At 10 AM on 11 February 2017 as Com Dipankar Bhattacharya garlanded the statue of Com Vinod Mishra at the Beguserai Party office about 150 local people from the poorer sections raised slogans of “Red salute to all martyrs”, and “Three pillars of social justice—education, employment and land reform”. Com Dipankar joined the group and they marched into the narrow street bearing red flags and raising slogans. The Adhikar Yatra had started.
The 7 day Yatra would pass through 13 districts of Bihar and reach the capital Patna on 17 February. After a 1 km long march on the main road and garlanding Dr Ambedkar’s statue the first street meeting was held near Beguserai railway station. Needless to say, this Yatra of hundreds of kilometers could not be completed on foot in 7 days even with continuous day and night walking; therefore, vehicles were also used on four-lane roads, highways etc. A van with a loudspeaker headed the procession disseminating the messages, slogans and announcements of the Adhikar Rally. Songs specially recorded for the Yatra were played intermittently. Adhikar Rally leaflets and appeals from Kusumi Devi, mother of 10th standard student Dika Kumari who was brutally raped and murdered in a Hajipur hostel, were distributed among passers-by.
Why start the Adhikar Yatra from Beguserai? Com Dipankar said in the very first meeting that very recently 5 comrades fighting under the red flag for the rights of the poor were martyred on the soil of Beguserai; this is the reason Beguserai has been chosen as the starting point.
The next stop was Balliya Bazaar in Beguserai. Last year two mahadalits (Mahesh Ram and Rampravesh Ram) were killed by feudal forces in the Balliya thana area. The Yatra resounded with slogans as it passed through the thickly populated Bazaar and then marched on foot for a long distance on the highway.
By mid-afternoon the Yatra entered Khagariya district, passed through the crowded bazaar and reached the Khagariya railway station complex, where a high platform was used as a dais and speakers addressed the local citizens. Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari, AIARLA General Secretary Dhirendra Jha, AIARLA National President Rameshwar Prasad, PB member Prabhat Choudhury, AISA State Secretary Shiv Prakash, Insaf Manch Suraj Kumar Singh and others participated in the Yatra. Jan Sanskriti Manch members Krishna Kumar Nirmohi and Santosh Jha interspersed the meeting with people’s songs.
It was evening by the time the Khagariya meeting ended, after which a Press Conference was held and the Yatra proceeded to Bhagalpur. All the Yatris rested for the night at an old Darmashala in Bhagalpur city.
The second day started with the garlanding of Dr Ambedkar’s statue in Bhagalpur city followed by a long march on foot to Veer Shaheed Tilka Manjhi Chowk where Tilka Manjhi’s statue was garlanded and a meeting was held. The heat was blazing as the Yatra moved on. The next stop was Rangra in Bhagalpur. The meeting at Rangra was held in a place resembling an ‘open air theatre’ where the audience was seated on seats of graded height and the speakers in the well. Here I spotted a uniformed policeman reading the Adhikar Rally pamphlet with great concentration.
The Yatra proceeded, entered Katihar district and reached Kursela at about 2.30 in the afternoon. The Kursela meeting turned out to be the biggest and best organized so far. The comrades had put up a dais for the meeting. As the Yatra reached, the meeting was already on and people were waiting for the arrival of the Yatra. The popular and well-beloved leader Mahboob Alam was looking after the arrangements himself here. The Muslim population had turned out in large numbers to hear the speakers of the Yatra. After Kursela the next stop was Manihari about 20 km away. The meeting at Manihari started around sunset and continued till late at night in the light of petromax lamps. The night was quite cold. Passing through these areas of Katihar one was reminded of Maila Aanchal —the numerous bamboo huts, the faces, the dialect, the poverty…Writer Renu had made this area (Purnea, Katihar) the background for Maila Aanchal which is probably the most famous Hindi novel after Premchand’s Godaan. Even today Katihar is part of Purnea Division. The Adhikar Yatra was on its way to Purnea city.
