Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Laloo said 6 months, still waiting 6 yrs later

THE CRIME: On January 25, 1999, 23 Dalits were killed by suspected Ranvir Sena men in Shanker Bigha, Jehanabad.
THE CASE: Mehandia PS Case no 5/99. GR 171/99 State Vs Parmeshwar Singh (Ranvir Sena chief and others). There are 24 accused, 76 witnesses.
THE STATUS: Two chargesheets so far — 37/03 dated August 15, 2003, and 67/2000 dated February 26, 2000. On November 2, 2003, the case was transferred from the chief judicial magistrate to the sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Jehanabad, for framing of charges. Charges not yet framed. The reason? All accused must be present in court on one day for framing of charges. This has not happened yet. Two accused, Parmeshwar Singh and Kamlesh Bhat, are in jail; the rest are on bail. Witnesses can be called only when charges are framed.

SHANKER BIGHA: On January 25, 1999, at the cusp of the 50th year of the Indian Republic, 23 Dalits of village Shanker Bigha met their tryst with destiny. They were killed by a suspected Ranvir Sena squad, ending a chain of violence that had begun two massacres ago.

The Shanker Bigha massacre was "revenge" for the killing of Nawal Singh, a few days earlier, by the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC). Nawal Singh, in turn, had been on the MCC’s hitlist ever since the Mein Bersinha massacre of 1992.

In Mein Bersinha, six Dalits had been killed by the Ranvir Sena. The MCC has retaliated by killing 36 upper caste people in the Bara massacre of February 1992.

Yet the Naxals' eye had been on Nawal Singh, said to be a Ranvir Sena terror in the region, commanding 500 armed Bhumihars. Following his elimination, the Ranvir Sena had to hit back.

It chose January 25, an otherwise innocuous day that began with a bunch of upper caste men from nearby Dobdigha coming to Shanker Bigha to buy chickens. They bought 30 and, that evening, had a little party with country chicken and country liquor.

The locals found the visit to their hamlet amusing, but were glad that it had ended a period of tension. By 8.00 pm, more upper caste men came in, in small batches of seven or eight. Nothing seemed amiss. The women were in the kitchen. The men and children were ambling around. Shanker Bigha was preparing to retire for the night.

Then they struck. Quite suddenly, the visitors — invaders, really — were all over the village, just everywhere. They broke down doors, killed anyone they could find. It took only one bullet to rip apart Munna's body. Not difficult to do, if the target is a 10-month-old baby. Eventually, they killed 23, all from a sharecropper background. The oldest victim was 60, among the younger ones was a four-year-old.

Lallan Sao's house had a door too strong for the marauders. From within his sanctuary, he heard it all, right down to the three whistles that told the Sena men to retreat. He heard them shout ‘"Ranvir Baba ki jai" as they vanished into Dobdigha, Daulatpur and Hardia.

The government made its post-event noises. After the massacre, a Rs 5 lakh reward was announced for the head of Parmeshwar Mukhya, Ranvir Sena chief.

By the time Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi arrived on January 26, one of the accused, Babban Singh, had already been arrested. Shanker Bigha was seething. Its people shouted at Laloo, they wanted Babban handed over to them for mob justice.

‘‘What happened to the killers in Bathe," they asked, referring to a massacre that had taken place in 1997 in the same police station's jurisdiction. Laloo had an answer. ‘‘The arrested persons in the Bathe case will soon face trial," he said, ‘‘for the Shanker Bigha case, we will constitute special courts for speedy trials, which will be completed within six months."

Six years have passed. Twenty-two of the 24 accused are roaming free. Let alone a trial, even the charges have not been framed. The Dalits of Shanker Bigha were promised a school after the massacre. Construction began on the small piece of land that was Madhura Paswan's only property. The school is still half-built.

"While taking over my land," remembers Paswan, ‘‘I was assured I would get the contract for building the school. But I got only the labour contract. On that account too, the contractor cheated me of Rs 25,000."

Within the unfinished school, adults play cards, children sit around and watch. Some of them do go to school, in Rupsagar Bigha, where one teacher grapples with a class of 300.

‘‘We go to villages other than Dobdigha to work in the land of the upper caste," say Paswan and other villagers, ‘‘but we are scared of going to Dobdigha ... And we are not sure if we will testify in court. But if the government and the police give us protection to tell the truth, we will say it ..."

Source: The Indian Express, November 30, 2004


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