‘They are free and we are trapped,’ says a resident, as many villagers share her fear that they may be targeted again
On Wednesday night, Baudh Paswan kept tossing and turning in bed, his appetite and sleep gone.
“I feel they will come back again,” he murmured. As they did on the night of December 1, 1997 and began a killing spree. Armed with firearms and swords, members of the Ranvir Sena, militia of the Bhumihar landlords, slaughtered 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 16 children.
On Wednesday, the Patna High Court acquitted all the 26 accused, setting aside the lower court’s verdict that awarded the death sentence to 16 and life imprisonment to the other 10.
“I do not have the strength to fight anymore. After 58 murders, no one is guilty. The courts are theirs, the government is theirs, the lathi [the baton of power] is theirs. The poor have nothing. This is injustice,” Paswan said, hobbling around on his walking stick. He lost seven of his family members. Some more died later, of grief.
The sense of victory felt by the Dalit hamlet after the conviction by the trial court has vanished. Now there lurks a threat. Will the doors be broken open again? Will the houses be invaded?
Haunted by this fear, Sunaina Devi breaks down. “Jiska ghar me itna parivar mara hai vo kaise himmat rakhega? [How will the family that has lost so many members find strength?] So many were killed and nothing happened. Now, they [the upper caste] are threatening us, saying they would barge into our houses and beat us with sticks as nothing has happened to them. Since yesterday, sweets have been distributed in the upper caste quarters and firecrackers have gone off. The High Court let them off and left us trapped. We have lost all hope.”
House after house shares her unease. “The whole country knows who killed those 58 people. Only the courts don’t know,” said Pramila Devi, who lost three women relatives. “Last night, they staged celebrations. They are free now. But we have to think whether we will survive.”
Laxmanpur Bathe is 100 km from Patna, on the banks of the Sone. As in any other village, there are upper caste quarters of Rajputs and Bhumihars and the Dalit hamlet comprising the lower castes of Mallah, Paswan, Ravidas and Rajvanshi. After the massacre, the hamlet got pucca brick houses from the government. But some of the mud huts with broken doors still stand, testifying to the violence.
Laxman Rajvanshi is a survivor and eyewitness who testified in court. “Give us justice or drown us,” he said