PUCL Bulletin, September 2004
Bihar PUCL Report:
Massacre of ten persons in Benar village, Nalanda district
-- By Prof. Vinay K. Kantha, Vice President, Bihar PUCL; Nand Kishore Singh, Member, PUCL Bihar State Council; Nageshwar Prasad, Member, PUCL, Bihar State Council.
In its weekly meeting on 06 June 2004 Bihar State PUCL decided to hold an enquiry into the massacre of ten people in a village of Nalanda District. It took place on the night of June 4 and was carried in the headlines of all dailies from Patna on June 6. The team of inquiry consisted of Prof. Vinay K. Kantha, Vice President, Bihar State PUCL, Shri Nand Kishore Singh and Shri Nageshwar Prasad, Members of PUCL. The team visited the place of occurrence on June 16. Members of the team went to Dhari Tola in the adjoining Manpur village where they met the helpless villagers. In village Benar, they met the members of the bereaved family including Abhyanand, the second son of late Shri Kamta Prasad. The team went to the local Sare Police Station and on its way back met the Superintendent of Police, Shri Amit Lodha. Prominent among the persons the team spoke to, included Saryug Dharhi, Sonu Kumar (a villager from neighbouring Kaita village), Abhyanand and Bhagwat Mahto (local brick kiln owner in Manpur village). Further, many local villagers gave their versions of the incident at Benar and Manpur villages. The documents examined included the FIR no. 120/2004 lodged in the Sare P.S. The day’s newspapers were also perused.
Place of occurrence
Benar village is situated on Biharsharif-Barbigha Highway a little ahead of Ashthawan. However, the brick kiln named Pankaj Nandan Chimney Bhattha, where the incident occurred is about 2-3 kilometers away from the highway on the road towards Bind village. There is no habitation around the kiln within a radius of one kilometer. The place therefore is isolated and ideal to carry out a crime like this. It is doubtful that even gunshots could be clearly heard in the neighbouring villages. The brick kiln in question is about sixty yards away from the road, while there is another brick kiln based 20-25 yards from the road, the latter owned by Vijay Mahto, the alleged perpetrator of the crime. A third brick kiln is a little away from these two, while in the neighbouring Manpur village, there is a fourth one also which Bhagwat Mahto owns.
As is the common practice in the brick kilns, most of the labourers lived in small shanties built for them right there. Some of them lived with their families.
Most of the workers and the brick kiln owner Shri Kamta Mahto had retired to bed while some persons were awake who fled from the scene as soon as they spotted the armed band of criminals descending on the brick kiln. The number of persons in the gang was allegedly between fifteen and twenty. They were apparently fully armed and had covered their faces to conceal their identity. All male members were ordered to line up, while women were spared. They called up the brick kiln owner Shri Kamta Mahto in the front and shot him dead. Thereafter they started killing the labourers indiscriminately, which resulted in the death of nine persons on the spot.
One more person subsequently died on the way to hospital, where the injured were being taken about three hours later.
The names of the persons killed are as follows:
(i) Kamta Prasad (62 years) – Brick Kiln owner from Benar Village, Sare P.S. in Nalanda.
(ii) Rajkumar Paswan (About 30 years) – Labourer from Dayalpur village in Vaishali.
(iii) Vishnudhar Paswan (About 30 years) – Labourer from Dayalpur village in Vaishali.
(iv) Suresh Paswan (About 40 years) – From Masihadih under Asthawan P.S. in Nalanda.
(v) Vinod Ravidas (About 40 years) – From Onda under Asthawan P.S. in Nalanda.
(vi) Sitaram Kewat (about 55 years) – From Bari Malama under Sarmera P.S. in Nalanda.
(vii) Karu Dharhi (About 35 years)–Manpur village under Sare P.S in Nalanda.
(viii) Krishan Tanti (About 55 years) – from Mirbigaha in Warsaliganj P.S. in Nalanda.
(ix) Raj Sajiwan (About 35 years) – from Allahabad (or Varban Singh ka poorva in Pratapgarh Distt.)
(x) Sagar Paswan (About 40 years) – (who died on way to hospital from Dayalpur village in Vaishali).
The injured persons included (I) Kanhaiya Dharhi (ii) Shankar Dhari (iii) Kishore Dharhi (iv) Lakhan Paswan (v) Birchand Paswan (iv & v were brought to PMCH).
Issues under examination
The gruesome murder of ten persons throws up many questions and at least some of them need to be examined in the report. They are the following:-
a. Why after all such a tragedy took place?
b. Was there an apprehension of the incident?
c. Who are the perpetrators of the crime?
d. What is the responsibility of the State with regard to such crimes?
e. What compensation the victims are entitled to?
Before going into the details of the incident it would be relevant to take stock of the local situation prevailing in that area.
Like most other places in the State, there are several local gangs of criminals operating in the area. As reported by the local villagers in the immediate neighbourhood there are small time gangs who indulge in petty crimes of wayside snatching etc. However, some people are also reported to be collecting Rangdaari tax from relatively better off people, which includes brick kiln owners. One person actually admitted to having paid such money to one of the gangs to buy peace and security. Most of the villagers reported that Pankaj Nandan brick kiln owner also paid a heavy Rangdaari tax some time back, though one member of the family we spoke to dismissed this as a rumour. Late Kamta Prasad was a relatively well off farmer from village Benar. He and his two sons, namely, Pankaj and Abhyanand did not have a criminal record. They appear to be reasonably decent and sincere businessmen, who would rather buy peace than enter into a quarrel. The team has a strong suspicion that the family did not pay Rangdaari tax to one of the gangs of the area.
