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Deeply Embedded Injustice

The Patna High Court's verdict on the Bathani Tola massacre is justice cut to pieces.

The recent acquittal by the Patna High Court of all the 23 persons accused of slaughtering 21 members of the underclass in Bathani Tola, a hamlet in Bhojpur district, in July 1996, raises fundamental questions on the capacity of the Indian state to abide by its own Constitution.

The principal social contradictions in Bihar since Independence are located in its iniquitous agrarian structure – a legacy of the colonial period. The Permanent Settlement consolidated the land control of a very narrow range of upper castes (comprising brahmin, Bhumihar, Rajput and Kayasth) over the rest of the rural population. The lower end of the agrarian spectrum comprised a landless category of tenants-at-will (bataidars) and agricultural labourers, who performed the actual tasks of cultivation. They were mainly dalits as well as castes constituting the lower rungs of the “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) of today. This category was dependent upon the superior tenantry for its livelihood, and experienced the worst possible oppression and exploitation. It is precisely because the depressed condition of the underclass during the colonial period remained largely unchanged even after Independence that the ground was clear for sowing the seeds of resistance.

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