The struggles against feudal oppression and privilege in Bihar, especially against the brutal massacres perpetrated by upper caste militia such as Ranveer Sena, has necessitated a protracted and multifaceted campaign. It is a campaign which has seen a strikingly brave assertion of marginalized voices against communal and feudal oppression.
In this struggle, every act of social, economic and political assertion, every blow to feudal privilege was met with brutal reprisals. Ever since its formation, the Ranveer Sena – which has enjoyed the political patronage of a whole range of ruling class forces such as the BJP, RSS, Congress, RJD and JD(U) – has tried to terrorize the poor and the marginalised into submissive silence. Very public massacres of dalit and Muslim agricultural labourers were carefully scripted in order to instill the maximum terror, and to dissuade further assertion of marginalised forces. CPI(ML), which is the most consistent and radical voice speaking up for the rights of the rural poor in Bihar, has had to constantly contend with this well-orchestrated, powerful campaign of terror.
In 1996, brutal massacres were orchestrated in Nadhi and Bathani Tola (both in Bhojpur). In Bathani Tola, 22 dalit and Muslim agricultural labourers were killed – most of them women and children. The very next year, in 1997, 10 dalits were killed in Haibaspur (Patna) and 10 in Ekwari (Bhojpur). It was in this year too that 61 dalits were killed in Laxmanpur Bathe (Jehanabad) – which the then President termed as a ‘national shame’. The Nagri, Shankarbigha and Narayanpur massacres followed in the years to come.
Feudal-landlord armies were no aberration in Bihar’s landscape. What differentiated the Ranveer Sena, and rendered the struggle against them so difficult, was the massive political influence and patronage they enjoyed. From communal casteist fascist forces such as the RSS and the BJP, to the so-called ‘social justice’ forces such as RJD and JD(U) – across the political spectrum in Bihar, ruling class forces were united in their overt and covert support for the Ranveer Sena. Laloo Yadav is known to have remarked that in order to curb the growing assertion of CPI(ML), he was willing to join hands with the “forces of hell”! And, one of the first things Nitish Kumar did on coming to power in Bihar was to disband the Amir Das commission which had been set up in the wake of brutal massacres to look into the deep political connections of the Ranveer Sena with existing ruling class formations. Amir Das has publicly talked about the difficulties he faced in making his report, and has moreover said in no uncertain terms that several important leaders from across Bihar’s political parties have been implicated in his report for supporting the Ranveer Sena. This report, quite naturally, never saw the light of the day!
If brutal massacres were scripted in Laloo’s regime, legal massacres happened during Nitish’s purported ‘sushaasan‘! People who had lost their relatives, friends and comrades to the Ranveer Sena’s marauding mobs, braved a terrifying atmosphere of daily intimidation and even threats to their lives to depose against and identify the murderers. These depositions resulted in several convictions at the district courts in Bihar, and several members of the Sena were awarded life imprisonments and death sentences. However, the massive clout of the Ranveer Sena was soon to be seen: in case after case, the Patna High Court chose to disbelieve the brave testimonies of the witnesses of these massacres, and all the convicts were shamefully acquitted. It is as if no one killed in Bathe and Bathani! Right now, these acquittals are being challenged in the Supreme Court – and the struggles and campaigns for justice against caste-class and feudal oppression continue against all odds.
Dateline of a protracted political struggle against feudal-communal forces:
- 11 July 1996: Bathani Tola massacre
- 17 July 1996: Sankalp Sabha was held at Bathani Tola, attended by thousands, and addressed by the then CPI(ML) General Secretary Vinod Mishra, MLA and legendary Bhojpur leader Ram Naresh Ram among others.
- 22 July 1996: Assembly gherao of the Bihar Assembly in Patna, against the Bathani Tola massacres
- July 1996: Hunger strike by Comrade Ramnaresh ram and Comrade Taqi Rahim to ensure transfer of the Bhojpur DM and SPfor his failure in stopping a massacre of this magnitude that went on for hours, with a police station being present at a distance of just two kilometres, and three police camps between 100 metres to 1 kilometres from the massacre site, without a single bullet being fired by the police. Ranveer Sena officially banned, but no arrests made and the saga of massacres continues.
- 31 December 1997: Laxmanpur bathe massacre.
- 1998: A one-man commission, led by Justice Amir Das set up to investigate the political and administrative patronage behind the Ranveer Sena.
- 2002: Ranveer Sena supremo Brahmeshwar Mukhia ‘surrenders’.
- November 2005: Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) government comes to power. Amir Das commission disbanded.
- May 2010: After 14 years of a protracted legal case, during which witnesses deposed, braving life threats and intimidation, the District court in Ara sentences 23 people in the Bathani Tola case. 3 were awarded death sentences, and 20 were awarded life sentences. However, Brahmeshwar Singh was declared as ‘absconder’, even though he was in jail!
- July 2010: Martyrs’ Memorial installed in Bathani Tola by CPI(ML), inaugurated by Comrade Ramnaresh Ram in one of his last public appearances.
- July 2011: Brahmeshwar Mukhia granted bail.
- April 2012: All the convicts in the Bathani Tola massacre acquitted by the Patna High Court.
- April 2012: Protests by CPI(ML) across the country against the Bathani acquittals. Large protests in Ara, Patna and Delhi.
- 23 April 2012: Convention held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF) in New Delhi on ‘Political Complicity and Issues of Justice in Feudal and Communal Massacres‘.
- 15 July 2012: ‘Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola’ organised a convention in the Constitution Club, New Delhi ‘Justice for Bathani Tola 1996: Punish the Guilty’.
- July 2012: Appeal filed in the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court verdict.
- 20 June 2013: Nyay Sammelan, Patna demanding justice against feudal-communal massacres.
- 18 December 2013: Jan Sunwai organised at the Jantar Mantar demanding justice for victims of the Bathe, Bathani, Miyapur and other feudal massacres in Bihar. Panel included: Nandini Sundar, Prof. Nawal Kisore Chaudhary, Prof. Sonajharia Minz, Dr. Y.S. Alone.