In a judgment delivered by sessions court of Khagaria, ten people were sentenced to death and 4 were given life imprisonment. They were held responsible by the court for the massacre which took place in Amousi village of Khagaria district in Bihar. Sixteen people were killed in the night of 1st October 2009 at around 11 pm in Amousi. All of them were from Kurmi community except for 2 who were kushwah. Eight of them were young boys in their teens.
On the basis of FIR lodged at Morkahi police station, the police arrested 30 or more people from Amousi village. A trial took place in sessions court of Khagaria on the 28 persons accused in the case. Twenty six of them belonged to Mushar community and the remaining two were Dhanuks. The judgment was delivered on 14th Feb 2012, in which 14 persons have been acquitted and 14 have been given punishment. An appeal has been filed in Patna high court.Two more persons accused in the case are awaiting trial in Khagaria jail.
Investigating team and the scope of enquiry
Jaya Mehta, Vineet Tiwari and Sunita Kumari went to Khagaria town and from there to Amousi village on 1st and 2nd April 2012. The purpose of the visit was to make a preliminary enquiry to ascertain if there existed sufficiently many factual details to indicate that those accused were indeed innocent and had been falsely implicated in the case.
We talked to the local party comrades of CPI and a reporter of \\\’Hindustan\\\’ who is stationed in Khagaria and who covered the case.
We interrogated the two under-trials in Khagaria Jail.
We talked to the relatives of those convicted in the case and other residents of Amousi village.
We read carefully the judgment delivered by sessions court, the PUCL enquiry report (enquiry conducted on 11th October2009), the relevant news coverage and some papers related to land conflict in Amousi.
We were assisted in our investigation by Comrade Puneet Mukhia, (Anchal Mantri of Alouli Block, CPI), Advocate Chandra Kishore Yadav (assistant to Adv Durgesh Pandit Singh – one of the defense lawyer in the sessions court), Comrade PP Singh (Khagaria District Secretary, CPI), Manoj Sada (Branch Secretary, Amousi, CPI), Bharosi Sada and some other villagers. Veteran public figures Comrade Satyanarayan Singh (Ex MLA, CPI) and Comrade P. S. Singh (Ex District Secretary of Khagaria, CPI) facilitated our trip. They also provided an overview of case and the background details.
A background of Khagaria district
Khagaria district was carved out of Munger district in 1981. The entire district is criss-crossed by number of rivers and a large part of it constitutes an extremely difficult terrain. The region gets flooded during monsoons. Further, the topography of the region changes frequently because the rivers change their course. As a result cultivable land gets submerged in water at one place and land emerges afresh at another.
Historians have recorded that when Raja Todarmal, the revenue expert under Akbar reached this area for measurement of land, he could not measure the land because of river streams and thick Khagaria grass that grew in the area. He abandoned the exercise – separating the area from others and named this area as Farakiya land i.e. separate or different land. The area remained un-surveyed during the British period also. As a result, a number of Zamindars belonging to other districts took possession of land in this region.
No accounting has been possible of this illegally possessed land. When Zamindari was abolished and ceiling was imposed, many of them did not disclose their land situated in this district.
The non-resident Zamindars protected their unaccounted land and obtained income from it by employing local musclemen (popularly known as Bahubalis). This continues even today. The local population is mostly landless, cultivating land either as landless labour or as bataidar. Some were allotted land, which was given under Bhoodan or which was released under land ceiling act, but the allotment remained mostly on paper.
People do not obtain physical possession of land. Some others have taken possession of small holdings, which they have been cultivating for long but they do not have the legal papers for it. Even today, the land records available with district revenue administration present a great deal of disorder and a number of anomalies. Bandhyopadhyay commission reports that when the commission asked for proper records, they were told that original records must be with Munger district. On further probing they were told that most of the records have got drowned in the flood of 1987.
As the revenue administration, till date, is being run without proper land records, It is not surprising that there are a large number of land disputes spread over the area. There has been a recurrence of militant maoist struggles also in certain parts of the district. Most of the grievances arise out of inability of people to take physical possession of land that has been allotted to them on paper. Bandhyopadhyay commission also heard many complaints from Bataidars. Bataidars, even when cultivating their land for a long time, get arbitrarily thrown out by the non-resident Zamindars and their Bahubalis.
