08 August 2012

Bathani Tola

You came, mercenaries of the state. Sensing mortal danger from Our women and children, You cut them up as hyenas Cut and rip lesser animals That pursue their right To food, water, and land– Your bloody vermillion complimented By your bloodied hand. A lesser judge, unbeholden to you, Held you guilty. A greater one, privy to your privilege, Understood that for the nation’s good Its transacting pimps must not allow A uniform criminal code. Yet, if a Best Bakery, a Bilkis Bano, A Gulbarg Society, a Naroda Patiya Could not be buried into oblivion By a Nero’s puissant dispensation, Bathani Tola will not be buried either. Massacres are never quite done, And Bhojpjur will be no exception. An outraged scream and an accusing hand Burst from the patch of land Where the women and children fell. The story they tell Pierces the peace of the complicit, And in a wrench of justice Stir the lordships on the bench. Come and gather, foot soldiers Of justice, keeping faith in the right, Persuade with reason and inspire With knowledge of the bright Future that beckons the last. The killers that kill from fear— They only have a...

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Guwahati Molestation: Mob, Media, Police, and Government Are All Guilty

On the night of July 9, a young Class IX girl was assaulted by a mob on the streets of Guwahati – and the entire scene was telecast on TV screens. The episode and its aftermath raise extremely disturbing questions about the conduct of the media, the police, the Government, and even the National Commission for Women (NCW). Most disturbing of all is the role of the reporter and the news channel (News Live, owned by the Assam Health Minister’s wife) which first broadcast the videotape of the assault. The initial footage, shot by the News Live reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog on his mobile, shows two young girls outside a bar, getting into an altercation with a bunch of boys, after which one of the girls is surrounded by the mob which begins tearing at her clothes and pawing at her body. A voice, suspected to be that of the reporter, can be heard calling for a news camera to film the scene, and instigating the mob to ‘Catch her, make her naked, let people see her… she is a prostitute and she dares to do this. The camera is here, hold her, hold her.’ When the cameraperson arrives, he begins filming the assault on digital camera. It is alleged that Neog was friends with the ringleader of the mob, and that he orchestrated the whole attack as a...

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OBITUARY : Revisiting History With Captain Lakshmi Sehgal

(Captain Lakshmi Sehgal passed away of a heart attack on 23 July. She was 97. Liberation dips its flag in tribute to this brave fighter and legendary communist leader. Ironically, Captain Lakshmi, who was the Left’s nominee for President in 2002, passed away on the day Pranab Mukherjee was declared President-elect with support from the CPI(M). In her memory, we carry excerpts from interview with Captain Lakshmi when she was 96, by Aditya Chatterjee and Nazeef Mollah for The Colloquium.) On responding to the call given by Bhagat Singh That was the time when the revolutionary movement had just picked up momentum in north India but in south India not too many were aware of it. So when Bhagat Singh gave the call (for the meeting at Kotla) we started collecting funds in Madras and started going around to people and at the end of it we managed to raise about Rs. 3000/-. But Gandhiji’s opposition to Bhagat Singh was quite a big obstacle in our way in those days. On the INA It was the people of India who rose up in revolt and forced the British to release the INA prisoners. In a way the British did us a favour by prosecuting P.K. Sehgal (a Hindu), Dhillon (a Sikh) and Shah Nawaz Khan (a Muslim). The three of them were charged for waging war against the King...

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OBITUARY : Remembering Sunil Janah

Sunil Janah, one of the most important chroniclers of India’s independence movement and Partition passed away on 21st June this year. He was, not only, as he often told us, in his modest way, a photo journalist. He was an artist whose work explored a wide span of history – capturing not only key moments in the lives of leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah but also portraying the mass movements of the period and the lives and day to day struggles of the people. As he put it in an interview ‘my subject was the Indian people, my emphasis had been on the distressing conditions of their lives, their poverty and wretchedness and their repeatedly manifest revolt against it’. Sunil’s death just a month after his wife Sobha Dutt marks the end of an era which saw the creation of a variety of progressive and left-wing cultural organisations like the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and the Progressive Writers Association of which he was one of the original members. In London where Sunil Janah spent 23 years of years of his later life, he and Sobha will be sadly missed, not least by us in South Asia Solidarity Group. They were our dear friends who stood with us through all the struggles of the 1990s – Sunil buoying our spirits with his optimism and his mischievous humour,...

