(This article has been published in Nov-Dec’13 issue of the printed version of the magazine and has been reproduced in Economic & Political Weekly (Vol. 49, Issue No.2, January 11, 2014) )
The Sone River has continued to remain incessantly cruel. There have been so many massacres of the poor and the landless on both the banks of this river that its water would have turned red. But even then, it kept flowing nonchalantly. This was not a mere indifference of the river; rather it took sides with the feudal forces, irrigating their agricultural lands and adding to their muscle! Neither the hundreds of women, youth and children who were slaughtered nor their wailing families could wield any influence over the river. It is very similar to how the middle classes of our country have remained indifferent towards the massacres, rapes and plight of the oppressed masses. On the contrary, they believe the governmental agencies are doing a commendable job for the sake of national security!
This river which originates in Rinhad in Uttar Pradesh flows through various regions where feudal dominance is very strong and has witnessed hundreds of massacres. The village Bathe, which is situated on the banks of Sone, suddenly propped up on the world map in 1997. Similarly, Arwal which is located around 10-12 km away from this village, also emerged on the world map in 1986. On 1 December, 1997, some butchers of Ranvir Sena (upper caste private militia) who came from Sahar, brutally slaughtered 61 people among whom 56 were members of a peasant organization called Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad (currently a Maoist organization) and 3 were members of CPI (ML) Liberation. All the persons killed were of dalit community.
Recently, Bathe has been once again in the news. On 9th October 2013, the Patna High Court acquitted all the accused in Laxmanpur Bathe massacre. In this case the lower court had awarded death sentence to 16 of the accused while giving life sentence to ten other convicted. But the High Court acquitted all of the accused on grounds of ‘lack of concrete evidence’ resulting in various reactions on the judgment.
While various parliamentary parties are looking at the incident from their electoral prism, certain so-called communist parties are hailing the verdict of the lower court while criticizing the high court judgment! But one does need to understand whether there is a contradiction in the judgments of the lower and higher court?
Some people are trying to explain these incidents from a Dalit-caste perspective and are trying to cover up the character of ruling class which is playing its role behind all of these incidents. In this context, in order to understand the entire politics of massacres as well as resistance one needs to place the matter in its proper historical context.
Politics of massacre:
In Bihar, in between 1976 and 2001, around 700 dalits and backward caste people have been killed by upper caste private armies and police. To understand the politics behind these massacres it is important to comprehend the historical background of the same.
These massacres executed by the feudal forces with aegis from the ruling class are phenomenon of a particular period which spanned from 1970 to 1990s. Here the question is that if these incidents were mere attacks on the dalits by the feudal forces, then why only after 1970. The dalits have always been vulnerable. The politics that emerged in 1970 raised new questions and challenges in front of the country. This radical politics tried to establish that the questions of feudal oppression, land and dignity cannot be addressed within the purview of statist laws but these contradictions have to be resolved only by intensifying the fight against the ruling classes.
This struggle gave immense confidence to the larger oppressed masses and the battle for justice outside the constitutional framework commenced on ground. It was in a bid to terrorize the oppressed masses and oust this struggle; the ruling classes initiated these massacres. Thus these massacres were actually direct product of feudal oppression as well as a reaction to the fight for land and dignity which was directly connected to the battle against present structure of the state.
Now the question that remains is what happened to all those issues for which so many people fought and laid their lives. Today there are hoards of people who are flaunting their politics using these massacres and judgments as just some issues while craftily dodging the crucial questions that these very struggles had foregrounded. It is obvious that these attacks on the oppressed masses are integral to ruling class’s repeated attempts to exterminate political questions with military might. So looking at these questions from a dalit identity perspective or a legalistic point of view is tantamount to nullifying these crucial questions.
The Arwal massacre was one of the most brutal of its kind and has also been referred to as ‘mini-Jalianwala bagh’.The police surrounded a peaceful gathering and fired on it leaving 25 people killed and injuring more than 60. Today, none wants to speak about it since it is not suitable to their electoral interests! On the contrary, it would be more appropriate to look at these massacres as ruling class’s reaction to people’s resistance movement.
People’s resistance and the ruling class:
In the 70s, when massive peasants’ movement started across Bhojpur, under the leadership of Jauhar, simultaneously extreme reactions from the ruling class started becoming visible. It was even alleged that the RSS was assisting in setting up of training centres for upper-caste landlords in Berath, Baghi and Ekwari in Sahar (Bhojpur) block in 1974.
