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“Benefit of Doubt”: On the Murder of Dalits and the Baloch

By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

On October 9, 2013 a division Bench of the Patna High Court (PHC) absolved all the 26 persons of Ranvir Sena (RS) accused of massacre of 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 10 children in Laxmanpur Bathe village in Bihar's Jehanabad district on December 1, 1997of all the charges; 16 of them had been awarded death sentences. The Bench opined, "We are of the view that the prosecution witnesses are not reliable and so all the convicted persons are entitled for benefit of doubt," and considered it appropriate to release them forthwith.

The 58 Dalits of Luxmanpur Bathe village,125 km from Patna, were targeted because RS members believed they were sympathizers of Maoists who were behind the 1992 killing of 37 upper caste men in Bara, Gaya district. On December 1st 1997 nearly 100 armed RS activists attacked Luxmanpur Bathe at night breaking the doors, forcing their way into huts firing indiscriminately at sleeping people in a well-planned operation which continued for three hours and virtually decimated entire village. Police records showed four Dalit families were completely wiped out in the bloodbath. Interestingly the police stone-walled for 11 years till December 23, 2008 in framing charges against 44 RS men for lack of evidence. No witnesses had turned up simply because these men had ensured that there would be no witnesses; their youngest victim was a one-year-old. These accused had been sentenced by a non-conformist Additional District and Sessions Judge of Patna in 2010.

Ranvir Sena formed in 1994 by Bhumihar Brahmin landlords, to defend themselves against leftwing Naxalites, is an upper-caste landlord militia based in Bihar, India. RS carries out punitive actions against Dalits, scheduled caste communities and the Naxalites to protect landed gentry interests. Though proscribed since July 1996 it continues to terrorize people who resist upper class injustices. Brahmeshwar Singh, also known as Mukhiyaji, became its leader soon after its creation. Suspected of being involved in killings of over 200 Dalits earned him appellation of Butcher of Bihar; he spent 9 years in jail but was reprieved by the handy ‘benefit of doubt’. On 1 June 2012, Singh while walking near his home in Arrah, Bihar was shot and killed by unidentified men who didn’t believe ‘benefit of doubt’ claptrap. The killing resulted in severe rioting by the upper caste and several government properties were torched.

The Ranvir Sena has been able to commit crimes against humanity because courts like the PHC exist which grant benefit of doubt to criminals. The police too conveniently look the other way. Governments in general always neglect the economically, socially and politically disenfranchised people and it is not in India alone. The state and establishment protect only the vested interests of propertied classes and of those who readily serve their interests. There is no hope for the oppressed while the perpetrators ominously keep getting the ever available benefit of doubt. Little wonder Naxalites enjoy support of the oppressed.

In Balochistan apart from the oppressive state machinery there is a glut of Ranvir Sena type armies which being establishment’s proxies help it in its ‘dirty war’ against Baloch nationalists. They also target the beleaguered Hazaras who have been the prime target in the sectarian killings in Balochistan with impunity. The state while promoting vigilante violence against nationalists turns blind eye to violence against Shia.

The state is deeply involved in this systematically conducted anti-Baloch dirty war. During a hearing in September in Supreme Court (SC) it was disclosed that in 2008-09 the Investigation Bureau had used Rs400m from its secret fund, with consent of controlling authority, for counter insurgency purposes in Balochistan. Following these handouts there was intensification of abductions, torture and killings of Baloch activists; it began with killings of Baloch National Movement (BNM) chairman, Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Muneer Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) in April 2009. Since then more than 700 mutilated bodies of Baloch activists have been found in different places in Balochistan and Karachi. The thousands missing are still missing. Moreover IB isn’t the only organization involved in counter-insurgency in Balochistan; the Frontier Corps (FC), army and its intelligence agencies are deeply involved and equally responsible for ‘dirty war’.

The entire Pakistani establishment is culpable of the ‘dirty war’ that is conducted against Baloch people. To elucidate what is meant by establishment I’ll quote the UN Commission on Benazir’s assassination as it is unbiased. In Para 213 it says that, “The Establishment is generally used in Pakistan to refer to those who exercise de facto power; it includes the military high command and the intelligence agencies, together with the top leadership of certain political parties, high- level members of the bureaucracy and business persons that work in alliance with them. The military high command and intelligence agencies form the core of the Establishment and are its most permanent and influential components.” This truth had angered not only the army but also the Peoples’ Party government.

The commission should have included the higher judiciary in the core of establishment for it is only after giving up on any hope of justice from the SC that the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) was formed in July 2009. The SC regularly issues ultimatums for production of missing persons but nothing happens and then they conveniently forget all about it. The SC had ordered production of all missing Baloch persons in a week in July and it is November now but not a single person was recovered. It ordered investigation of three Frontier Corps (FC) officers in September but that too came to a naught. The mainstream media too is an adjunct of establishment.

By the time you read this the VBMP protest long marchers walking around 30-35 KMs daily, will have travelled nearly 425 Kms to reach near Lasbela. The area they travel in is extremely cold during nights and there are women and children with blistered feet among marchers. These families decided to protest the hard way because they know that the establishment quite assured that no one can question its culture of immunity is bent upon denying justice to them. The only alternative for ‘dirty war’ victims is protest and struggle because the perpetrators here like the Ranvir Sena’s murderers of Dalits in Laxmanpur Bathe village inevitably enjoy the benefit of doubt.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

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