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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 46, October 31, 2009

Musahar-Maoist Combination: Are the Poorest Asserting themselves in Bihar?

Sunday 1 November 2009, by A K Biswas

The latest round of agrarian violence reported from Khagaria district’s Icharwa char under Alauli Police Station1 of Bihar, disturbing though it is, it seems, is a powerful attempt by the weakest to ultimately defend themselves by the last option open and/or available to them. The char land in the riverine has resulted in bloodshed: 16 deaths of backward caste members including children. The attackers were Musahars, Bihar’s most illiterate and deprived caste accounting for a two million plus strong army. They boasted of two per cent literacy till 1991. The media report indicated that they were egged on for assertion by the Maoists who have deeply penetrated in the State since sometime. This brings vivid memories of the era of mindless massacres in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to the minds of watchers of Bihar’s agrarian violence. During these decades, the poor and the landless, mostly Dalits and tribals, suffered in particular without any hope for light at the far end of the tunnel. The exploitative infrastructure invariably belonged to the upper social echelons whereas their victims to the lowest end. The share of Musahars in the violence has been the most staggering.

The violence targeting the Santhals of a sleepy village Rupaspura in Purnea district on November 22, 1971 heralded the era of mass killings in Bihar, perhaps the most bloody in North India since independence. The victims were cheap migrant Santhal labourers, brought from Chota Nagpur (now Jharkhand) during the colonial days by the zamindars for land reclamation, aimed at ushering in a new era of cultivation. Many hired the Mundas and Oraons, besides Santhals, from sylvan Chota Nagpur, in scores of instances across Assam, Bengal and Bihar for the same purposes. The Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the nation’s constitutional watchdog, commented as hereunder on the Purnea carnage in his annual report for 1970-71:

An extremely unfortunate and shocking incident took place over harvesting of standing crop on 22 November, 1971 in the Purnea district of Bihar. A mob of 150 men attacked the Santhals in which 14 were killed and 45 houses were burnt down. Armed with guns and other lethal weapons the mob came in trucks, trailers and station wagons, surrounded the Santhal village; locked the doors of their houses from outside and set fire on them. Those who tried to flee from the inferno were shot dead right there. Many of them including women and children were burnt alive in the leaping fire of their own houses. The attackers inflicted grievous injuries on the Santhals by choppers and other sharp cutting weapons. Tractors loaded with dead bodies were despatched to far off places with an aim to destroy evidences.2

These few lines read as the script for repetitive mind-boggling future carnages the State was destined to witness till the dawn of the new millennium.

Musahars’ Massacre, a Ranveer Sena prelude to Holi in Bihar

The massacre at Khagaria on October 2, 2009 strangely synchronised with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace, a fact people might have noted with utter shock and dismay. But this appears as a pattern per se obtaining there in the land of Gautam Buddha, who got salvation under theBodhi tree in Gaya. On March 23, 1997, a hamlet witnessed a brutal carnage of eleven Musahar victims at Haibaspur, barely 25 kilometres off the State’s seat of authority at Patna. A batch of five-to-six Ranveer Sena men dropped in at that nondescript Musahartoli on the eve of Holi, a festival of colours engulfing all, rich and poor, high and low, wealthy and pauper in North India in particular. Posing as guests, the Ranveer Sena cadres had demanded drinks to mark the hospitality and revelries of Holi. The Musahars, too overwhelmed with the unexpected visit of their respectable high caste guests at night, did everything possible within their modest means to entertain them in their huts. At the end of the fun and frolics following bouts of home- brewed drinks, the visitors requested the unsuspected Musahars to accompany them for some distance and guide them out of their village. A dozen or so Musahars walked alongside their visitors in compliance, as desired. Half-a-kilometre away from their hamlet, the wolves in sheep’s clothing threw off their pretension, whipped off their sophisticated weapons and emptied them on the poor hospitable Musahars leading the unprovoked killers as their guides. The field with standing ripe golden wheat crop saw massacres of innocent men in the pre-dawn of the Holi in 1997. The full moon above flooded the entire landscape in glorious ecstasy that night of the bloodbath.

