Patna, Oct 16 (IANS) The Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar is pitching its record in preventing caste massacres like Laxmanpur Bathe during its 15-year-long tenure and has made it a poll issue to attack the RJD, but survivors and families of the victims of the 1997 mass killing lament that they have not got justice so far.
Dissatisfied with the verdicts delivered so far by the trial court and the high court, the backward class residents of the village say they are still waiting for complete justice from the Supreme Court, and that the injustice with them has widened the gap between upper and lower castes, which will reflect on the polling day.
Vinod Paswan, one of the residents of Laxmanpur Bathe who had managed to save his life by hiding behind a trunk, said: "The court has given death penalty and life sentences to 26 perpetrators, but majority of the accused were acquitted."
"We had said in the trial court and in the high court that more than 100 persons from the upper castes were involved in the massacre that took place on the night of December 1, 1997, in which 58 people, including 27 women and 10 children, were brutally murdered. We have also given evidence. I was an eyewitness to the incident, but the judges of both the courts did not listen to me," said Paswan, who lost his father, mother and five brothers and sisters that night.
"The perpetrators killed my brothers and sisters in front of me. As I was hiding, they didn't see me. There are many eyewitnesses like me who managed to save themselves. I strongly believe that our case was deliberately transferred to the courts where the judges belonged to the upper castes. They did not listen to us and gave the benefit of doubt to a majority of the perpetrators," he alleged.
A total of 300 families live in Laxmanpur Bathe located on the banks of Son river in Arwal district, some 90 km from Patna, and of them, 250 families are Dalits and from backward classes. The remaining 50 are from the upper castes - around 30 Bhumihar Brahmins and around 20 Rajputs.
Paswan claimed that while the killing was done by the Ranvir Sena, then led by Brahameshwar Singh alias Mukhiyaji of Belaur village in Bhojpur district, "some upper caste families of our village were also involved".
"Our village is located on the bank of Son. The perpetrators came in boats from the other side of the river. A majority of them belonged to Badki Kharao and Chotki Kharao vilages and were identified by the eyewitnesses. They also slit the throats of the boatmen after committing the crime," he said.
Paswan's wife Sunaina Devi said: "Our wounds are very deep. We have just one hope - to get proper justice. Unfortunately, it has not happened in 23 years and the case is still pending before the apex court. Now we have just one memorial in our own premises on which the names of the deceased are mentioned."
Villagers belonging to backward classes said that such injustices remain in their mind and are also reflected in every election in this region.
"Leaders of political parties claim that the elections now are happening on the basis of development. I firmly believe that it is not the reality on the ground, especially in my village. We just know only one thing, backward class villagers like me cast votes for the Left party (CPI-MLL) and upper castes vote for the BJP. It is an open secret which no one wants to hide," said Ram Swaroop Ram, another villager who survived the massacre.
Asked the reason for their resentment, Ram said that the incident was attributed to upper caste superiority in the region.
"The supporters of Ranvir Sena claims that Laxmanpur Bathe was the revenge for the Bathani Tola massacre. I want to point out that majority of our villagers were from the labour class and were not capable of making a guerrilla group to fight the Ranvir Sena. The labourers want increased salaries from 'zamindaars' (landlords) which hurt their egos," Ram said.
Paswan also echoed this view.
Asked about the law and order record of the Lalu Prasad government, Ram said: "Lalu Prasad was held responsible for a law and order failure. But more than that, upper caste people wanted to maintain superiority when Lalu Prasad was talking about social justice in the state. He had given impression of being a backward class leader and it was taken as a threat by the upper castes."
Between 1990 and 2000, over two dozen massacres have taken place in districts like Bhojpur, Jahanabad and Saran, among others, widening the gap between upper castes and backward classes. The Ranvir Sena, led by Brahameshwar Singh, and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which claimed to represent Dalits, were two parties that were involved.
Chandeshwar Saw, another villager, said that after the Nitish Kumar government came to power in 2005, he managed to prevent massacres but has not given justice to them.
"For us, we believe that justice has been denied due to the delay. Twenty-three years is a long time and still the case is pending before the Supreme Court," he said.
"I heard that BJP President J.P. Nadda said that the election is taking place on development now. Nitish Kumar is also presenting a report card in every rally... I want to ask them to come and interact with the villagers face-to-face," Saw said.