In 1974-75, ‘Kunwar Sena’ office was inaugurated in Araa and its chairman was Bir Bahadur Singh. Their objective? precisely terrorising restive peasants. The Kunwar Sena allegedly had a hand in the messacres at Berath and Ekwari in Sahar block and Phoolari in the Block of Sandesh. Beside these incidents, on May 28, 1975, then DIG of Bihar Police (Naxalite cell) Shivaji Prasad Singh declared ‘the Bihar government has decided to arm all the able-bodied persons in Bhojpur and Patna districts for self defence to face the extremist menace who have recently launched an armed struggle.’ He also added ‘District magistrate of both the districts have been asked to visit the affected villages and issue licenses for firearms on the spot to those people who are able to posses them…”
On 23 May 1975, B N Sinha, DIG (Central and Eastern regions) come up with an elaborate counter-insurgency strategy for Bhojpur and its adjoining districts. In order to bring Naxalite menace to an end, police personnel were put on alert in five districts, namely Gaya, Nalanda, Patna, Bhojpur and Rohtas. Police officers in all police stations of these districts were instructed to confiscate illegal arms as Naxalites were using these arms to loot the fire arms from the landlords. Alongside that by late 1975, Jagannath Mishra, the then Chief Minister of Bihar, made a secret visit to Bhojpur to inaugurate a ‘firing and shooting centre’ for landlords and their sons. Consequently, this unrestrained granting of gun licences to the landlords at one hand helped substantially in providing them with more muscle while on the other hand enable the ruling class to react to the adverse situation right at the beginning of the land movement in the 1970s by forming an organised anti-naxalite vigilante group led by the feudal lords.
On 6 May, 1973, the police orchestrated a massacre in Chavri with the help of paramilitary forces which claimed lives of four peasants. A committee was set up to probe into the incident and it eventually gave a clean chit to the police as in its report submitted in 1976, called it an encounter. Socialist leader Karpoori Thakur went on a hunger strike against this incident demanding justice for the bereaved.
Despite such extreme backlashes from the ruling class, struggles intensified and the decade of 1980s turned out to be the decade of intense people’s movements. In Jehanabad (formerly part of Gaya district), such movements reached an advanced stage and took a more militant form against the feudal oppression as mass aspiration to seize land from the landlords was spearheading the movement. But as soon as this movement erupted, the ruling classes reacted sharply and started heavy repression given the intensity of the struggle.
During this period, on 19 April, 1986 the Arwal massacre took place. A public meeting organized by Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti [which was known to be close to the then CPIML (Party Unity)] (from now on Party Unity) was surrounded and fired upon. According to Nilanjana Dutta “Since early 1985, a massive state-sponsored terror campaign, dubbed as Operation Black Panther; has been going on in Bihar. A Task Force’ has been raised to spearhead the operation. The first phase of this campaign ended officially in December last. In March, a meeting was held in Patna to review the situation, in which the Chief Minister, the D G of Police and some other state officials as well as Arun Nehru, the Union Minister of. State for Internal Security, and ‘King’ Mahendra Singh, the Congress (l) MP and chief of Bhumi Sena, were present. In that meeting a plan was drawn up to start the second phase with greater vigour. Immediately after that, the Bihar Chief Minister announced at a public meeting at Paligunj, Patna, that the ‘Naxalites’ would soon be wiped out.”
It clearly manifests that the state’s decisions regarding repression over the struggling masses were taken with under complete guidance of the feudal forces. In April 1986, the government declared that the armed forces will be refurbished and commandos will be deployed. The struggle in Jehanabad, however, grew stronger despite such state repression.
In her report in the EPW, Neelanjana Dutta writes, ‘The Jahanabad subdivision had become very important in the eyes of the state since the organisers of the peasant movement in this region were successful in driving out the notorious Bhumi Sena, a private army of the Kurmi landlords, early this year. It sets an example for the whole of Bihar. The ‘sense of security’ of the rural rich of every caste was in peril and had to be re-established by the state. Accordingly, it was chosen as the ‘test-site’ for the new strategy of repression. Let us follow the sequence of events leading up to the Arwal massacre.
The retreat of the Bhumi Sena did not stop the Bramharshi Sena (of Bhumihar landlords) and the Lorik Sena (of Jadav landlords) from creating a reign of terror, taking the situation as an opportunity to establish their dominance. These two Senas have often been acting hand-in-hand. The Majdoor Kisan Sangram Samity (MKSS) took up a month-long programme of mass mobilisations against these Senas and in support of their outstanding demands from March 5 to April 3. Mammoth rallies and public meetings were held, which continued despite the initial attacks by the Senas and the local police. This would have been sufficient to scare the Senas away, had not the state machinery come to their rescue. The whole administration was overhauled and made repression-oriented….”
