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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 45, November 1, 2014

Lingering Shadow of Feudal Oppression

Sunday 2 November 2014

by Arun Srivastava

The threat of feudal violence has started resonating in rural Bihar. The manner in which the feudal forces had started taking refuge in the BJP in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections had given rise to the apprehension that the future was not bright for the rural poor, particularly the Dalits and Mahadalits, as was being tried to make out.

The major feudal action took place just a month ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. On March 23, villagers of Repura in the Ara Lok Sabha constituency found the body of Budhram Paswan, Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist’s Charpokhri Block Committee. He was one of the key activists who helped ensure that witnesses in some of the major massacre cases withstood intimidation, and testified in court. His efforts resulted in the conviction of the accused in the sessions court in 2010. Unfortunately it was overturned by the High Court in 2011. Paswan had helped the survivors to appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court. Naturally for the Ranabir Sena mercenaries, murder of Paswan was a big victory. Sena goons celebrated Paswan’s murder.

The victory of the BJP and installation of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister have witnessed the new trend of consolidation of the feudal forces and intensification of oppression in the rural areas. It has surfaced in the ugliest form in the villages of Bihar where the Maoists claim to spearhead a civil war. Six musahar women rag-pickers were raped by Ranbir Sena goons on October 8 night at village Kurmuri in the Bhojpur district of Bihar. The incident happened when these women had gone to sell scrap to Kurmuri village. The incident took place when nine rag-pickers from nearby Dumaria village reached a scrap yard called the Maa Saraswati Enterprises to sell the scrap they had collected. The scrapshop owner Neelnidhi, his brother Jayprakash Singh and their associate Guddu allegedly kept the payment on hold on the excuse that it would take time to arrange the change. The total value of the scrap sold by the nine was Rs 1000. As it was already past 6 pm and the women had to walk 8 km back to their village, they kept insisting on prompt payment. Neelnidhi Singh allegedly flashed a gun at the women to terrorise them into staying back at the shop. Guddu Pandit is said to have brought pouches of country liquor and the three reportedly forced the women and girls to drink the alcohol. Two minor boys are reported to have been tied with ropes. Six women and girls, including two minors, were then allegedly raped. The victims, who came to their full senses by midnight, jumped into a drain to reach an approach road and escape to the Dumaria village. One of the victims later reported the matter to Sikarhatta Police on Thursday. The victims have also alleged that the perpetrators forced them to drink liquor before being raped.

The police have lodged a case against three persons—Nilnidhi Singh, his brother Jai Prakash Singh and an employee, Jaggu. Nilnidhi Singh is the former area commander of the banned upper-caste private army, Ranbir Sena. Neelnidhi is already facing 18 criminal cases and was on bail. Kurmuri, a village of 4000 people dominated by upper-caste Bhumihars, is just one of many villages in Bhojpur which has been witnessing recurring caste tension since the killing of the former Ranbir Sena chief, Brahmeshwar Mukhiya, in June 2012. The Sena activities have picked up in the area after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. Taking a serious view of the alleged rape of Dalit women, the Chief Minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, directed the Bhojpur District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police (SP) to take stern action against the accused men.

In another incident a week back, over 300 Dalit villagers ran away from village Pura in Gaya district after a threat from some upper-caste strongmen. They took shelter in a government building at the block headquarters for three days, before being persuaded to return after assurance of safety by the district adminis-tration. The incident took place while the Chief Minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, himself a Mahadsalit, was addressing the scholars and laureates of the London School of Economics of Britain about the ‘Bihar Model of Development’. Hundreds of Mahadalits of the Pura village in the CM’s own home district, Gaya, were forced to flee after the murder of Mahadalit Arjun Majhi to intimidate his brother Vakil Majhi and prevent the latter from filing nominations in the elections for the post of the President to the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Society [PACS]. The Mahadalits of Pura village had to flee fearing a massacre by upper-caste goons.

The police are yet to arrest most of the accused named in Arjun Majhi’s murder, and have also made no move to arrest those who are openly threatening to massacre the Mahadalits. Just imagine the audacity and courage of the upper-caste goons. Even while Bihar is administered by Mahadalit Chief Minister, the upper-caste mercenaries are least bothered about the law of the land. The emergence and consolidation of the upper-caste strike power could be understood from the simple fact that a Dalit man’s kin can be killed to punish him for wanting to file nominations for an election, and the Dalits in the CM’s own home district continue to face the very real fear of a massacre.

