Some critics of the movement like to interpret it merely in terms of violence and killings. Even some sympathisers, too, see only the fighting spirit of the masses, the heroism and all that, and are quite unaware of the great strides made by this unprecedented movement in transforming the rural society. Let us, therefore, have a look at the major achievements.
1. Organising the Peasants in the Kisan Sabha
The Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha (BPKS) came into existence on 23 February 1981. Its formation was declared in Patna in a mammoth rally of 15,000 peasants coming from different districts of Bihar, where it resolved to carry on struggles on the basis of its 24-point charter of demands. Its core of leadership was composed of (a) peasant leaders and cadres already active in the ongoing peasant movement, (b) some freedom fighter-turned-communists, (c) a section of the forces that had spearheaded the 1974 Bihar movement, (d) dissidents from organisations and parties like the Marxist Coordination Committee, the CPI, the CPI(M), the Lok Dal, the Socialists and the Janata Party, and (e) certain leaders and cadres from various harijan organisations and the Shoshit Samaj Dal (an organisation of backward castes, mainly Koiris). These leaders hail from all classes of peasant families, and include rural intellectuals and youths from all castes.
In its initial years, the BPKS had to face great obstacles from within, too. Some opportunist elements managed to make their way into the organisation, even occupying some leading posts. They advocated the concept of ‘independent and self-sufficient village community’, preached the Utopian idea of avoiding the use of modern machinery and chemical fertilisers in agriculture and laid the greatest emphasis on the rural-urban contradiction. Instead of advancing the struggle of the peasantry towards revolutionary land reforms and towards building a modern, new-democratic society on the basis of worker-peasant alliance, this simply amounted to dragging the peasants along the path of retrogression. In the name of peasant unity, they refused to recognise class differentiation within the peasantry and rejected all wage struggles. They were opposed to resistance struggles — even going so far as to put the Lal Sena at par with the Bhoomi Sena — and to peasants becoming partners in a democratic political front. They even undermined the significance of anti-feudal mass economic struggles, and instead emphasised ‘constructive work’. Even local-level struggles were ruled out on the plea that it would hamper the development of the organisation.
Fighting against these wrong tendencies throughout the organisation, the Kisan Sabha gained further political maturity, and was able to retain its leadership over the peasant movement. On March 10, 11 and 12, 1984, it held its first State Conference in Patna in which 130 delegates from 16 districts of Bihar participated and the BPKS adopted a comprehensive programme (see Appendix). After the Conference, reorganisation followed at various levels.
Below the State Council and executive body, the BPKS has district councils and district committees, area committees, panchayat or local committees, and lastly village committees. The lower-level bodies enjoy a fair amount of autonomy in taking diverse initiatives in keeping with their conditions. In areas where the contradiction with the enemy is quite sharp, the leaders and ranks all have to learn the art of quickly switching their mode of functioning from legal to illegal and from open to secret or semi-secret, and of changing the form of mass movement in conformity with its natural development. There should be no place for rigidity, for whenever rigidity creeps in, these peasant bodies either lose initiative or just get liquidated.
By now, the influence of the Kisan Sabha and its sister peasant organisations has spread over 26 districts of Bihar out of 38, with varying degrees of organisation and work. It has its district committees in 13 districts. And in terms of men, it exercises its influence over nearly 25 lakhs of rural population, the majority being agrarian labourers, and poor and lower-middle peasants. Presently, it is trying to bring a larger number of middle peasants and also upper-caste people under its fold, and is attaining some successes, too.
2. Dealing Heavy Blows to the Feudal Hegemony
The peasants have dealt heavy blows to the feudal hegemony in rural Bihar. In fact, in the areas of struggle certain forms of feudal oppression have already become a matter of the past. The rural poor have asserted as a parallel force in these areas and are throwing up strong challenges to the feudal hegemony through various measures of propaganda, agitation and resistance.
The most common forms of propaganda and agitation are mass meetings and processions, through which various crimes committed by the landlords are exposed and condemned, and warnings issued to the culprits. Then there are methods like deputations, dharnas, demonstrations, gheraos etc. which are aimed at putting pressure on the administration to take, action against the landlords’ atrocities.
Peasant resistance is also fast becoming a common feature in the areas of struggle. Peasants in hundreds and thousands come out, with or without arms, to fight back any offensive launched by the landed gentry and their musclemen. Where the organisation is strong, and certain armed strength is there, peasants go in for direct action. For instance, they take over village community properties and establish a new management with proper representation from different sections, keeping out the corrupt gentry and officials; they intervene in the distribution of rations and force the officials to carry out reforms under the supervision of the peasant committee. Finally, they themselves deal with different cases of landlords’ offences against the people and award wide-ranging punishments depending upon the gravity of the crime. To get a proper idea about the working of this process, let us consider the following popular forms of punishment.
Gherao : Peasants gherao the house of the erring landlord, call him out and make him promise that neither will he himself commit any further offence nor will he ever side with the offenders.
Mass raid : Peasants en masse raid the house of the landlord, seize grains and distribute the same among themselves. Guns are also seized. In many cases, armed groups of people would appear all on a sudden and ask landlords to surrender their guns. In such cases they do not intend to kill anybody. Some landlords readily comply with these orders, while others make protests. In latter cases, the peasants/armed groups concerned conduct a thorough search and seize the things asked for. They do not touch anything else and do not misbehave with anybody either.
Levy : Peasants (numbering 50 to 1,000) approach landlords and ask them to pay levy. In case of drought or famine, the levy so obtained is distributed among the peasants. Otherwise, a portion of it is preserved for meeting future requirements (helping peasants in case of acute illness/death/marriage etc. in their families), another portion is spent on purchasing arms for self-defence, while yet another portion is earmarked for organisational expenditures. Levy can also be looked upon as a kind of penalty somewhat less harsh than fines.
Let us cite some examples. During the 1981 drought, 200 peasants assembled before the granary of ex-Chief Minister of Bihar, Sardar Harihar Singb, at Bagengola (Bhojpur district) and collected 400 maunds of grains as levy. But another landlord, Baijnath Pandey fired upon the peasants when approached for levy. The peasants retaliated with stones and bricks. He managed to flee away, but his son died in the melee. The peasants then seized his gun and confiscated 100 maunds of grains.
Fines : In some cases, peasants impose fines on the landlords for committing such offences as setting fire to peasants’ houses and looting their property, defying the orders of the peasant committee, misbehaving with women, physically torturing some peasant, collaborating with the police to suppress the organisation and so on. According to the gravity of the offence, the amount of the fine is fixed anywhere between Rs. 100 to Rs. 10,000. Some landlords bow down and pray for mercy. In the case of others, peasants realise the same by seizing a part of their crops or by taking some other measures.
Banishment : It is a kind of self-imposed punishment for those landlords who flee to nearby district headquarters to save themselves from the wrath of the peasants, without being issued any decree to that effect by the peasant organisation.
Execution : It is the extreme and ultimate form of punishment awarded by the peasants to only those landlords who refuse to mend their ways, carry on unabated their criminal offences against the people, and try to unleash a veritable reign of terror in the entire region. Such killings serve as a warning to all such potential tyrants, put a check on all landlord-sponsored atrocities, rouse the peasants in general and generate confidence among the backward and vacillating elements in particular. However, this ultimate form of punishment is awarded rather sparingly, subject to the consideration of the development of people’s movement, and is generally carried out by armed squads.
Let us take the example of Mahendra Singh of village Amat (under Hilsa P. S. in Nalanda district). A landlord owning more than 100 bighas of land, he was a veritable terror in the entire region, beating labourers at will, forcing them to work and ransacking their houses. At times he even used to run his horse over these poor labourers, injuring and killing them. A ‘veteran hero’ of many an attack on the rural poor’s hamlets, he was ultimately punished by death.
3. Economic Offensive against the Landed Gentry
Mass economic struggles of the peasants have mainly centred on questions like seizure of crops and land, control over irrigation and fishing facilities, and wages. There are also stray cases of movements for sharecropping rights and against usury and mortgage. Besides these, peasants have also raised demands for remunerative prices for their crops as well as for giving priority to middle and small holding peasants in matters of various agricultural facilities, though movements on such demands have not yet gained much of a momentum.
Mass economic struggles have been found to erupt generally at area level, whereupon the Kisan Sabha, acting from above, raises them to district/State level.
Land movement : Till date, such movements have been generally concentrated on the question of vested land, government land, ahars, tanks etc., all normally under the occupation of landlords and rich peasants.
