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No One Killed Them

The acquittal of the Laxmanpur-Bathe accused is a shocking miscarriage of justice.

The Patna High Court’s decision on 9 October 2013, setting free all the 26 men who had been convicted by a sessions court for the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre reflects on the poor state of the justice-dispensing mechanism in the country. There will be no justice then for the deaths of the 58 who were murdered in 1997. Notwithstanding the legality or otherwise of the grounds on which the division bench arrived at its decision (it found that the prosecution witnesses on whom the sessions judge had based his verdict to convict the accused were unreliable), it has yet again shaken the faith of the poor in the republic and on the principle of constitutional democracy. In doing so, the Patna High Court simply repeated its April 2012 decision in the Bathani Tola case (21 dalits were murdered in similar circumstances in 1996). This has added to the instances of the higher judiciary contributing to the process whereby the “wretched of the earth” (to borrow Frantz Fanon’s evocative book title) are led to the path of vengeance rather than that of justice. The acquittals of the accused in the Laxmanpur-Bathe and Bathani Tola cases are not unprecedented. They follow a pattern.

The Jabalpur Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court had delivered a similar verdict in the case of the murder of the trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi, who was shot dead on 28 September 1991 in Bhilai by an assassin allegedly hired by some industrialists. In June 1997, the trial court at Durg found evidence of the involvement of at least five industrialists from Bhilai in a conspiracy to murder Niyogi and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The assassin hired to murder Niyogi was sentenced to death. In June 1998, the Madhya Pradesh High Court reversed this judgment, acquitting all the accused. Both the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha appealed against the acquittal in the Supreme Court. In 2005, the apex court upheld the high court verdict but sent the assassin to life imprisonment. Though political discourse in the Dalli Rajhara region was predominantly within the ambit of constitutional democracy during Niyogi’s lifetime, it had begun to turn elsewhere by the time the Supreme Court bench upheld the high court verdict.

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