After 34 years, accused is declared ‘juvenile’

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Solemn memoir The plaque has the names of 22 victims of the massacre engraved. Photos: AFP
Solemn memoir The plaque has the names of 22 victims of the massacre engraved. Photos: AFP

The petition for juvenile claim was first filed in 2008. The court, at that time, asked Vishwanath to submit all proof related to his age. But he failed to do so. “The tactic was to delay the hearing so that the trial could be held up. When the trials finally started in 2012, Vishwanath failed to produce any documents,” says Porwal.

“He could have filed his juvenile petition in 1981 but the defence waited till 2008 to file the application? Why? When all doors will be closed then this issue will be raised. This was the plan to stretch the hearing,” opined the prosecutor.

It took almost eight years to prove that Vishwanath was below 16 years of age at the time of crime. For this Sunil Kumar Katiyar, principal, primary school, Umarpur, Kanpur Dehat was summoned. Being the head of the school where Vishwanath was enrolled till fifth class, Katiyar submitted students’ record register of the school until 1988.

As per the record, Vishwanath took admission in Umarpur primary school on 24 April 1976. The register clearly mentions his date of birth as 1 July 1965.

He left school after clearing the fifth class. Moreover, he wasn’t a regular student but did his studies from home.

There was an interesting turn in the case when the defence presented the high school marksheet at Saraswati Vidya Inter College, Sikandara, Kanpur, dating back to 1979. Though Vishwanath failed in the examination, his date of birth in marksheet is similar to what was mentioned in primary school register.

The authenticity of the documents, certificate and marksheet was verified with Uttar Pradesh Madhyamik S iksha Parishad, Allahabad, amid objections raised by the prosecution. The Board keeps a record of all the students who have appeared in high school and intermediate exams.

Therefore, going by the documents, Swarup at the date of the commission of offence was 15 years, seven months and 13 days.

Even the prosecution couldn’t argue much on the understatement of age as the apex court in its ruling has clarified that the court should not be unnecessarily influenced by any general impression that in schools, parents or guardians understate the age of their wards by one or two years for future benefits or that age determination by medical examination is not very precise. The matter should be considered prima facie on the touchstone of preponderance of probability.

Today Vishwanath works as a labourer under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). “I have sold almost eight acres of land since the case has started. I have five daughters and two sons to look after,” says Vishwanath.

Porwal says, “Vishwanath belongs to the same Mallah caste as Phoolan. At the time these dacoits were called baghis. Whenever they had to attack any village or kidnap someone, all of them would gather and would go back to their respective villages once the task is accomplished.

“ Those times, every village wanted to have a member in the dacoit’s gang so that they are protected from atrocities of the upper caste or thakurs,” he says.

Interestingly, the first round of prosecution started almost four months ago and the case has been put on day-today hearing.

On 24 September 2015, 15 eyewitnesses were presented before the court. Out of these, seven were present at the time when Phoolan and her gang killed the Rajput men.

Surprisingly, no witnesses were willing to come forward and identify the gang. But as trials have progressed, witnesses started to identify the accused. The changing statements of the witnesses has, however, created friction in the court.

When a lot is being talked about the juvenile convict in 16 December, 2012 rape case, the order in the Behmai massacre comes as surprise, where a 50-year-old man has been declared as ‘ juvenile’ at the time of the crime 35 years later. So far, no judgment has been pronounced in the case..

archana.mishra@tehelka.com