The state government or local administration have taken no action till date to get rid of this unjust and illegal control of land by erstwhile Zamindars .
Land conflict in Amousi
Amousi village is a hundred year old village situated in Alouli Block in Khagaria district. Alouli Block has a higher proportion of scheduled caste population compared to the rest of Khagaraia District. According to the 2011 census, the proportion of scheduled caste population in Khagaria is 10 percent, while in Alouli Block it is more than 25 percent. Most of these SCs are Mushars. Mushars are mainly landless agricultural labourers living in remote areas. Especially in Bihar, 95.3 per cent Mushar workers are agricultural labourers. Only 2.5 per cent are cultivators and 2.1 per cent are in other services.
Amousi village (mouza) is comprised of around 100 Mushar households. Some may be Dhanuk (lower rung of OBC) households also. There is only a cluster of huts in this village. People live in extreme poverty. There is no pucca construction, no road and no market in the village. It is situated in diara land and is not easily accessible. One has to cross three streams of Kamla (Bagmati) river in boat and a sea of cement like Baluwai (fine and sandy) soil to reach the place.
The Kurmis who were killed in Amousi Bahiyar on 1st October 2009 were not the residents of Amousi village. They belonged to village Icharwa, which is situated on the other side of three streams of Kamla river. The distance between the two villages is three kilometers or more. Icharwa is a relatively big village with a population of 5000. Situated by the roadside the village is dominated by Kurmis (the upper OBCs).
In the 60s, the government of Bihar took up river embankment programme in a big way. A dam was constructed over river Bagmati and the river changed its course. This led to the emergence of a big chunk of cultivable land (around 400 acres) in Amousi Bahiyar. The Zamindars of Samastipur, Munger and Begusarai claimed their right over this land. According to Bihar Government, the land was Gair Mazarua government land. There is a reference to a court case – Lakhmeshwar Prasad vs. state of Bihar for 170 Beegha of land, which was settled in favour of the State of Bihar by Patna high court in 1998. There is also a reference to land owner Ram Bahadur Sigh and his contractor Kamla Sahay for 366 Beegha of land in Amousi Baharia. It is noted that Ram Bahadur Singh or Kamla Sahay never personally cultivated the land, neither did they file any returns for it. Eventually, the land in question was merged with government land.
The legal dispute over ownership of land in Amousi Bahiyar has apparently been settled in favour of the government of Bihar.
The de-facto control over this land was, however, with the Kurmis of Icharwa village. The details of how they took possession of this land are not clear but such a practice is not un-common in diara land. There are many villages in diara, where land is owned (or possessed) by families residing across the river. It is said that some Kurmi families made the agreements with the Zamindars when the case was sub-judice. They paid some amount to the Zamindar to get the permission to cultivate a particular piece of land. The term of the negotiation was that if the As the river changed its course, the fertile land emerged Zamindar won the case; he would sell the land fulfilling the legal requirements (It is called Kewala). It is also possible that some of the families just occupied the land because it was not guarded by any one. In either case, it is not likely that the Kurmis in Icharwa village cultivating the land in Amousi Bahiyar have proper legal titles for the land that they possess. There are big land holders among Icharwa Kurmis like Vashishth Narayan Singh possessing 30 Beegha of land. He is the JDU president for Alouli block. There are also small farmers possessing 1 or 2 Beegha of land. Many of the Kurmis are also cultivating land as share croppers.
On the other hand the Mushars in Amousi and other neighbouring villages worked as agricultural labourers in the fields. After the land was legally settled as government land in 1998, Mushars made claims that the land be settled in their favour- 1 acre per family. As many as 81 families had papers showing that the land was allotted to them under Bhoodan. Bharosi Sada (CPI member) and 80 others made application for settlement of Bhoodan land. The SDM issued orders for the settlement but the Circle Officer waylaid the case.
Some others did not wait for the administration to settle the case and started cultivating the land holdings, which they thought should be legally transferred to them. This was resented by the Kurmis. There are reports of small skirmishes between Mushars in Amousi and the Kurmis in Icharwa. There is a complaint filed by O.P. Mahto (CPI member) and others in 2005 that they were being threatened by the goons. They were asked to surrender their land, otherwise the consequences would be serious.