On the third day the Yatra would pass through areas of adivasis and poor and would witness their anger at the Jan Sabhas (people’s meetings). It started with a march to the Ajit Sarkar statue in Purnea city with women at the head of the march. One woman comrade held an old but strong unsheathed sword in her hand. The women marched shoulder to shoulder with their comrades, as though to guard them! (How artificial the police security team which intermittently joined the Yatra looked in comparison!). Today the heat was quite scorching. The garlanding of Com Ajit sarkar’s statue was followed by an enthusiastic and energetic meeting. The Yatra then proceeded to Arariya district. At 12.30 it reached a crowded market in Arariya town where dozens of adivasis carrying traditional bows and arrows welcomed the Yatris. A vibrant meeting was held in which hundreds of locals participated. An attar (local perfume) seller Mohd Ikram told us, “The Modi government has spoilt everything. Now I can no longer take care of my family and home by selling attar. Is it fated that our children should become thieves and bandits?” In this market with a mostly Muslim population an elderly adivasi had spread out some newspapers on which he displayed fruits, roots and jadi bootis (herbal medicines) for sale. Clearly these were forest produce and the old man’s capital. In the meeting going on next to him, the speakers were talking of the rights of the poor to water, forests and land. Verily, the Adhikar Yatra was coming face to face with its objectives!
The next stop was village Bhajanpur in Forbesganj in the same district. This was the same Bhajanpur village where on 3 June 2011 four people were killed and over a dozen injured in police firing. In spite of the administration’s fear-arousing tactics like heavy police presence, villagers reached the place in large numbers to hear the speakers. They included young women, women carrying toddlers, young men and elders. By the time the meeting ended, the heat had increased but the Yatra must move on as it had to reach Rahariya today itself.
Rahariya is the village in Arariya where the New Year began with the naked dance of power and brutality by feudal forces. In Nitish-Lalu’s government of social justice, amidst police presence, feudal forces beat to death Com Satyanarayan Prasad and Com Kamleshwari Rishidev who were fighting for land rights of the poor! Before 5 in the evening the Yatra entered Rahariya village. The administration tried to create an atmosphere of fear with the presence of the notorious Bhargama thana in-charge van and other police vehicles. But the hundreds of women, villagers, young men, elders, poor and adivasis armed with bows and arrows were determined to hear the speakers of the Yatra. The injured victims of the police beating which had killed their comrades were also present. This was an open challenge to fear! The meeting was addressed, among others, by Com Kamleshwari Rishidev’s wife Rekha. The surrounding green fields and the red setting sun in the sky were witness to her words. The meeting concluded with the pledge to eradicate feudalism from Arariya. The Yatra proceeded and it was dark when it reached Pothiya. Com Dipankar and other senior leaders went to martyr Com Satyanarayan’s home and met his family members. The Adhikar Yatra rested for the night at Triveniganj in Supoul district.
After a meeting in Triveniganj Park at 9 AM the Yatra moved forward and reached Madhepura in the afternoon. The Yatra spoke to the local youth and journalists as it passed through the town. It was now on its way to Saharsa where it was welcomed by dozens of young comrades on motorcycles. A spirited march on foot was taken out in Saharsa town in the blazing afternoon heat. After passing through the market place the Yatra took to vehicles once again. At 5 PM they reached Purikh village, the home of martyred comrades Chano Ram and Vakil Ram. The meeting here was reminiscent of the Rahariya meeting. At both places the meeting was attended in large numbers, and this included women in large numbers. The partners of the martyrs were present at both meetings. Resounding slogans filled with anger, grief and resolution rent the air here also. The Yatra then left for Supoul town.
The Yatra arrived in Supoul at 7 PM. A meeting was held in the bazaar as planned. As soon as the main speaker Com Dipankar started speaking, many passers-by stopped to listen and joined the audience already present. At 8 PM the Yatra started for Darbhanga. After a non-stop travel of 125 m the Yatra made a stop at Muriya village for a brief meeting before entering Darbhanga. The mostly minority community population of Muriya were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Yatra.
On the fifth day the Adhikar Yatra visited the ongoing agitation against the disastrous Bagmati project at Benibad, Muzaffarpur. The hunger fast of the protesters was withdrawn on that day – the 9th day of the indefinite fast – following an administrative assurance to stop construction work on the project. The Adhikar Yatra then held meetings at Tikapatti, Dekuli and Supaul Bazaar in Darbhanga where people are fighting to defend their land and shelter rights.
On the 6th day the Adhikar Yatra reached Dika Kumari’s village Fetehpur Kasturi in Muzaffarpur, where a large gathering of villagers including Dika’s mother Kusmi Devi welcomed the Yatra, and Aftab Alam of Insaf Manch as well as CPI(ML) leaders addressed a public meeting.
The Yatra arrived in the Bihar capital Patna on 17 February where a massive public meeting was held at Kankarbag Tempo Stand, after which the Yatra ended with garlanding of statues of Dr Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh.