Is Bihar Waiting For Another Round Of Caste Violence?
The survivors of Bathani Tola massacre in district Bhojpur of Bihar narrated their plight, horror and determination at a Convention organized by CPI (ML) at the constitution club today. The party must be complimented for its unquestioned struggle against Ranvir Sena, the private army of the upper caste land owning community of Bhumihars, who dominate the political climate of Bihar at the moment.
The ghastly carnage took place on July 11th, 1996 when the goondas of Ranvir Sena led by its chieftain Brahmeshwar Singh entered the village of Bathani Tola from the village of Badki Kharanv village (which is about two-kilometer away), a village about 40 kilometer away from the district headquarter of Bhojpur. It was at 2 pm during the noon as the crowd of 50-60 goons of Brahmeswhar Singh shouted slogans of 'Brahmeswhar Singh Zindabad'.
It was known to villagers that Ranvir Sena was getting active in the region and had openly threatened to kill people of the low castes and Muslims, if they raised voice against feudal oppression – particularly, minimum wages or land reform. The local villagers from Badki Kharanv had already informed the poor people to be careful as there could be violence against them. A majority of the families in the area were living in thatched huts; hence, on hearing that there could be violence against them by Ranvir Sena, they had taken shelter in the house of a local person from Mallah community.
The goondas of Ranvir Sena came to village at around 2 pm with every weapon, kerosene, and diesel and put the house on fire. All the children and women came out in open to save themselves. The butchers opened fire on innocent women and children in which 21 people were killed. It was unprecedented that a police check post in the nearby area could not stop it. People ran away to save themselves. Whoever was there was fired upon.
Riazuddin was just 12 years old hiding with his mother, brother, sisters, sister-in-law and others. His younger sister was just three-month-old that time. They tossed her in the air and chopped her off. Riazuddin ran away fearing death. He could run as fast as possible and hid himself outside the village. His younger brother Saddam Hussein too was brutally stabbed. He struggled for life but ultimately died in the hospital about one-and-a-half month later. One can imagine the mental agony of a boy who lost six of his family members in such brutal display of feudal power by the gangs of Ranvir Sena.
Riazuddin was 12 years old when he saw his family been brutally massacred
Today, Riaz has four children. He is still looking for the support from the government which was promised. That time, he was just 12 and was told that once he gets the minimum age he would get a job; but today, he is workless. There are fears in his mind of the revival of the Sena and same hatred particularly after the perpetrators have been exonerated from the court. It clearly means you can do anything and get away with it. He has written to numerous leaders and commissions but nothing has happened so far.
Riazuddin’s father Naimuddin is leading from the front. He believes that the communities will win the battle in the highest court of the land. Now people are getting organized and are determined to fight it democratically, “We do not believe in violence and hope that the Supreme Court will give us justice”.
Naimuddeen is now fighting the battle politically and says that it is a battle between the rich and poor. He refuses to divulge his caste identity and just wants to be looked upon as a person working for the poor. He is ideologically very clear now that the battle is between the landless peasantry and feudal mind. He is optimist that the poor will ultimately win the battle. He also feels that except for the CPI (ML), no other party has worked for the poor. It is the struggle of dignity that the party is engaged in and it has successfully mobilized the poor peasantry and Dalits; Bihar will definitely witness a positive political change when each of these oppressed become participants in power.
Naimuddin lost his two sons, wife, daughter in law, sisters and daughter. A courageous man fighting for justice for his family.
Srikrishna Chowdhury is another victim who saw his two little children aged 5 years and 7 years being killed brutally along with his wife. “I lost everything. The government gave me a job to compensate but we cannot keep quiet just because a job was given to me”. Srikrishna belongs to Mallah community and wants justice at the moment. He still fears that if these people do not get punishment, they might behave lawlessly once again. The incident of that horrific day in July was not very different from “slaughter,” says Srikrishna. The administration and government have not worked for us, which could have otherwise brought confidence in the community, while the murders are roaming free with great political linkages.