An insight into the Pura incident underlined that the Bihar governments, police administrations, from the Laloo era to the present JD(U) rule, have colluded with the perpetrators of organised violence against the Dalits and oppressed castes. The State machinery nurses a regimented view towards the Mahadalits. Though Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) supremo, has been harping on empowering the Mahadalits, the ground reality does not conform to his claims. They are simply viewed as a major votebank for the JD(U). While Nitish scrapped the Amir Das Commission inquiring into the activities of the Sena, just ahead of its submitting the final report, the JD(U) Government soft-pedalled the trials in the Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe massacres in the High Court with the sole intention of protecting the Ranbir Sena perpetrators. The Nitish Government further exposed its true character when it allowed the Sena supporters to run amok and unleash violence on Dalits and public property after the killing of the Ranbir Sena chief, Brahmeshwar Singh.

A Mahadalit boy, Sai Ram, 15, was burnt alive by Arvind Singh alias Kunkun Singh and his three associates in the evening of October 15 at village Mohanpur in Rohtas district of Bihar. The fault of the boy was that his goat had entered into the agricultural field of Kunkun Singh, an upper-caste landlord. Superintendent of Police Chandan Kushwaha said four persons forcibly entered into the house of Jit Ram and set his son, Sai Ram, on fire. Earlier they had thrashed the boy mercilessly. But the boy somehow managed to escape. They were enraged at this and chased him to his house. Sai Ram died of his burns. Police have lodged a case against Singh and his associates on the basis of the boy’s father Jit Ram’s statement. Angry over the incident, hundreds of people blocked the roads in protest, demanding immediate arrest of the attacker.

As if these incidents were not enough proof of communalisation of the Bihari society, a chilling revelation was made by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Jitan Ram Manjhi. Recently he expressed his shock that a temple he had visited in Madhubani in August had to be washed and cleaned after his visit, presumably with the avowed intention to ‘purify’ it. The Mahadalit CM had polluted the temple!! Ironically after his exposure, Manjhi became the target of criticism. Political leaders, cutting across political colour, denied the incident. It was even argued that this kind of incidents could not take place in Bihar. Some accused Manjhi of seeking to hog the limelight by hurling such accusations. Surpri-singly, even the Cabinet colleagues of Manjhi openly expressed their disbelief at what he said and claimed that the CM was misinformed. Perhaps this is why no case has yet been filed against the temple authorities.

The primary question is: why should a Chief Minister, precisely a person like Manjhi, come out with an expose which is irrelevant and also may inflict potential damage to his political stature and standing? If he intended to make political capital out of this statement, he could have done it on the day he was meted out this treatment. The revelation came out only during some casual conversation. On his part, Manjhi did not insist on lodging any complaint against the persons who had indulged in cleaning the temple. The district administration on its own has initiated some probe. This is a small incident but with magnum size audacity. If a Mahadalit could be meted out this kind of malicious treatment by the upper-caste people, it is beyond comprehension how they would have been treating the poor Dalits and Harijans. What has been most surprising is the silence of Nitish Kumar in the matter.

 Whether the Chief Minister himself was in fact a victim of such an atrocity in this particular case or not, the denial of entry into temples and other humiliating treatment, atrocities and organised violence against Dalits continue to be an ugly reality in Bihar. And this raises the unavoidable question: isn’t the persistence of such atrocities against the most oppressed castes, a telling comment on the character of the 25 years of Social Justice rule?

There is no denying the fact Modi becoming the Prime Minister has boosted the morale of the upper-caste people in Bihar. Since the nineties these people were lying low but now they want to assert their power and hegemony. They are not willing to tolerate insults any more. In fact the macabre scenario that was witnessed on the streets of Patna on the day of cremation of Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh heralded the re-emergence of the feudal forces. The chief of the Ranbir Sena, in interviews given close to his death, openly admitted to having been a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre since childhood, and wanted to see Modi as the Prime Minister. Much of the literature of the Ranbir Sena is akin to the RSS documents, like demands for abolition of Article 370, ban on cow slaughter and shrill anti-communism. Significantly, the upper-caste Bhumihar leaders of the BJP did not feel the least hesitant in openly identifying with Brahmeshwar Singh. BJP leader Giriraj Singh described Brahmeshwar Singh as Bihar’s Gandhi. Brahmeshwar Singh’s funeral and shraddh ceremony witnessed the presence of several members of Niish Kumar’s Cabinet.

These incidents speak volumes about how the feudal fascist forces have been once again trying to raise their ugly fangs. It would be naïve to believe that these forces were weeded out of Bihar. They were simply buying time. The NDA’s clear majority in Parliament under Modi, absence of a strong parliamentary opposition, and, most importantly, emergence of the RSS as the most potent communal Hindutva force simply helped the feudal mercenaries to resurrect themselves. It did not take long for the BJP and RSS to reveal their fascist, pro-imperialist and expansionist face while using the people’s mandate to justify its anti-people actions. Workers, peasants, Muslims, Dalits and other exploited masses are already finding themselves amidst growing persecution.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com