired high court judge Amir Das. But the Nitish government wrapped up the commission in 2006, after coming to power.
The high court has also acquitted all the accused allegedly owing allegiance to Ranvir Sena, involved in the massacre of 32 Dalits at Miapur in Jehanabad district, 21 Dalits at Bathanitola in Bhojpur district and 10 at Nagari in Jehanabad district in the 1990s. All these verdicts have come with the Nitish-led government in the saddle. “Bade logon ki sarkar hai… Isme chhote logon ka gujar nahin (It is the government of powerful and big people. The survival of underprivileged is under threat),” said Baudh Paswan, whose brother, sister-in-law and four of their children were killed by the assailants.