According to the report by Neelanjana Dutta, “A more recent development strengthens the suspicion of many people that the massacre was the result of a conspiracy at the top level. S C Jha, SP (CID), after enquiring into the incident, wrote a secret letter to the DG of Police and to the Home Secretary on May 5, alleging that “Mr Ramashraya Prasad Singh, Bihar Minister, Mr Mahendra Prasad, MP (Rajya Sabha), Mr Jagdish Sharma and Mr Ram Jatan Sinha, both Congress(I) MLAs, and another CPI MLA, Mr R P Singh, had been encouraging caste feuds and violence in the Patna-Jahanabad- Gaya belt for their political interests”. The officer was immediately transferred, and on May 26, served with a showcause notice by the government. The next day, he was replaced by a junior officer following a government order. Moreover, when the DM of Arwal wrote to the Chief Minister to hold a judicial enquiry into the Arwal massacre, he was stopped from writing a report on the situation of the district. All these facts further expose the ruling class’s conspiracy and support behind the massacre.
Anand Chakravarty has described this phenomenon as “ The separation between ruling classes and state, characteristic of a bourgeois system, is far from being achieved in Bihar. Land- lords are not just a ruling class, getting the state, machinery to do their bidding, but are themselves part of, or extensions of, the state. The state machinery in Bihar comprises not only its official apparatus, but also the non-official apparatus of landlord and their armed gangs (militias formed by dominant castes)…” Thus keeping all these facts in mind it becomes quite clear that the ruling class used these armed private militias as its cover organizations to execute the massacres in order to repress the people’s movements.
Resistance against private armies:
Quite a few private armies were formed in Bhojpur and Jehanabad. At certain times, there was almost a flood of private militias, especially in Jehanabad and Patna region. Wherever the private militias were formed, they chose Jehanabad to spread terror. For example, the Bhumi Sena was formed in Punpun but spread a lot of terror in Jehanabad. Whereas later on the same Jehanabad turned out to be its final graveyard.
The Ranvir Sena was formed in August 1994 in Bhojpur, but as soon as it grew, it crossed over the Sone River to come to Jehanabad. The entire process of the formation of private armies and their subsequent strengthening should be understood in its particular historical context. These private armies are always formed on the basis of a particular caste. But the forces of resistance always have brought in the dimension of class in a bid to debilitate and finally decimate these private armies through sheer struggles. Ranvir Sena set up its base in Bhojpur and intensified its repression all across Central Bihar. Whereas CPIML (Liberation) [from now on Liberation] instead of strengthening the resistance against Ranvir Sena decided its tactics by prioritizing its own electoral calculations and re-moulded its militant strategies according to its parliamentary policies of vote-bank politics.
In Jehanabad, militant mass movement and resistance had decimated the Bhoomi Sena by the end of 1985. In such a situation, the ruling class adopted a policy of direct attack which was quite evident in Arwal. The Arwal massacre developed a new dimension in the anti-feudal struggles. It was clear from the hitherto experiences of struggles that in order to wage a successful resistance against the feudal forces, one needs to intensify the struggles against the state power. Thus, the movements that were taking place in Jehanabad eventually developed the aspirations for justice and liberation as part of the anti-feudal and anti-state struggles.
Now, two clear tactics of struggles developed in Bihar. While Liberation which was active in Bhojpur had kept forth its tactics of compromise, the Party Unity which was fighting in Jehanabad, extended its struggles by taking the movement against the ruling class forward. These two tactics are functional in their own terms even today. When Ranvir Sena started to attack ruthlessly, the Libeartion instead of fighting them back, adopted the line of compromise and settlement.
After the Bathani Tola massacre, Central Committee of the Liberation issued a leaflet that said ‘We have always been in favour of establishing peace. It is for this reason that, keeping in mind the aspirations of the peace-loving people, we began our peace initiative. On the occasion of the anniversary function of Swami Sahjanand Sarawsati organised by Kisan Mahasabha in Bihta (Patna), we began our peace talks. Smt. Tarkeshwari Sinha and Shri Laliteshwar Shahi participated in the talks along with some respected personalities of the Bhumihar caste. From our side Central Committee Member and ex-State Secretary Com. Pawan Sharma was present. The talks were quite positive. Exactly two days after these talks the party General Secretary issued an appeal for peace in a press conference at Arrah. This appeal was well highlighted by the press. All peace-loving people welcomed it. We had also hoped for a positive answer from the Ranveer Sena. Next, we sent a message through a friend, who was mediating, that the Ranveer Sena should issue some statement so that we can proceed to the next step. The friend conveyed our message but the response was disappointing. Our peace effort had failed….. This time we started again in a different way. We thought that we should create public pressure by mobilizing public opinion. We also hoped that the administration would help us. In June ’96, we began peace campaign by organizing dozens of mass meetings in the main market as well as village chawls and told the people to came forward in this peace effort. In the meantime, contradictions between kisans of Ranveer Sena and our people in five villages were resolved.’. Thus the attempts to negotiate into a ‘peace deal’ by Liberation encouraged Ranvir Sena more and they started their brutal activities on the other side of Sone in Jehanabad.