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Update : Atrocities on Dalit Youth Leading Struggle Over Land

On July 15, Tika Ram was among the youths from Ramgarh village in Dadri who attended the Convention on Bathani Tola in Delhi, and spoke of their struggle against the grab of land allocated to dalits by the gram pradhan Kuldeep Bhati. On July 20, Tika Ram was found on the railway tracks, his body mutilated and both legs severed. Doctors at the AIIMS Trauma Centre have had to further amputate his legs to save his life, which is still in danger. Meanwhile, four other youth leaders of the struggle against land grab have been jailed – on fabricated charges of shooting a girl. The murderous assault on Tika Ram, and the arrest of his comrades, is the latest in a series of violent acts – all aimed at punishing those dalits who dared oppose the grab of land by the powerful gram pradhan who is of the dominant Gujjar community. Way back when Mayawati was still in power, Brahm Jatav and some other dalit youths raised their voice against the move by Kuldeep Bhati, gram pradhan, to grab 4.75 bighas of panchayat land allocated to dalits as homestead land. Bhati and his supporters encircled the dalits’ land and homes with a 7-foot-high wall. On March 14, to punish Brahm Jatav and others for daring to protest, Bhati and his thugs attacked the dalit hamlet, seriously injuring around 30...

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Singur Verdict: Land Grab and Betrayal of Peasants’ Rights

In 2008, the division bench of the Calcutta High Court, comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, had held that land acquisition by the West Bengal Government for the Tata Nano project was lawful since it was for ‘public purpose.’ This, in spite of the fact that peasants at Singur had overwhelmingly rejected the project and resisted forced land acquisition. In 2012, Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and MK Chadhury have ruled the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 (returning land to the farmers of Singur) passed by the West Bengal Assembly to be unconstitutional on three counts – that Presidential Assent was not sought for the Act, that Tata was not compensated for losses, and that acquisition of Tata’s property to return it to the original owners could not be termed to be ‘public interest’. It is one thing that Mamata Banerjee has, perhaps intentionally, betrayed the Singur peasants by failing to ensure that the Singur Act was legally sound. For instance, Presidential Assent should have been obtained. But, that apart, the recent verdict highlights the judicial double standards in India. The verdict accepted the argument of the advocates for Tata, who challenged the Singur Act’s aim of returning land to ‘unwilling farmers,’ saying that “If this basis is accepted as valid classification, …a few unwilling (or even willing) owners or a political/third party without...

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LEFT DEBATES : AISA Welcomes SFI-JNU’s Decision to Oppose CPI(M) Stands on Pranab, TPC, Singur-Nandigram

The JNU unit of the Student’s Federation of India (SFI) decided at a general body meeting held on the night of July 5th, to oppose CPI(M)’s support for UPA’s Finance Minister in the upcoming presidential polls. The resolution passed on July 5 by SFI’s JNU unit states that CPI(M)’s position is “unconvincing” and “not in the best interests of the left and democratic movement” (see http://sfijnuweb.wordpress.com/). In a subsequent leaflet, the SFI-JNU also distanced itself from the stances of the CPI(M) on the murder of comrade TP Chandrasekharan, and also land acquisition and repression at Singur-Nandigram. AISA welcomed the stand taken by the SFI-JNU. Earlier, AISA had also welcomed the resignation of the former SFI leader Prasenjit Bose from the CPI(M). AISA pointed out that “Left and democratic student opinion has time and again debated and overwhelmingly rejected SFI’s support of CPI(M)’s indefensible decisions: whether it is the forcible land acquisition and state repression in Singur and Nandigram, CPI(M)’s support for UPA’s anti-people legislations like the SEZ Act, or the CPI(M)’s dilly-dallying on the issue of the Indo-US nuke deal, or CPI(M)’s support for the draconian AFSPA. The SFI’s JNU unit’s refusal to defend CPI(M)’s support for Pranab Mukherjee, which is a welcome departure from its norm, is to be seen in this light.” AISA also observed, “Going by the CPI(M)’s track record of elimination of Comrade TP Chandrasekharan,...

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LEFT DEBATES : CPI(M)’s Second July Crisis: Denial, Deception and Desperation

The 20th Congress will go down in the CPI(M)’s history as the Congress of denial and deception. The Congress refused to recognise, let alone try and resolve, the real debate within the CPI(M) in the wake of its disastrous experience of collaboration with the UPA-I at the Centre and the party’s post-Singur trajectory in West Bengal that led to its ignominious ouster in the 2011 Assembly elections. While skirting the entire issue, the CPI(M) leadership revived the ‘Left and democratic’ phraseology of the 1978 Jalandhar Congress and gave the impression that from now on the party would follow the principled course of struggle-oriented unity with Left and democratic forces abandoning the politics of short-sighted convenience practised in the name of a third front. And those in the party who thought this marked a new tactical direction based on a leftward strategic thrust have now been in for a rude shock. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential election knocked the bottom out of its deceptive ‘Left and democratic’ rhetoric and irrefutably exposed the opportunist kernel of its tactical line. More than the decision, what perhaps shocked the Left ranks most was the kind of arguments dished out by the CPI(M) PB and GS Prakash Karat in support of the decision. The first statement of the PB gave just one argument – that Pranab Mukherjee...

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The Blood and the Land

(Excerpts from a fact- finding report on Amousi carnage in Khagaria district, for which 10 Mushars were sentenced to death and four to life imprisonment. Senior economist Jaya Mehta, activist Vineet Tiwari and Sunita Kumari of Daanish Books visited Amousi to investigate.) In a judgment delivered by sessions court of Khagaria, ten people were sentenced to death and 4 were given life imprisonment. They were held responsible by the court for the massacre which took place in Amousi village of Khagaria district in Bihar. Sixteen people were killed in the night of 1st October 2009 at around 11 pm in Amousi. All of them were from Kurmi community except for 2 who were kushwah. Eight of them were young boys in their teens. A trial took place in sessions court of Khagaria on the 28 persons accused in the case. Twenty six of them belonged to Mushar community and the remaining two were Dhanuks. The judgment was delivered on 14th Feb 2012, in which 14 persons have been acquitted and 14 have been given punishment. An appeal has been filed in Patna high court. Two more persons accused in the case are awaiting trial in Khagaria jail. A Background of Khagaria district Khagaria district was carved out of Munger district in 1981. The entire district is criss-crossed by a number of rivers and a large part of it constitutes...

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Cover Feature : Ranveer Sena Revisited: Feudal-Kulak Power and Lalu-Nitish Continuum

Two recent incidents – first, the shocking acquittal by the Patna High Court of 23 Ranveer Sena men convicted by a lower court for the barbaric Bathani Tola massacre (11 July, 1996) and then the assassination of Brahmeshwar Singh, the man who founded and led the Sena for nearly two decades – have attracted renewed media, academic and of course political attention to the Ranveer Sena that haunted Bihar from the late 1990s until the early years of the 21st century. Singh, who had been a key accused in as many as 22 massacre cases had been out on bail for the last one year and had warned the Bihar government against appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court acquittal. Following Singh’s assassination his supporters went berserk in the state, indulging in indiscriminate acts of vandalism and renewed assaults on dalit hamlets and dalit student hostels. Taking a leaf out of the Modi school of ‘raj dharm’ or ‘governance’, the Bihar government gave a free hand to the rampaging Sena. Meanwhile, cutting across the government-opposition divide, prominent political leaders of Bihar have been busy paying homage to Singh with one senior BJP minister of Bihar going as far as describing Singh as a true Gandhian! The funeral and the shradh ceremony of the slain Ranveer Sena chief were held with what can virtually be called ‘state honours’...

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Cover Feature : Citizens’ Convention for Bathani Tola

The Citizens for Bathani Tola held a Convention at Speaker’s Hall, Constitution Club in the national capital on 15 July, demanding ‘Justice for Bathani Tola 1996 – Punish the Guilty’. The Convention began with a short documentary on the Bathani Tola survivor’s struggle for justice by young filmmakers Kundan and Suman was screened, which transported the viewers to Bathani Tola and brought them face to face with the survivors’ anguish and determination to fight. This was followed by a moving rendering of a Bhojpuri song – ‘Kahe goliya chalavle’ (Why do you shoot us, oppressive soldier?) by Chintu Kumari. The Convention was addressed by Bathani Tola massacre survivors Sri Kishun Choudhury and Naeemuddin Ansari, who also bore witness during the trial. Nayeemuddin Ansari said Bathani Tola was targeted for daring to fight feudal forces and support revolutionary forces. He asked why it was that a CBI enquiry was ordered promptly into Brahmeshwar’s killing – yet the same Brahmeshwar who led the Bathani massacre was never brought to trial. ‘My 3-month-old daughter was flung in the air like a ball and cut with a sword – yet the High Court let the killers go,’ he said. ‘The Court says we couldn’t have hidden and witnessed the killings. But that’s what happened – we men went and hid, thinking it was us the mob wanted to kill. We never dreamt they...

