Lakshman Rajvanshi has a question for the Patna high court: “Did we murder our own families, including kids not even two months old?”
A landless labourer from Lakshmanpur Bathe in Arwal district of Bihar, Rajvanshi was reacting to the court acquitting 26 upper caste persons accused of massacring 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 10 children, while he stood terror-struck behind a wall on December 1, 1997.
Rajvanshi has the right to ask. He lost his wife, daughter and daughter-in-law in one of the worst massacres by caste armies in Bihar. He rattles off the names of 22 men while pointing to exact places where his family members were hacked to death.
“It was around 8.30 or 9pm, when these people from another locality of this village landed at our doors. They were armed. A few others joined them from across River Sone. They attacked us with firearms and swords. I watched my wife and daughters being killed,” said Rajvanshi with tears in his eyes.
“I identified the killers in court, but they have been set free,” he said.
The 26 accused were allegedly members of the outlawed Ranvir Sena — a militia of upper caste landlords. A lower court had awarded the death sentence to 16 of them and life imprisonment to the rest.
Fear hung thick in the air as if the gruesome killings took place yesterday.
“All these years, relatives of the accused constantly tell us they will wipe out our village once their kin are out of jail,” said Baudh Paswan, who lost nine members of his family in the massacre.
Sumitra Devi concurred. “We heard them shouting victory slogans after their acquittal. Thankfully, senior police officials are here to see that normalcy holds. But nobody knows what will happen afterwards.”
It’s been 16 years since the bloodbath. Ask them and they vouch that there was no enmity between them and the killers, who wanted the victim families to remain enslaved like bonded labourers and not demand higher wages. “They attacked us to put fear in the hearts of the lower caste people in the state,” said Panchanand Paswan.
“We will not let this go. We will appeal in the Supreme Court. We will tell the President of India about how we have been denied justice. We will pray to God. We will do everything possible but will not allow the murderers to have the last laugh,” said farmer Ashok Kumar.
Till that happens, the memorial carrying the names of the 58 who died that winter night in the middle of the Dalit hamlet will be a reminder of the justice the villagers say they have been denied.
“We will keep asking about what happened to the cowardly murderers who mutilated babies and pregnant women,” said Sumitra Devi.
Silence rules once again as the village goes back into the past collectively.