Vijay Mahto, the alleged perpetrator of the crime does not seem to enjoy a high reputation in the locality. People believed that he refused to pay any money to local gangs. One person also informed that his arrogance stems from his family relation with a major gang of the adjoining district, namely, Ashok Mahto gang. Some villagers and some members of the police department suspect that he may have joined hands with Nimochchia gang of Bipin Chaudhary to perpetrate this crime. Vijay’s father, Bhubneswar, who is also an accused in the FIR, used to work in the timber mill of his mama. He allegedly swindled a large amount of money while working there and hence his relations with the family were anything but cordial. Bhubneswar Mahto was from another village named Jagdish Pur, who shifted to Benar with family. Both the brick kilns, owned by Vijay and Pankaj respectively started operating about 5 years back. Some weeks back there was a scuffle at the kiln of Vijay behind which he suspected the family of Pankaj. To cut a long story short, Vijay’s Bhatha was shut down after the incident as the labourers fled from the place and allegedly Vijay issued a threat that he would see to it that no brick kiln operates in the area.
Abhyanand, the younger son of Kamta Prasad admitted as much that some one had asked his men on the kiln that he should pay Rangdaari tax to Bipin Chaudhry’s gang, which, according to him, was ignored by the family. That is why they too suspect the hand of members of the gang in collusion with Vijay Mahto behind this massacre.
A plausible explanation and analysis
According to the available facts and impression of the villagers the version of Abhyanand is the most plausible explanation for the massacre even as the scale and gravity of the incident appears to be disproportionately large and excessive. If at all rivalry between brick kiln owners was the reason, the killing of innocent labourers seems unnecessary and almost pathological in nature. It is too disconcerting to think that just to ensure the closure of a Kiln, poor labourers in such large numbers should be shot dead so cruelly. Yet such an incident did take place.
The Superintendent of Police of the district suspects a deeper conspiracy behind the incident though he also admitted that in terms of the progress of investigation so far such a conclusion is premature. But if there is more to the story than meets the eye, then at least this much could be concluded that such a heinous crime was not perpetrated with the unconcern and callousness that presently appear to be the case.
If we remain within the frame of the ‘most plausible explanation’ then the motives behind the murders were two fold: on the part of Vijoy, if his involvement is assumed, it was sheer anger combined with arrogance and jealousy. That is, in short, a personnel grievance, which was not for any direct financial gain. But for the gangsters of the region, the terrorization of the people would yield results later because few would refuse to disobey their commands for money in future. If Vijay Mahto was in close links with one or the other gangs, he may be an indirect beneficiary; otherwise, he may also have shelled out money for using the gangs.
For such small reasons, crimes of such large magnitude should be committed is indicative of deeper malaise. Perhaps one of the factors behind such tendency is the low risk assessment. The chances of perpetrators ultimately getting convicted are disturbingly low and hence a feeling that one can get away with any crime. Rather than being socially ostracized, the criminals are held either in fear or in respect, which acts as a spur.
In the present case, there appears to be no inking among the victims regarding the possible of crime. The brick kiln owner himself would not have slept there putting his life at risk, if there was any apprehension. The labourers themselves had no such fears. Yet a sad pattern emerges in the entire episode for sure. On Vijay Mahto’s kiln the labourers were apparently beaten up some weeks earlier. If such an environment is allowed than the Government has to do some explaining and more important, those in power should do some honest heart searching rather than discussing the allegations of poor law and order situation. The acceptance of the widespread phenomenon of kidnapping for ransoms, of Rangdaari tax by the police force is an abdication of their responsibility, to say the least. Sometimes, accusations are levelled against them alleging direct collusion as well. This is indeed a sad situation.
The enquiry team would like to make the following recommendations on the basis of its investigations and subsequent reflections.
- The police force needs to act more honestly and vigorously for winning the confidence and trust of people. For combating situation of fear and hopelessness as it prevails in the countryside today, effective and well-publicized steps are necessary. In most of the areas the criminal gangs are small ones and yet they act with impunity. It is alarming to note that for the slightest of reason there is a tendency to kill on such a scale. Obviously there is an intention of terrorization and intimidation behind such incident. Either the police machinery connives with them or it is sheer inefficiency on their part. Higher echelons of police department and Government have to find ways to improve the situation.
Revamping and strengthening of the investigation and prosecution wings are also very important in order to ensure that the culprits are brought to book in majority of cases. Without that it would be difficult to establish the rule of law.
- In cases such as the present one, where the victims are innocent persons who lose their lives for no rhyme or reason, the State should grant reasonable compensation. The enquiry team went to the home of Karu Dharhi. He leaves behind a young widow and eight children. The compensation in such cases should be reasonably adequate for the maintenance of the family. A sum of Rs. Two lacks each are recommended for all the victims of the massacre. For the poor Dalit families steps should be taken to ensure their coverage under Indira Awaas Yojana as well.
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