This conflict over land between Mushars and Kurmis provided the motive for killings. In addition the region has presence of militant Maoist groups, who would facilitate the carnage. The immediate reaction from every quarter was that Mushars were organised by Maoist to indulge in this brutal killings. However, things are more complex than this apparently straightforward story knitted so simply.
The Maoist denied having any hand in it. The government and police also did not repeat the involvement of Maoists. One fails to understand if no organised support base was available how did the poor Mushars obtain the guns for shooting and how could they muster the courage to indulge in such a heinous crime collectively?
One hears of rivalry between two groups of Kurmis in Icharwa village. The basis of the division was political rivalry. One group associated itself with the existing MLA and younger brother of Ramvilas Paswan, Paras Paswan. Another group was with the Nitish Kumar. The two groups of Kurmis had some clashes between them because of the local elections. The Paswan group was unhappy with Nitish\\\’s appeasement of Mahadalits. If it could be established that Mushars were responsible for brutal killings of Kurmis, it would embarrass Nitish.
It would also give credence to the charge that Nitish was unable control Naxal violence in the area. At the same time if Mushars were implicated in gruesome killings, their legal battle for land claims would be quashed forever and illegal hold over land by the Kurmis would continue unchallenged. Those who were leading the legal battle for getting land settlement have been selectively convicted in the case. This insidious political plot cannot be ruled out in the semi feudal milieu of the remote areas of Khagariya.
Incident on 1ST October 2009
Sixteen people were killed in the night of 1st October 2009 at around 11 pm in Amousi Bahiar. All these people were residents of Icharwa village. The farm land and basa (shelter for a person to guard his land and cattle) of these Icharwa villagers was in Amousi bahiar which is more than a kilometer away from the residential area. At the time of the tragedy the Icharwa villagers were sleeping at their basas.
The incident is reconstructed on the basis of account narrated by Paro Singh who claimed to be the eyewitness (!). There are two versions available to us. One, given in the PUCL report based on enquiry conducted on 11th October 2009 and the other recorded as evidence in the judgment delivered by session court on 14th Feb 2012.
PUCL team visited Icharwa and Amousi villages on 11th October 2009. In Icharwa, they met, several members of the families of the deceased who had congregated by the wayside for Dashkarma i.e. getting their heads shaved. They also met Paro Singh there. According to PUCL team, Paro Singh was the only person who claimed to be an eyewitness of the incident. As narrated by the villagers and Paro Singh.
The chronology of event is given below:
Some people forced a boatman of Icharwa to ferry them to Amousi Bahiar late in the evening. The boatman was later killed and no details could be traced. Presumably, after crossing the river, another group of armed persons joined them. From the river bank they followed nearly a straight line to reach the basas of Icharwa Kurmis. The miscreants picked up young men sleeping in their basas. All the picked up persons were allegedly tied up with ropes and they were huddled together in an open area on the dera of Chhotelal Singh. Here, they were shot by guns. Paro Singh said that he feigned death lying motionless with other corpses making the killers think that he was dead. The team did not find his version of hoodwinking the killers very convincing. There was no injury on his description.
The killers dispersed after shooting. Paro singh managed to flee from there and reached village Icharwa to tell others about the carnage. The villagers informed the local Alauli police station. Icharwa village comes under the jurisdiction of Alauli police station. The police was reluctant to go to Amousi at that late hour of night. The villagers mustered courage and crossed the river in large number and brought back the dead bodies by five in the morning.
Among the persons killed while 14 were Kurmis, two were kushwahas. In the morning police inspector from Morkahi Police station arrived and Paro Singh lodged an FIR with him. (Amousi Bahiar falls under the jurisdiction of Morkahi Police Station). As many as 37 persons are accused in the FIR with names. Besides, 20 to 25 unidentified persons are also mentioned as part of the group of killers. The list is headed by Bodhan Sada and O. P. Mahto.
Evidence recorded in the judgment
The judgment records the eye witness account of 5 persons as evidence. All the witnesses are interested parties as their sons have been killed in the incident.