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Cover Feature : Fresh Relevance and Urgency of the Struggle for Justice for Bathani Tola

16 years after the Bathani Tola massacre, the struggle for justice for Bathani Tola, far from being forgotten, has reemerged with fresh relevance and urgency in a new phase. Bathani Tola has once again emerged as a rallying cry against injustice, not only in Bihar, but all over the country. In the dalit movement too, Bathani Tola is, this time around, triggering a questioning about the role and silence of the ‘official’ dalit and social justice parties, and a renewed alertness about the politics involved in feudal massacres. In this feature, you can read reports of the CPI(ML)’s Nyay Rally at Ara on the anniversary of the Bathani massacre, the Convention in Delhi organized by the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola, and an article revisiting the phenomenon of the Ranveer Sena. Rally for Justice in Ara A massive ‘Nyay Rally’ was held at Ramna Maidan, Ara (Bihar) on 11 July 2012, the anniversary of Bathani Tola massacre. This was attended by thousands of people from all over Bihar. The rally was a culmination of month-long Nyay Yatra organised throughout the state to demand justice for Bathani Tola. Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of CPI(ML) said, while addressing the rally that when 21 people were brutally massacred sixteen years ago in Bathani Tola to silence the rising voices of asserting poor and toiling people of Bihar, the determination to...

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What the Maruti Mayhem Means

On 18 July, yet another scene of violence in the auto industry was enacted, which claimed the life of an HR manager. What was responsible for this tragic sequence of events – which keeps being repeated in factory after factory in India? The mainstream media is baying for the blood of the workers, accusing them of being bloodthirsty, ‘instigated by Maoists’, and so on. More than 90 workers have been jailed. The incident is being used as a pretext to prescribe stringent ‘reform’ in labour laws. The very root of the problem is being touted as the solution. What made the workers erupt in fury that day? According to the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), negotiations were underway on the charter of demands submitted by the Union. On 18 July, a supervisor on the shop floor made a casteist remark against a dalit worker of the permanent category. The latter protested – but he was suspended, while no action was taken against the supervisor. It is a tribute to the unity of the workers that all the permanent and contract workers, irrespective of caste, rose up to protest this discrimination. The workers approached the HR to revoke the suspension and act against the supervisor, but the HR officials refused. Negotiations were ongoing, but meanwhile the HR officials, as is common, brought in ‘bouncers’ (thugs) to intimidate the Union members....

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Massacre of Adivasis in Bastar

On June 28 night, 17 people of adivasi villages of Bastar (Chhattisgarh) were killed in firing by CRPF, COBRA, and local police teams. This horrific incident, and the State’s response to it, has served to rip the mask off ‘Operation Green Hunt’, and expose it irrevocably as an open war on the people. Nothing exposes the ‘Green Hunt’ lie more than the changing official versions of the incident. The day after the massacre, the Chhattisgarh Government hailed it as the ‘biggest encounter of Naxals’, claiming that ’17 Naxals’ had been killed. The Home Minister P Chidambaram too held a press conference to claim that the ‘encounter’ was a major ‘success’ in the operation against Maoists. The official version was that the security forces were heading for a different spot, following intelligence reports of a major Maoist meeting, when they were fired upon en route, and retaliated, resulting in the deaths. Some journalists reported the villagers’ version – that the security forces fired unprovoked on a village meeting, and that all those killed were villagers, including many children. This version was also corroborated by the Chhattisgarh’s Congress leaders, and the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, KC Deo. The Chhattisgarh Government declared this to be a lie, and its leaders were seen on TV channels listing the names of the ’17 Naxalites’ who had been killed, and denying the presence of...

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Presidential Poll 2012 and Beyond

As anticipated, Pranab Mukherjee has won the Presidential race hands down. With the UPA eventually staying intact, and support coming in from sections of NDA as well as the Left Front, as from formally unaffiliated parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, Pranab Mukherjee’s emphatic victory was a foregone conclusion. Pranab Mukherjee has not just been a prominent Congress leader, but a crucial architect and custodian of the pro-US neoliberal order that has been shaped over the last two decades. Only the future can tell us the implications of having such a key bourgeois leader as the President of India. The Congress has definitely used this occasion to the hilt to try and shore up its fortunes and corner its rivals. The resounding victory of Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential election marks an eloquent contrast to the pathetic performance of the Congress in all recent Assembly elections and by-elections. This has certainly been possible only because the Presidential election is an indirect election and it does not directly reflect the public mood or the real situation on the ground. To treat the Presidential election outcome as a sign of turnaround for the Congress will therefore be clearly premature and unrealistic. In fact, the Congress wanted a key leader as President precisely in anticipation of a hung Parliament in 2014 where the Congress could well...

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