The savage killers made mockery of as well as disgraced India’s time-honoured teaching in hospitality: “atithi devo bhabah [guests are gods]†. The innocent Musahars paid the price for their implicit faith in it. Their atithis brought with them a price tag too dastardly to think with equanimity of mind. Will anybody offer hospitality to the atithi hereafter? The Musahars were suspected by those Ranveer Sena marauders as sympathisers of Naxals. And that earned them a gory lesson.

In an interview to The Times of India, June 13, 1999, the founder of the Ranveer Sena, Brahmeshwar Sharma, in the backdrop of the aforesaid and other carnages, arrogantly declared that Dalits, including women and children, would be annihilated because they provided shelter to “the Naxalite squads†. When asked why children and women were targeted, he quipped: “Hanuman in his fights against Ravana set fire to the whole of Lanka. It is fair if the fight against the demons involves destroying the wombs.†The unborn Dalit children even in their mothers womb were not safe if the Sena had its way. This was the ideological conviction and agenda of the Ranveer Sena. Hitler would have envied the private army’s philosophy of annihilation.

The Ranveer Sena had committed such enormity in 27 instances claiming 262 Dalit men, women and children between April 1995 to September 2000. The following Table-1 shows their gory records.

Some of the days of Ranveer Sena actions were ominous. The massacre on January 25 in Shankarbigha in Jehanabad district, for instance, synchronised with the nation’s Republic Day. It was calculated to send out a chilling message to the Dalits. On Republic Day Indians across the subcontinent and abroad were greeted with banner headlines in their newspapers of the gory massacre in Bihar that morning. Nobody could miss it but nobody rose to the occasion to clamp down on the perpetrators of the crimes it warranted. The Ekwari carnage on December 24, 1996 coincided with the birthday of Jesus Christ, the greatest apostle of humanity. Similarly occasions to celebrate festivals such as Diwali, Raksha Bandhan, Durga Puja etc. too were sometimes black days for the Dalits in some corner or the other of the country.

Table-13

Carnages Committed by Sena Massacres in Bihar

(April 1995 to September 2000)

Sl.No. Date Place and district No. of casualty
1. April 4, 1995 Khopira, Bhojpur 3
2. July 25, 1995 Sarthua, Bhojpur 6
3. February 7, 1996 Chandi, Bhojpur 4
4. March 9, 1996 Pathalpur, Bhojpur 3
5. April 22, 1996 Nanaur, Bhojpur 5
6. May 5, 1996 Nadhi, Bhojpur 3
7. May 9, 1996 Nadhi, Bhojpur 3
8. May 19, 1996 Nadhi, Bhojpur 3
9. May 25, 1996 Morath, Bhojpur 3
10. July 11, 1996 Bathanitola, Bhojpur 22
11. November 26, 1996 Purhara, Bhojpur 4
12. December 12, 1996 Khanet, Bhojpur 5
13. December 24, 1996 Ekwari, Bhojpur 6
14. January 10, 1997 Khanet, Bhojpur 4
15 January 31, 1997 Machil, Jahanabad 3
16. March 23, 1997 Haibaspur, Patna 10
17. March 28, 1997 Akhopur, Jehanabad 4
18. April 10, 1997 Ekwari, Jehanabad 10
19. November 3, 1997 Khadasin, Jehanabad 8
20. November 22, 1997 Katesar, Jehanabad 6
21. December 1, 1997 Lakshman Bathe, Jehanabad 58
22. July 3, 1998 Aiyara, Jehanabad 3
23. January 25, 1999 Shankarbigha, Jehanabad 23
24. February 10, 1999 Narayanpur, Jehanabad 11
25 April 21, 1999 Sendani, Gaya 12
26 June 16, 2000 Mianpur, Aurangabad 35
27 September 10, 2000 Dumariyan, Bhojpur 6

Total toll of 27 massacres 262

The Ranveer Sena was never considered as the gravest threat to internal security as the Maoists/Naxalites now. When a dominant section oppresses, exploits and dehumanises helpless lowly communities it is rarely perceived as an affair serious enough to warrant an immediate powerful intervention. But in the case of self-defence even on the part of the deprived, decimated and discriminated against onslaughts from their aggressors, the language and interpretation assume extraordinary significance! State power justifies strong measures in the name of peace, order and development. No development with deprived millions at the social bottom can be lasting. India can, for developing the top edifice, allow its bottom to be destroyed at its own peril.

Making of a Rebel: Case of an Ordinary Man, Ram Pravesh Baitha

The sleepy town Madhuban, a block headquarters in East Champaran, on June 24, 2005 was startled by simultaneous raids on seven sites, for example, the house of the local Member of Parliament, Sitaram Singh [an ex-Minister too], his petrol pump, Madhuban Police Station, Block Development Office as well as the office of the Anchal Adhikari, a branch each of the State Bank of India and Central Bank of India there. Approximately seven hundred young men and women, it is said, had travelled on foot, rickshaw or tonga to that town situated close to the Nepal border, without anybody’s notice. Their operations on those sites were performed with unfailing precision. The thana was the scene of a gun battle claiming three casualties on both sides, the police as also Naxalites. The operations started at around 12.30 midday and ended by an hour-and-half, if not less. The Maoists melted away after the action in the crowd and again nobody could identify them nor knew their whereabouts. The security forces and district police chased them after they had left. The chase resulted in nothing spectacular to boast.

People, for the first time, in Madhuban as also in corridors of power elsewhere got to hear the name of one faceless Ram Pravesh Baitha. A Naxalite or a Maoist, he was associated with the Madhuban raids. Son of a poor washerman of Madhuban, Ram Pravesh was an ordinary village boy, who had no dreams his neighours could envy. He did not set his ambitions atop the Himalayas. He had graduated from a local college. The resultant elation propelled him to aspire for a job that would bring happiness or end to the miseries of his indigent family. But this did not go well with the local environment marked by feudal intolerance and dominance. The Madhuban Babus in the colonial era were a force to reckon with. Ram Pravesh Baitha was summoned by some of them, beaten up befittingly as his temerity warranted and paraded round the village for flaunting his college education. Ram Pravesh Baitha might be the first Dalit of his village to achieve the distinction as a graduate, which was celebrated in their humble house with friends. In any case, he did not expect humiliation and physical torture at the hands of his feudal neighbours. He might have expected, on the contrary, a pat on his back for his achievement, howsoever meagre it might have been.

Time, wise men say, is a great healer. Slowly he forgot the shabby treatment from his high-brow villagers. Ram Pravesh later enrolled in the MA class in the Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur and in due course cleared it. Simultaneously he was trying to get a job, adequate enough to eke out a living by his education. He had applied here, there and everywhere he was eligible to apply. He faced interview boards in some. In one instance, a few of his friends secured jobs for which he too had tried his luck. He had some hope along with them to make it but did not receive any appointment letter at the end of the day.

Actually Ram Pravesh had qualified himself and was selected for the offer of job in one case. His appointment letter, however, was not delivered when it reached the Madhuban Post Office. By a quirk of coincidence or manipulation, not uncommon in rural India, one and all employees of the Madhuban Post Office belonged to the caste of his tormentors. They thought it proper not to deliver the letter even though it was issued from a government office. The appointment letter was torn into shreds and thrown into the trash can with the contempt a dhobi, Scheduled Caste in Bihar merited! However, Ram Pravesh, sooner or later, came to know of the fate of his call letter to join the service. That sealed his fate. Cheated, he charted a new, perilous path though by common perception. And he did not look back. A Maoist leader today, Ram Pravesh is said to command the whole of North Bihar.

The Prime Minister has termed the Naxalite activities as the single largest threat to the internal security of India. Many in the corridors of power have sound logic as also justification to call them a menace. The security forces all over the country have directed attention to them for their suppression and elimination even by ruthless means.