It was therefore shocking to see that Patna High Court verdict in the case which admits that there was carnage but refused to accept the incident as it felt that they have not been recorded truthfully. Radhika Devi, who was about 14 years of age, was hiding beneath the bed and was later found with bullet in the chest. She is a witness to this case, but very disturbingly the High court refused to believe her, labeling her a totally unreliable witness.
Survivors of Bathani Tola
The Patna High Court has not accepted the police version which means that administration has not done its work carefully to bring the culprits to book. It is clear that the Court did not take into consideration the enormity of the situation and what could the honorable release of the culprit mean to the victims. This case was a clear misinterpretation of law where the judges gave the benefit of the doubt to perpetrators of this ghastly crime.
It is not just the courts who are responsible for lack of sensitivity in this matter. As caste matters the most and Bhoomihars constitute a fairly large chunk of voters in Bihar, its political leaders dominate all the political parties. The main culprit of the Ranvir Sena, Brahmeshwar Singh, was murdered in his home town by an unidentified assailant on 1 June 2012 when he was taking a morning walk in his village in district Ara. Brhamewshar Singh was 70-years-old and formed Ranvir Sena in 1994 to counter the ‘menace’ of Naxalism in Bihar, which was mainly targeting feudal landowning communities responsible for the exploitation of Dalits and other marginalized communities.
Prior to Judgment on the Bathani Tola case, the same Patna High Court had rejected all the criminal charges against Brahmeshwar Singh and released him unconditionally – much to the discomfort of human rights organizations in the state who wanted strong conviction against Ranvir Sena and its chief for spreading hatred and indulging in mass killing.
After the killing of Brahmeshwar Singh alias Mukhiyaji, there were wide-spread cases of violence in Ara, Patna and other places. Dalits and backward communities became victim of the violence spread by the gangs of Ranvir Sena, who were openly displaying their fire arms and muscle power. Brahmeshwar Singh was cremated in Patna with complete administrative support.
The Chief Minister was silently observing the violence against the marginalized sections of society while his Ministers openly participated in the processions which turned violent. Upper caste political leaders of all the political parties joined hand in the procession. Even those claiming to be the parties of social justice condemned the killing of Mukhiyaji and he was hailed as a great reformist. The limits of flattering did not end with the pivotal role of Mukhiyaji but hailing him as modern day Gandhi who worked for the farmers. There is no doubt that Bhoomihars are farmers but if farmers are feudal lords and exploit the cheap labours of Dalits then that needs to be questioned.
The supreme irony in the sad end of Mukhiyaji is that he was not killed by the underprivileged, Maoists or militias. It is alleged that an upper-caste Brahmin MLA was responsible for the murder as Brahmeshwar (after the honorable release) was to contest election and influence politics, and many of his caste-men and other fellows would not take things that easily. Naimuddeen felt that it was a matter of money and control over organization. But the bankruptcy of the political class came in open when leaders claiming to support social justice movements and condemn casteism openly hailed Brahmeshwar as a reformist.
Brahmeshwar got the natural justice. He became victim of what he planted but the victims of his massacre of Bathani Tola need answer from our courts as well as the political class. When are they going to get justice as without justice there cannot be any peace? Brahmeshwar Singh is no more but that does not mean the upper-caste contempt for Dalits and backward communities has disappeared.
At the moment, they are using the internal contradiction of democracy and society for their benefits, but there is another growing reality of the marginalized joining hands with them to work against oppression. Good that some political parties are doing this work with great convictions and their efforts must be lauded. The government of Bihar must make a foolproof case so that the victims of Bathani Tola get justice. It has done nothing so far as it is using the caste card to promote its own vote bank among these castes.
If people do not get justice, the poor will not be holding the holy book of Constitution in great stead; they shall retaliate and the whole responsibility of such an action would be purely of the government and political parties. With Brahmeshwar gone and most of the perpetrators of the ghastly carnage roaming free in streets, the passions are running high as the victims have no other option than to organize themselves. Will the notorious army of Brahmeshwar keep quiet till the Supreme Court provides the final justice? Can the victims be kept quiet with judgment like what Patna High Court has given? How do people keep faith in judicial system and political establishment? It is the moment for serious thought on such issues otherwise the cycle of violence once started will be difficult to be contained in Bihar.
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