The liberty from such private armies and feudal oppression at large as well as the question of justice is directly linked to the question of feudal oppression as well as the character of the private armies. All the facts here point that the private armies were barely a mask of the ruling class to repress militant people’s movements. When the ruling class failed to protect the feudal forces by using these caste militias they started direct attacks. Thus any possibility of liberation from these private caste armies without understanding their character as a tool of the ruling class is a facile daydream. Today the ruling class has adopted even more ruthless and cruel means to repress the anti-feudal struggles. Today the places of private armies have been taken by undercover police and SPOs at the village level. In the present times the fights for justice, identity and freedom is directly linked to the fight against state power.
Massacres and Justice:
After all the accused of Bathe massacre have been acquitted, the debate over this ‘murder of justice’ in the hand of ruling class has come out very sharply. Perhaps the same debate took place in Bhojpur after the acquittals of the accused in Bathani massacre too. The High court is trying to explain to us that there are no solid evidences against the accused of these massacres. Some people are trying to tell us that the lower court had given a correct verdict and the problems lie with the High Court. Everyone is building their own logic according to their convenience. However, the High Court simply showed its actual class & caste character once again with these verdicts. If these accused were not involved in the massacres then whose responsibility is it to find the killers?
As far as holding the lower court verdict correct is concerned, the forces which are propagating such a view are equally part of this plan. It is clear about the Bathe massacre, that its conspiracy was hatched in Bhojpur. Till then the Ranvir Sena could not build its base required for such an attack in Jehanabad. Rather the massacre was an attempt by the Ranvir Sena to expand its base in Jehanabad. The king pin of Ranvir Sena who executed the massacre was also from Bhojpur. People who are aware of the legal case of Bathe confirmed that 19 of the accused were from Bhojpur. All the witnesses against these main accused were either changed or remained absent in the lower court which subsequently acquitted the accused leaders of Ranvir Sena from Bhojpur. This can’t be a mere co-incidence that all the accused from Bhojpur got released. Probably some forces were paying back the Ranvir Sena their debts for striking a ‘peace deal!’ once and that is why the judgment of the lower court is hailed by these same forces.
There is neither anything surprising nor new in these acquittals awarded by either the Lower or the High Courts. What happened to the accused of the Arwal massacre? All the accused of all the massacres have been similarly acquitted because after all these were attempts by the ruling class to expand state terror. But the more important question is whether justice will be done to the people who were killed in these massacres by simply punishing the perpetrators? Can those 700 people who laid their life between 1971 and 2001 get any justice if only their murderers are put behind bars? Everyone has their own measures of justice. Everyone analyses justice according to their own standpoint and convenience. For the oppressed masses the question of justice is linked to the questions of their lives, liberty and livelihood. In such a situation the important question is that what happened to the issues and questions fighting for which the people had to lay down their lives in the hands of the police or the feudal forces. What happened to those struggles for which thousands of people sacrificed themselves?
Historically it is clear that these massacres were orchestrated because the poor people joined the movements for dignity, identity, land and justice. Thus bestowing them with that dignity, identity and justice through consummate struggles can only beget them the real justice. The people opted for struggles because the constitution and judiciary failed to give them justice. The court even refused to punish the murderers of the people who were killed during the movements. The question of justice is also connected with the struggles of the broad masses. The question is to end feudal dominance and to achieve dignity and livelihood. To limit it to the mere punishment of the perpetrators is not only unjust to the people who were killed but would also tantamount to betraying them.
Some people are demanding the formation of Special Investigation Team (SIT) to punish the perpetrators of these massacres. Actually these beaten tracts have lost relevance a long back. Could the killers of Chavri massacre be booked with the aid of a committee? After the Arwal massacre, a ‘People’s Tribunal’ was also held; it took witness of a lot of people. But what happened to the perpetrators of Arwal massacre after that? Instead of being punished they were further bolstered. It is also important to note that the people’s aspirations for justice cannot be fulfilled through negotiations and compromises. After the cruelties of Ranvir Sena, ‘peace committees’ were formed across villages in Bhojpur. It is not hidden from anyone that at what great cost ‘peace’ was established in Bhojpur. These Peace Committees only worked as brokers to set up deals in a bid to withdraw cases that were lodged in various courts by either the state or the feudal mercenary groups. Not only that, Bramheshwar Singh, the leader of Ranvir Sena, while justifying his acquittal, told a senior reporter, ‘Today the ones who are making a noise about justice, please go and ask them how was a politburo member of certain party, who was accused for the murder of Jwala Singh, landlord of Danwar-Bihta in Sahar got acquitted.’
