Sixteen persons were sentenced to death by a Bihar court on Wednesday for their involvement in the Jehanabad carnage in 1997 when 58 unarmed Dalits were killed by the Ranbir Sena, a private militia of landlords. Ten others were sentenced to life terms and also slapped with a fine of Rs 50,000 each by Additional District Judge Vijay Prakash Mishra.
Fifty eight Dalits were gunned down by the Ranvir Sena at Laxmanpur Bathe in Jehanabad on December 1, 1997, sending shockwaves across the country. The Lalu Prasad-led RJD government was then ruling the state.
The victims, landless agricultural workers and their families, were supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity. Among those killed were 27 women and 16 children. The victims were from the backward communities of Paswan, Chamar, Mahto, Mallah, Rajwar and Barbar.
In the well-planned operation, about 100 Ranbir Sena activists carrying firearms had descended on Lakshmanpur Bathe, 125 kilometres from Patna, at around 11 pm.
They forced their way into huts by breaking open the doors and fired indiscriminately at people who were asleep. The entire hamlet located on the banks of the Sone river was virtually decimated in the attack that lasted more than three hours.
The main aim of the killers was to terrorise the sympathisers of the CPI(ML) Party Unity to strengthen the stranglehold of the powerful landlords in central Bihar.
Mishra, on conclusion of trial in the case on April 1, had fixed April 7, 2010, as the date for announcing the verdict. Earlier, the case was transferred to Patna from Jehanabad following a Patna High Court order in October, 1999.
Charges were framed in the case against 46 sena men on December 23, 2008, 11 years after the massacre. Altogether 91 of 152 witnesses in the case deposed before the court.
Those sentenced to death were Girija Singh, Surendra Singh, Ashok Singh, Gopal Sharan Singh, Baleshwar Singh, Dawarka Singh, Vijendra Singh, Nawal Singh, Baliram Singh, Nandu Singh, Sheomohan Sharma, Pramod Singh, Shatrughan Singh, Ramkeval Sharma, Dharma Singh and Nand Singh, all belonging to an upper caste community.
Those sentenced to life imprisonment were Babloo Sharma, Ashok Singh, Mithilesh Sharma, Dharikshan Choudhary, Navin Kumar, Ravindra Singh, Surendra Singh, Sunil Kumar, Pramod Kumar and Chandreshwar Singh.
Two other accused Bhukhal Singh and Sudarshan Singh died in the course of the trial.