The security forces’ suspicion of sympathy for the Naxalites and/or Maoists will fall on Dalits and tribals in the main akin to the aforementioned Ranveer Sena ideologue and founder. But the victims are defenceless victims. West Bengal is already a witness to this apprehension. Let it be admitted, without apprehension of contradiction, the country lacks effective grievance redressal mechanisms, much less avenues for upward mobility for the poor, deprived and discriminated. Their stories of empowerment through knowledge and enlightenment backed up by hype is largely aimed to impress the overseas nations, lest India gets a bad name in international forums. The ground realities are certainly not rosy as the hype claims. In development strategies aimed to uplift the Dalit and the tribal, one can discern the fossilised social gulf and stratification that are being attempted to perpetuate.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar was prophetic in his analysis of the Hindu society as well as mind:

The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public status is his caste. His loyalty is restricted to his caste. Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste-bound. There is no sympathy to the deserving. There is no appreciation of the meritorious. There is no charity to the needy. Suffering as such calls for no response. There is charity but it begins with the caste and ends with the caste. There is sympathy but not for men of other caste......A Brahman will follow a leader only if he is a Brahman, Kayastha if he is a Kayastha and so on. The capacity to appreciate merit in a man apart from his caste does not exist in a Hindu. There is no appreciation of virtue but only when the man is a fellow caste man.4

The blind Indian hypocrisy for merit, in this context, is best explained by highlighting the case of a meritorious Dalit youth. At the turn of the millennium, Manoharlal’s son cleared the B.Tech examination in Computer Sciences from a prestigious college—REC, Kurukshetra—and was rearing to go for the campus interviews. He was keen not only because he could muster a the sixth position in his college but also due to the hype of good positions available in the Information Technology sector. Big companies came to the campus for interviews. He found his name in none of the selections. All his classmates, inferior in grades as well as IQ, were picked up though in the campus.

Manoharlal, an assistant in the Chandigarh Secretariat of Haryana, was at a loss. He started introspection of his efforts to give the best of education to his son. He educated him in the best of Chandigarh’s schools and colleges and his son landed in the prestigious engineering college in the most-sought-after area, Computer Sciences. Manoharlal called for his son and had a look at the format of CV filled by him and supplied to all companies for campus interview. The career chart of his son was fantastic and he stood a good rank in B.Tech too. He knew that government jobs are fast disappearing and private sector is the emerging area for jobs. But why wasn’t he selected? After several consultations with friends and well-wishers, Manoharlal was advised to delete their caste, Scheduled Caste, from his son’s CV. Lo and behold! All the companies who later interviewed Manoharlal’s son picked him up. I have culled it from The Bhopal Document of the Government of Madhya Pradesh, 20025 to drive home the point that the merit of the Scheduled Castes and/or Scheduled Tribes, count nothing. Top honchos of the India Inc., on camera, shout day in and day out that merit alone counted to them, not the caste of a candidate. But the reality is different.

And now 300 million Indians, who exceed the total US population, are exposed to the danger of genocide from the nation’s security forces. The police and paramilitary offensive underway, aided by the Indian Air Force, aimed to neutralise as well as eradicate the internal security menace, may prove very costly in the end. Robust political will favouring identical determination for eradication of discrimination, inequality and deprivation engulfing the Dalit and tribal is awfully lacking. Rather, the forces of darkness are being nursed by defeating all ameliorative projects and schemes to benefit the deprived and discriminated through huge misuse and burgeoning irregularities in fund use laced by intractable corruption that involves the high and the mighty in the corridors of power, making it impossible to cure the cancer.

References

1. The Times of India, Kolkata, October 3, 2009.

2. Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, 20th Report for 1970-71 (in Hindi), p. 152 translated by this writer.

3. Louis, Prakash, People Power: The Naxalite Movement in Central Bihar, Wordsmiths, 2002, Delhi, p. 234.

4. B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, Vol. 1, W & S, pp. 56-57.

5. The Bhopal Document, p. 11.

The author is a former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He can be contacted by e-mail at atul.biswas@gmail.com

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