How exactly were these cases managed to be resolved out of the court is only known to the ‘managers’ involved; but it is clear that the aspirations of the people for justice can never be met with such opportunist negotiations. The ruling class always argues against mass movements by saying that instead of getting into struggles people should sit and negotiate with the state to come to a constitutionally valid solution. But the question of justice for the people had long relinquished these banal illusions. In such a situation, adopting such statist means to broker ‘peace’ is basically nothing but surrender.
The road to justice has to inevitably traverse the arduous road of struggle. For all the people who were killed, the question of justice is inherently linked with the question of ending feudal dominance and more than that to the question of state power. Without addressing that the questions of justice and freedom will remain merely a toy of the parliamentary gimmicks.
According to Arvind Sinha, ‘In September 1996, after the Bathanitola massacre by RanvirSena, the then MLA of Sahar, Ram Naresh Ram from Liberation and few other leaders sat on a hunger strike demanding the resignation of Bihar CM Laloo Prasad Yadav and the suspension of the DM and SP of Araa. The CM in order to pacify the raging masses simply transferred the DM and the SP. Along with that a general enquiry by the revenue department was ordered. The Liberation celebrated this as their victory and withdrew their decision to go on a strike. Now instead of a strike, a victory procession was held in Patna.’ Thus Liberation instead of leading a militant movement against the horrible massacre, ended up in doing mere tokenism in the name of resistance. If at that time, mere transferring of some officials seemed a victory to Liberation then why were they upset with the Bathani judgment?
However, after this incident the Central Home Minister Indrajit Gupta from CPI came to Bathani and said the police administration had completely failed in the state. The DG of Bihar also openly accepted that the police could have stopped this horrific massacre. It is ridiculous that how mere transfer of certain government officials could be celebrated as people’s victory! Now once again some people are trying to divert the aspiration for justice to the questions of forming SIT or by getting into the debate about higher and lower courts and thereby rescuing the entire system from being exposed.
The people have witnessed enough of the farce of these committees and judicial decisions. Using these battered means one can only make an illusion of justice but real justice could never be delivered. From the very beginning the politics of negotiations and compromise have always turned the aspiration of the exploited and oppressed masses for land, liberation and justice into a mirage. But in the 70s the fighting masses broke all the chains and delusions of the politics of compromise and embarked on a new journey of militant struggles and sacrifices. All sorts of oppressive and murderous measures to finish off this politics of resistance failed. The politics of negotiation and compromise too were exposed. The question today is not only about justice for the people killed in Bathe but also about the people who were martyred like Jauhar, Jagdish Master, Rameshwar, Butan, Krishna Singh as well as the people killed in Arwal, Bathe, Shankarbigha and others as well. The question for justice to the people in Bathe is also linked with the justice for all those who sacrificed their lives.
The ruling classes today are adopting even more ruthless means to repress the anti-feudal struggles. Today private armies are replaced with vigilante gangs and SPOs at a village level. Special spy police have become a major tool in the hands of the state to repress people’s movements. Thus at present the struggles of the people for land, identity, dignity and justice is directly a struggle against the state. Without expanding the base of the mass struggles against the state, the questions of justice and liberation will remain as a far off dream or will be rendered into a mere posturing of populist politics. At present when the ruling class has devised new means to safeguard its rule, the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist forces would also have to adopt more creative means of resistance. History has witnessed the fact that people’s aspirations cannot be trampled by militaristic state repression. The coming generations are going to ask us that why did the Sone river keep flowing nonchalant, even after its water turned red with people’s blood. In such a situation being neutral is also taking a side.
The toiling masses have changed the course of history with their movements. The Sone has to make clear its bias. It has to give up on its cruelty otherwise it will too become oblivious in history, this is what has always happened in history and this is the science of the development of mankind. It is bound to happen this way.
- Bhojpur : Naxalism in the plains of Bhojpur, Kalyan Mukherjee & Rajendra singh Yadav
- Nilanjana Dutta, EPW
- Arvind Sinha, EPW
- Anand Chakravarty, EPW
- Behind the killings in Bihar, PUDR
- Pamphlets realeased by CC of CPI (ML) Liberation after Bathani massacre
- Report of APDR on Arwal massacre