Paro Singh’s evidence in the court does not mention people arriving in the boat from other side of the river. There is no mention of any boatman. The evidence as recorded in the judgment only says that at 11\\\’0\\\’ clock he was at his basa with his son Chandan Singh. His son was sleeping while he was awake. He saw 40 to 50 people armed with rifles and guns coming from south west side. They were flashing torch. He describes how these armed people caught hold of 10 to12 people from their respective separate basas. After that 10 to 15 people came to his basa. Paro Singh tried to wake up his son but his son Chandan Singh did not wake up. Paro Singh hid himself in a nearby paddy field. The miscreants picked up his son and took every one to Chotelal Singh\\\’s dera. They tied the hands of all the victims.
Paro Singh states that Bodhan Sada asked the victims why they had not vacated their deras when they had been ordered to do so. Paro Singh’s son replied that he would vacate his dera next day. But Bodhan Sada ordered that they all be shot dead and the group shot the victims with their guns. Paro Singh states that the miscreants wanted to make sure that the victims were actually dead and they flashed light on the victims. In this light Paro Singh identified 16 miscreants with names. After making sure that the victims were dead they fled towards north. Paro Singh also reports hearing two rounds of firing at Chhotelal Mahto\\\’s dera.
Paro Singh stated that he then came to bank of the river where he met ChotelalSingh, Jaichand Singh, Anrudh Singh and Kamli Singh. These are four other eyewitnesses who narrated similar stories and identified the miscreants by names.Like Paro singh theyare affected parties having lost their sons in the carnage
All five of them went to Icharwa village and narrated the incident to other villagers. Around 100 to 150 people crossed the river at night and went to Chhotelal Singh\\\’s dera. They brought the dead bodies back to Icharwa chouk. In the morning Mukesh Kumar S.H.O. Morkahi came. Paro Singh lodged his FIR at 7.45 a.m. on 2nd October 2009.
We also got the version of local party comrades, the family members of the accused and other villagers in Amousi. We were told the there was no eyewitness of the incident and no one knew who the miscreants were. They could only say that those charged with the crime were innocent. All those convicted in the case had alibi for the night of 1st October 2009. According to them no Mushar from Amousi village was involved in the crime.
The judgment of the sessions court
The judgment delivered by the sessions court seems to rely entirely on the eye witness account given by Paro Singh and others. We do not have the entire case file and we are not trained to probe into such matters but there are points on which we feel clarification is required.
1.Evidence of Paro Singh as recorded in the judgment raises atleast three questions.When he describes the miscreants picking up 12 persons from their separate deras, one needs to know if all the deras were visible from the place where he was stationed. And did it not give him enough time to wake up his son?
He refers to miscreants flashing torch light at the victims and says that he recognised the culprits in that light. But actually reverse is the case. If someone flashes torchlight in your direction, his or her own image becomes less distinct.
Paro Singh reports the conversation that took place between his son and Bodhan Sada at Chotelal Singh\\\’s dera. But Paro Sigh was hiding at his own dera .Was this conversation loud enough for him to hear from the paddy field, where he was hiding.
2. The judgment refers to postmortem reports, empty cartridges, blood stained clothes and other items put as exhibits. However, no mention is made of the guns and rifles which were used on that day? One would like to know what search was made for the guns and rifles.
3. There is some discrepancy regarding Police inspector’s presence at Icharwa chowck on 2nd morning. There is also some use of whitener. This raises doubts about the genuineness of FIR lodged by Paro Singh on 2nd morning.
Appeal in High Court
An appeal is filed in High Court against the sessions court judgment. The lawyer Ajay Thakur has been retained as the defence lawyer by Mushar Seva Sangh. We consulted some friends in Delhi and we were advised that for a case dealing with 14 accused one lawyer is not sufficient. You need more than one lawyer in the case. When we met the wives of those pronounced guilty in the case they were ignorant of the appeal that is filed with High Court.
A recent development
After we came back from Amousi and were preparing this report, we got the information from Khagaria that on the evening of 17th April, 2012, one more resident of Icharwa was killed at Amousi Bahiyar. This time the person who was accused for the killing was no other than the Paro Singh himself. The incident was narrated by advocate Chandrakishore Yadav whose residence is also near Amousi and Manoj Sada who lives in Siripur village which is hardly one km away from Amousi village.
Pandav Kumar, who was killed on 17th was the son of Dhana singh of Icharwa village.Dhana Singh lost his other son in the Amousi carnage of 2009. He was one of the witnesses in the sessions court trial.
On 17th of April 2012, Paro Singh, Phoolchand Yadav (a resident of a nearby village Kashimpur), Ramashish Singh and Pandav Kumar (both from Icharwa) were seen going to a neighborhood village Saharwa, 1 km of Amousi where liquor is sold. Phoolchand Yadav is not a resident of the village but he has a basa where he keeps his cattle at Amousi Bahiyar.
Manoj Sada and his companion Sadarath Sada (Amousi) found all four of them coming back from Saharwa on the way to Amousi. They were drunk and they tried to obstruct the way of Manoj Sada. Manoj dodged and avoided any skirmish with them. Later, according to Advocate Chandrakishore Yadav, other villagers of Amousi also saw them passing through the village in drunken state. He also said that Paro Singh misbehaved with a woman of Amousi for which a policeman scolded upon him. (A team of some policemen has been stationed permanently in Amousi since the 2009 carnage). Many villagers witnessed them passing through the Amousi village. The time was around 6 or 7 pm.
Later, some villagers of Icharwa found that Phoolchand Yadav was running away with his cattle and they asked him that what happened. He was nervous and told the villagers that somedescription murdered Pandav Kumar. Meanwhile, Paro Singh reached Icharwa village and said that Pandav Kumar was killed by Amousi Mahadalits. Villagers did not believe him as some of them heard the version of Phoolchand Yadav also. The villagers had seen all four of them going together. When Paro Singh realized that villagers are not ready to trust him, he absconded. But villagers did not allow Phoolchand Yadav to abscond till the police came in midnight. Police also arrested Ramashish Singh from the village.
The description of Pandav Kumar was found. He was strangled by gamchha cloth. The father of the deceased Pandav Kumar, Dhana Singh, filed an FIR accusing 5 people. These included the above mentioned three and Chhotelal Singh and Pappu Singh.
According to local people, some dispute came up between Dhana Singh and Paro Singh regarding their stand on 2009 case. It is assumed that Dhana Singh was asking Rs. 50,000 to continue his stand in high court. Paro Singh got agitated with his demand and when son of Dhana Singh, Pandav Kumar was with him and he was drunk, Paro Singh thought it would be easy to kill him and once again implicate the Mushars of Amousi in the case. But Phoolchand Yadav could not digest this and the conspiracy of falsely implicating Mushars in the murder case failed.
Paro Singh’s involvement in such a serious crime has to be investigated. It certainly puts a big question mark on the evidence given by him in the trial of 2009 carnage. His eye witness account is central to the judgment pronounced by the sessions court.
Post Script 1: Judgment on Bathani Tola Massacre: Two judgments, Two parameters
In the recent judgment of Patna high court on Bathani Tola massacre, all the accused were acquitted. On July 11th 1996, Ranvir Sena killed 21 people in Bathani Tola in Bhojpur district of Bihar. Twelve women and 8 children were murdered. The abdomen of a pregnant woman was slit open. A little infant’s tongue was cut off. Another baby’s fingers were severed from her hand. A girl in the prime of her youth was raped and before she was put to death, her breasts were chopped off. The victims belonged to poor muslim families, who had been displaced from Kharaon village. The conflict was regarding access to village common land for burial and namaz. Ranvir Sena had forcibly occupied the Kabristan and Karbala land of Muslims in surrounding villages. When the muslim families protested, they were taught a lesson.
On May 16th 2010, the sessions court in Ara convicted 23 accused. Three were given death sentence and 20 were given life imprisonment. Patna high court on 16th April, 2012 acquitted all the 23 convicts. According to the high court, the prosecution failed to prove the involvement of the accused in the crime beyond reasonable doubt.
Post Script 2: Those awaiting trial
We met two under trials in Khagaria jail, Gorelal Sada and Devendra Chowdhry.Their profiles once again point out that anyone, who defies the unjust land order in rural Bihar will be punished.
Gorelal Sada (age 55 years) is a member of district Counsel of CPI Khagaria. He has a house and family in Shravita village in Ananthpur Panchayat. He has been cultivating 3 bighas of land as a sharecropper for last 30 years. The land belongs to a zamindar Kesar Babu from Sanhouli. For last 5 years he has stopped paying any rent for the land that he cultivates. The zamindar is angry because of his land is illegally taken possession of. According to Gorelal Sada, he has falsely been implicated in 2 other criminal cases because of the conflict over these 3 bighas of land. In Chikkani Tola village of Saharsa, where one cop was killed in an encounter in May 2009 between Maoists and SAP (Special Auxiliary Police). Gorelal Sada spent one year in jail and was released on 25th September 2009. The Amousi massacre took place on 1-2 October 2009 and once again he saw his name in the list of accused. When he found out that there was an arrest warrant in his name, he absconded and remained in hiding for 2 and ½ years. He was finally caught by the Police on 25th March 2012 from his house. His trial was about to begin in Khagaria court.
Gorelal Sada has six sons and four daughters. Although he himself can barely sign his name but his sons are educated till class 10th. One of them has a grocery shop and others migrate to Punjab in search of employment. When we asked him if his family has visited him in the jail, he said, “No. They will get time to see me only after harvesting of rabi crop (Maize) is over.”
On the night of 1st October 2009, Gorelal sada was sleeping in the Party Office of Khagaria district. He was there because he was campaigning for Advocate Chandrakishore Yadav in PACS elections. He said that he did not know anydescription in Icharwa village, and knew some people in Amousi village.
Devendra Chowdhry s/o Surendra Choudhry, Age 40 years
Devendra Choudhry lives in a village called Jheema in Amousi Anantpur Panchayat. He has five sons and 2 daughters. He belongs to Kewat or Mallah community. Amousi, the place of occurrence is about 1 kilometre away from his village Jheema but there is a stream in between.
His case is rather more surprising. He said that his father has land title for 5 bighas of land which he also cultivates along with four other brothers. He explained that there is 120 bighas of land in the village which has long been cultivated by villagers. The land is distributed like this that 40 bighas of land is given to Sada community people for cultivation and 80 bighas of land has been cultivated by Choudhry, i.e. Kewat-Malhar community. This arrangement was done by villagers themselves depending upon the population distribution. The land was under possession of Rai Bahadur of Munger in pre independence period. Devendra Choudhry said that some Neeraj Singh, who is a Bahubali of the area, claimed that he purchased 40 bighas of land. That became the conflict between Neeraj Singh and villagers. Devendra Choudhry said that he was falsely implicated in some case of extortion, kidnapping and attempt to murder, etc. The case was registered in Khairi village and it has been there for five years so he was absconding for many years. After that the October incident happened in Amousi and he saw his name in the Amousi carnage too as an accused, so he surrendered to Police on 16th November 2009. He was arrested in both the cases. His trial has yet not begun.
He said that he was in his house only on and around that time when carnage took place.
Post Script 3: The main accused among the convicts
The list of accused is headed by Bodhan Sada and O. P. Mahto. Death sentence is pronounced for Bodhan Sada and O. P. Mahto has been given life imprisonment.
Bodhan Sada, aged 60 years, was earlier the area commander of a maoist group of the region. As reported by local people, when Bodhan was asked by Party to shift to Saharsa, he rebelled and was consequently expelled from the party. A new area commander was given charge. Yogi Mahto and Bodhan Sada naturally had tussles between them. Bodhan Sada is said to have considerable influence among Mushars of the area. His wife was the Mukhia (chief) of the village when the massacre took place. Since then, his wife has been killed and Yogi Mahto has been accused in her murder’s case. While in Jail, Bodhan Sada was put up by CPI (ML) as a candidate for 2010 assembly elections.
O. P. Mahto
At the time of massacre, O. P. Mahto (age 72 years) was the branch secretary of CPI. He was one of the prominent leaders in the Amousi Mushars’ legal battles to claim the Bhoodan land in the region. We were given a copy of the written complaint made by O. P. Mahto to the Distict Collector. In his complaint he has said that he was threatened for life by some Bahubalis of the area. They warned him that if he doesn’t give up his legal battle, he will face dire consequences.