To begin with, peasants petition concerned officials and stage demonstrations before their offices. But more often than not, such steps simply go unheeded, and then peasants, in their hundreds and thousands, gather on the concerned Plot of land and proclaim their possession by posting a red flag on it. Things, however, do not stop here, for, peasants have to face repeated attacks by landlords and their goons, and of course, intervention by the ‘custodians’ of the law. Such attacks are naturally met with active resistance by the peasants. Meanwhile, the land continues to change hands : often, if one side cultivates the land, crops are harvested by the other and vice versa. And this goes on till the land is finally brought under the peasants’ control. But even this does not mark the end, as government officials make a last ditch attempt to take away the gains — to divide the people they issue parchas (ownership documents) for such captured plots in the name of persons other than those who have already come to occupy them. Peasants resist such conspiracies and demand that parchas be issued in accordance with the list prepared by their committee. And thus the struggle never really ceases — acquired through struggle, the land has also to be constantly defended through struggle.
For distributing such captured plots of land, land distribution committees are formed and land is distributed according to certain pre-determined policies (see Appendix). In the absence of such land distribution committees, government officials often succeed in dividing the people over the issue of land distribution.
When ahars and tanks under the occupation of landlords are captured, they are made open to all concerned for their daily use and also for irrigation purposes. So far as fishing is concerned, peasants are allowed to fish for purposes of consumption only. In the event of fishing on a large scale, every family gets a share irrespective of its participation in the process of fishing. A part of the income derived from such fishing is reserved as struggle-fund, and the rest is deposited as levy to higher organisations.
There are also certain other types of cases involving land. For example, some landlords and rich peasants often forcibly occupy certain plots of land, originally belonging to others, under some pretext or another (mortgage etc.)—peasants are forced to cultivate their own land as sharecroppers. Through land movement, many such plots have been successfully restored to their original owners.
Crop-seizure movement : Movement for seizure of crops and confiscation of grains is waged against tyrant landlords and, in some cases, also against certain reactionary rich peasants (see Appendix). Such movements are definite expressions of the economic offensive against the status quo in the countryside, and apart from providing sustenance to the starving rural poor they also help in accumulating a reserve fund for future struggles.
Wage movement : In wage movements, generally the demand is that of enforcing minimum wages as fixed by the government. But in actual practice, a compromise is struck somewhere between the statutory minimum rate and the existing rate. But even this turns out to be a very complex process. Not only do the landlords and their musclemen try to suppress the movement with their guns, but they also try to wriggle themselves out through such tactical tricks as hiring labourers from outside and leasing out land to certain rich and middle peasants. Corrupt government officials also generally take the side of the landlords.
It has been found that wage movements tend to succeed in such places where
(a) the landlords and rich peasants are unorganised and labour is relatively scarce ;
(b) wage labourers are well organised and enjoy a close contact with middle peasants/strata forged through various types of movement, and where there has already emerged a force capable of leading the movement and resisting the enemy’s onslaughts ;
(c) the people of neighbouring areas are ready to extend their active support and cooperation, or where the movement has begun simultaneously in a number of villages, and a proper leadership is there to coordinate this movement;
(d) alongside taking all legal steps, including exerting pressure on the administration from above, there has also emerged a fighting force from below;
(e) the struggle is concentrated against a few landlords who are, moreover, totally boycotted by all other sections of rural toilers like the blacksmiths, potters, carpenters, washermen, barbers, cobblers and so on, and the middle peasants/strata are dealt with through negotiations and compromises; and
(f) the landowners are not so organised and after the strike the peasant organisation itself seeks some kind of negotiation to be held in the presence of, say, the mukhiya or some government officials.
Ruling out all negotiations and compromises or trying to clinch the issue simply through guns proves harmful to the movement.
Due to widespread wage-movements, some increases in wages have been effected throughout the region. In place of the earlier wage rate of 1 seer (nearly 950 grams) of food-grains or Rs. 3 per day, the rate presently prevailing is 1’5 kgs to 4 kgs of foodgrains or Rs. 5 to Rs. 10 per day (varying from place to place).
4. Exercising All-round Control of the Peasantry through Village Committees
In the main areas of struggle, village committees of the Kisan Sabha have come to assume the role of a veritable ‘parallel government’, exercising all-round control on behalf of the broad masses of the peasantry. They perform the twin tasks of uniting the peasant masses and mobilising them against the enemy’s onslaughts. In particular, the village committees
(i) exercise control over all public properties and public affairs;
(ii) fix wages for agricultural labourers and shares for sharecroppers (in some cases, even sharecroppers are also fixed by the committee);
(iii) impose fines and levies;
(iv) curb theft, and punish the culprits and their patrons;
(v) take up reform and developmental programmes;
(vi) resolve disputes among the peasantry (there has been a considerable decrease in the number of diwani and faujdari (criminal) cases in local and district courts in the main areas of peasant struggle);
(vii) exercise supervision over block officials, mukhiyas and sarpanches;
(viii) mobilise the masses in struggles against landlords and the police; and
(ix) implement all calls and programmes put forward by the Kisan Sabha.
To gain a better understanding of the development and functioning of the village committees, let us take the example of one village committee in Gaya.
The village comprises 40 households, mainly middle peasants and a few landless and poor peasants. Both Hindus and Muslims reside in this village. The Yadavas, Koiris and harijans form the bulk of the Hindu population, the Yadavas being in the majority. To start with, one Kisan Sabha cadre organised three rounds of village-level meetings at intervals of 8 to 10 days. He explained the role of the village committee to the village people, following which a seven-men committee was elected through a village-level meeting. Of these 7 members, 2 were landless peasants, 1 poor peasant, 2 lower-middle peasants, while the other 2 came from middle peasant families. Caste/communitywise. 4 of them were Yadavas, 1 Muslim and the rest harijans. The committee-members then elected their three office bearers — president, secretary and treasurer. The secretary is an educated youth. It was decided that
(a) the committee-members would meet once in a week;
(b) a village-level meeting would be organised every fortnight;
(c) a Gram Raksha Dal (village self-defence corps) would be set up, comprising mainly the village youth, which would organise regular night-watch; and
(d) a regular, two-pronged fund-system would be developed, which would require
- (i) every household to daily set aside a handful of rice — the fund so accumulated would be used mainly for self-defence purposes and partly for advancing interest-free loans to the villagers in times of acute crisis — and,
(ii) middle peasants to give 1 per cent of their seasonal production and landless/poor peasants a fixed amount of five kgs of foodgrains per season as levy to the organisation, part of which would be deposited with the higher committee.
5. Maintaining and Developing Peasants’ Armed Forces and Combating Reactionary Gangs
Peasants’ mass resistance against police repression and landlords’ attacks is one of the most important features of the peasant movement in Bihar, particularly in the districts of Patna, Gaya, Nalanda, Aurangabad and Bhojpur.
Gohar (armed gathering for confrontation ) has always been a common phenomenon in rural Bihar. But in recent years, its complexion has undergone a phenomenal change. In earlier gohars militants among the rural poor used to serve as cannon-fodder in the internal conflicts of the propertied classes. Initially when the revolutionary communists were rather weak, the rural rich tried the same weapon against them too. But in today’s changed situation, they can no longer do that. The revolutionary communists today are much stronger, and above all, the poor now side with the poor. This peasant gohar is a new glorious phenomenon in the history of peasant movements in Bihar. It creates very favourable conditions for developing armed forces under the leadership of the Party, for creating ‘parallel government’ of the peasants and other sections of the people, and for transforming each and every peasant into a fighter. It has all the characteristics of a peasant insurrection-in-embryo. During these gohars a large number of peasants, sometimes whole villages — men, women and children alike — temporarily plunge into a heroic battle against armed police, spontaneously erecting barricades, lying down in face of firing, and counter-attacking with whatever arms available to them.
The mass resistance against the police at Kunai on 25 December, 1985, may be considered as a typical example. The village remained a veritable battle-field throughout the day, with over 5,000 people determined to enter the village to erect a column in memory of their beloved martyrs and armed police surrounding the village to prevent their entry. Batches of people like wave after wave tried to enter the village from several directions. The police charged lathis at close quarters, but the masses still encircled them; they threw teargas shells, but the youth lobbed the unexploded shells back on the policemen, finally, the police opened fire, only to find the masses lying down en masse. Many policemen got injured in this day-long encounter, and on our side two poor peasants lost their lives, a loss, which, considering the proportions of the encounter, must be regarded as remarkably moderate, thanks to the experienced tackling of the police on the part of the masses. In one of the largest First Information Reports ever recorded, the police wrote that these people were all ‘Naxalites’ for they seemed to be ‘so well trained’ to face police firing !
In the course of these unprecedented resistance struggles, there have emerged three broad types of peasants’ armed forces. Though their types are different they play a well-defined complementary role as the backbone of this resistance.
(i) Village self-defence corps : In almost every village, or more precisely in every two out of three villages in the areas of struggle, there can be found 10 to 15 people who rush with arms, mainly traditional ones, whenever any attack is made by the local reactionaries. It is such people who constitute the village self-defence corps. They protect the leaders and activists of the movement from the goons of the enemy. In normal times they take part in production and conduct night-watch.
(ii) Local armed squads : Comprising 5 to 7 militant youths from the village self-defence corps of 2 to 3 villages, these squads conduct revolutionary propaganda in the surrounding villages and keep the militant youths of these villages active and alert. They are generally aimed with fire-arms, and while resisting police operations or combating armed gangs of the landlords it is they who play the vanguard role, coordinating all the self-defence corps of nearby villages. Often they take independent initiative to disarm a notorious tyrant or a gangster, seizing his arms. So far such squads have seized no less than 500 guns in the main areas of struggle. At times a few members of such squads would march like an armed propaganda squad, get necessary training and take part in propaganda campaigns as well as in armed actions. They generally engage in production, but give priority to the work of the organisation. In short, these squads form the core of self-defence corps and act as links between self-defence corps and regular armed units.
(iii) Regular armed units : Small, compact and mobile in nature, these units form the core of all the armed forces of the people and are the chief architects of the peasants’ resistance struggle and resistance forces. They are composed of fighters who have left their hearth and home to work permanently for revolution. They operate over definite areas which are divided into interior and exterior boundaries. The interior boundaries cover areas where they take up intensive political work, while areas within the exterior boundaries are used for purposes of shifting / retreating / moving in circles etc. so as to retain military manoeuvrability. Unit incharges are appointed to look after the military and political work in each unit. Displaying keen sense of discipline and loyalty to the Party, these units work in close cooperation with Party organisers of the concerned areas and under full command and planning of the district committees of the Party. Only rarely do they violate some Party decisions and disregard the instructions of the Party representative. Recently when a district committee of the Party ordered a unit to return the gun seized from a Bhumihar landlord as this gun had not been used against the people and the seizure was contrary to the Party’s policies, the unit members protested this decision en masse and lodged a written complaint with the Party Central Committee against the decision, and the agitated unit incharge even deposited his rifle and resigned from the unit. They did all this, but only after implementing the Party decision. However, in subsequent discussions they realised the implications of the decision of the Party and the incharge, too, resumed his duties.
Often such units are split up into parts with each member being put at the head of what is called an Armed Propaganda Squad, formed with selected elements from the local armed squads. The armed propaganda squads are entrusted with the task of undertaking propaganda campaigns in definite areas for definite periods.
To carry on fierce struggle against class enemies who are armed to the teeth and to defend themselves from the operations of the police, these units need modern fire-arms. And the main mode of procuring such arms has been overrunning police camps and attacking mobile police patrols. Generally they do not kill policemen, except when it becomes absolutely necessary for the success of the operation or for their own security. Since 1977, in all 78 modern fire-arms have been snatched in 17 actions against police camps/patrols. However, a few of these arms have been seized back by the enemy.
Peasants’ armed forces adopt different tactics in combating and smashing different reactionary armed gangs. Here are a few examples of how the armed forces deal with various categories of reactionary armed gangs.
Armed groups belonging to individual landlords : To begin with, the masses are mobilised in struggles on socio-economic issues against the landlord, punitive measures are adopted against him and warnings are issued to his muscle-men, and through their own castemen and relatives they are even sought to be persuaded to mend their ways. If all these measures fail and the landlord still remains adamant, he is executed and his gang smashed, The killing of Keshari Sing and his gangmen in Kako area of Jehanabad is a case in point. This tyrant landlord (also a mukhiya) not only refused to mend his ways, but turned into a righthand man of notorious smuggler king and Congress (I) MP, Mahendra Singh, and even joined hands with Krishna Singh’s Brahmarshi Sena. So on 19 April 1985, his jeep was ambushed and he was killed alongwith his gangmen.
Individual criminal gangs : Take the example of Sheoji Singh of Sandesh P. S. (Bhojpur district). His landholding is not much, seven bighas, but he runs at least eight illegal country-liquor dens. And furthermore, this lumpen element has an armed gang of eight and there is no crime on earth that this gang has not committed. To counter it, initially we distributed leaflets, conducted mass meetings, staged demonstrations, and even a case was lodged with the court. The people were also mobilised in harvesting crops from his field. But the gang’s crimes continued unabated. Ultimately, our armed unit openly attacked him in the marketplace, but he managed to make a narrow escape, thanks to the intervention of the police.
Fascist gangs masquerading as peasant organisations : The Kshetriya Kisan Mahasabha is a case in point. Mahendra Singh of Amat was its founder-president. Standing parallel to this so-called Mahasabha, the BPKS continued to propagate its programme and launch struggles on diverse issues. Peasants’ armed resistance was also widely organised. Later on, Mahendra Singh was arrested and killed, and his lieutenant Umesh Singh and three others were attacked and their arms seized. Thereafter, nobody heard about the Kshetriya Kisan Mahasabha. Many peasants who were earlier deceived by that organisation are now under the influence of the BPKS.
Fascist gangs controlled by lumpen politicians : The case of ‘Kallu gang’ of Vaishali district can be cited as an instance. Kallu had managed to make his way into the Marxist-Leninist movement and sought to sabotage the movement from within. He even conducted secret killings within the organisation before being finally thrown out. But expelled, he quickly formed an armed gang of his own, recruiting some lumpen and criminal elements. Till date, this gang has killed at least half-a-dozen supporters and leaders of the peasant movement. Attempts are on to develop mass resistance against this gang.
Bhoomi Sena : “Hasten the process of disintegration of the Bhoomi Sena, win over the middle peasants/strata and bring rich peasants under control, isolate the gangsters from the Kurmi masses and smash them” — such is the policy adopted by the local Party organisation in combating the Bhoomi Sena. Widespread propaganda has been conducted among the Kurmi masses, appeals have been issued on behalf of enlightened Kurmi peasants, and intervention of various democratic organisations and enlightened personalities, particularly from within the Kurmi caste, has been sought.
The Kisan Sabha also took some reform measures. Meanwhile, the Kurmi peasants, too, got disenchanted with the activities of the Bhoomi Sena. At the same time, peasants under our leadership firmly kept up their socio-political and economic offensive against the ringleaders, resistance continued unabated, and at least 11 ringleaders were punished by death. All these factors have contributed in hastening the disintegration of this gang.
But instead of resting content with this development, the Patna District Committee of our Party has issued a fresh appeal to the Kurmi peasants, urging them to foil any attempt of reviving the Bhoomi Sena and to fight shoulder to shoulder with the rural poor (see Appendix).
Incidentally, in a village that was once a Bhoomi Sena den, the village committee of the Kisan Sabha has success. fully won over the middle section of the Kurmi peasants, established control over rich peasants, and made even landlords (barring one or two) submit before the committee. It stipulated the following conditions :
(i) Sever all connections with the Bhoomi Sena, in case of any complaint, lodge it with the village committee.
(ii) Stop forthwith all oppressive activities like beating or abusing the poor or lower-caste people,
(iii) Pay wages as fixed by the committee,
(iv) Deposit all your guns/rifles with the committee (in the case of landlords).
(v) Pay penalty for damages done to the people (applicable only to landlords and rich peasants).
Lorik Sena : Many progressive leading figures, intellectuals and mass leaders from among the Yadavas were mobilised to undertake padayatras etc. and the Party members explained the Party’s policies among the masses of Yadava peasants. Mass organisations, too, took various initiatives to diffuse the prevailing tension. They convened a meeting of some prominent Yadavas and gave a patient hearing to the grievances of the Yadava community, admitted mistakes committed during the implementation of certain policies and reiterated the principled stand of the organisation, and highlighted the achievements of united struggles, contrasting these against the harms done by the Lorik Sena. All of them arrived at a shared opinion and decided to work for restoring unity.
The lumpen armed gang did not receive enough support from the Yadava masses either, and in certain villages the masses even reprimanded them.
All these measures, coupled with certain favourable political developments, have hastened the disintegration of the Lorik Sena to a considerable extent.
6. Drawing Peasants in the Forefront of the Struggle for Democracy
Peasants are fighting not only against the feudal forces, the bureaucracy and the police, but also against the anti-people repressive acts and laws of the state.
They are partners of a revolutionary-democratic front, the IPF. They stand for the rights of the weaker and oppressed nationalities or national minorities and oppose state repression on them (as in Assam, Jharkhand etc.). They oppose persecution of and discrimination against various religious minorities (as in the case with the Sikhs and Muslims). They actively participate in all democratic movements (be it against the Bihar Press Bill or against price-rise). In turn, they enjoy the support of other revolutionary and democratic forces all over the country, with the revolutionary workers of Bihar standing in the forefront.
Upholding the great banner of worker-peasant alliance, the revolutionary workers of Bihar have extended their sincere support and solidarity to the struggle of the peasantry. Many industrial workers, while on leave, have done a good job in organising peasant associations in their villages, workers’ teams have visited the countryside to conduct revolutionary-democratic propaganda, and in industrial centres of Bihar peasant struggles have become the main agenda of discussion among the workers, the majority of whom are still organically linked with the countryside.
The 1985 Assembly elections proved to be a great test for the peasants’ commitment to the banner of revolutionary-democracy, and they came out of this test with flying colours. Defying severe police repression and attacks by the landlords’ armed gangs, the peasants in the areas of struggle cast the first ever vote in their life in favour of the IPF candidates. To take the example of Hilsa, the Front candidate there remained behind the bars throughout the period of electioneering, election meeting in his favour were all disrupted by the police (Mr. Raja Ram, a general secretary of the IPF was arrested from one such meeting after being severely beaten up), and to top it all, there was constant combing operation — but defying the shoot-at-sight order against the Naxalites, the peasants turned out in their thousands on the polling day to vote for the Front candidate. Throughout the counting the IPF candidate was leading over his Congress(I) rival, but through manipulations at the last moment he was placed second, with 21,000 votes, and the Congress candidate was declared elected, with 23,000 votes. (The upper-caste SDO who was in charge of the counting later confessed that he could not have possibly allowed the victory to the IPF candidate, and SP of Nalanda, Ramchhabila Singh, has been picked up for the President’s Medal this year !) In Sahar block of Bhojpur, where booth capturing could not take place, the IPF candidate led over his Congress rival by over 5,000 votes. But in the other part of the constituency, in Tarari block, all booths were captured to see the Congress candidate home. In the village of the notorious landlord Jwala Singh, the Congress candidate got 3,800 votes and only a single token vote was awarded to the IPF candidate.
In many other constituencies the IPF candidates were either jailed or warranted, and all possible means were employed to block their election propaganda. Still, in many constituencies of Central Bihar, the IPF candidates could poll votes in the range of 9,000 to 21,000. While all the champions of parliamentary democracy — Congress(I), Lok Dal and CPI alike — were busy capturing booths*, the fighting peasants of Bihar, through their conduct in the elections, proved that they are the real representatives of revolutionary-democracy, and also that this democracy cannot be won by ballots, but by bullets only.
7. Drawing Peasants in United Movement against the Enemy
The peasants of Bihar are still under the influence of a number of political parties and organisations. In such a situation, the leaders of the peasant movement constantly strive for the unity of the peasants irrespective of their party affiliations, in the struggle against the common enemy. This does not mean that they gloss over the differences among these parties and organisations. To be sure, they do explain the political differences to the peasants, but they do not let these differences come in the way of extending support to, and standing by the side of, the peasants belonging to other organisations whenever they are attacked by the enemy or whenever they launch any movement against the enemy. The Kisan Sabha lays great stress on developing joint movements with various other revolutionary peasant organisations and till date, it has participated in many such joint protest rallies and demonstrations. Efforts are also on to develop united movement with the Lok Dal at local levels.
8. Conducting Widespread Political Propaganda
The widespread political propaganda through the ongoing peasant movement is enlightening even the most backward sections of the peasantry with revolutionary politics. