Patna High Court on Friday acquitted all 14 people accused in the Senari massacre case, in which 34 upper caste men were allegedly killed by cadres of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).
On March 18, 1999, 34 upper caste men were forced out by their homes in Senari village and were slaughtered near the village temple. The massacre was a sequel in a prolonged caste war between the MCC and private armies of upper caste villagers.
On November 15, 2016, a Jehanabad court had sentenced 11 men to death and awarded the life sentence to three others. Three of those convicted challenged the verdict in the high court.
On Friday, a High Court division bench of Ashwini Kumar Singh and Justice Arvind Srivasrava reversed the lower court’s verdict, citing lack of adequate evidence. The bench said there had not been enough corroborative evidence to prove the complicity of the 14 people convicted by the Jehanabad court.
The court said: “….the burden of proof of guilt of an accused is upon the prosecution. It must stand by itself. In the present case, on appreciation of evidence adduced during trial, I find that there is a real and reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the appellants. Accordingly, the impugned judgment dated 15th November, 2016 and order of sentence dated 27th October, 2016 passed in Sessions Trial No.93/2013/281/2015, arising out of Karpi P.S.Case No.22/1999, so far as the appellants in these appeals are concerned are, hereby, set aside.”
The court said the examination of the accused under CrPC Section 313 when compared with the charges framed “will illustrate the utility of the examination in this case.
“The accused persons have been subjected to seven standard and identical questions even though the witnesses against them are disparate. While some of the accused persons have been identified by some witnesses, the others have been identified by a single witness. No question has been put to them regarding identification by different persons and the places in the village in which they were claimed to be identified…,” the court said.
The bench added that “it would be evident that ordinarily an accused should not be convicted on the testimony of witnesses identifying for the first time in court without any corroboration either by previous identification in the TIP or any other evidence”.
It said, “If there is no other evidence against the accused, identification in court made long after the incident should not form the basis of conviction as it is regarded as evidence of weak character. However, in appropriate cases, in exception to the general rule, if a witness has any particular reason to remember about the identity of an accused or the accused is known to a witness from before, the court may rely on such identification without other corroboration….”
Read Judgement here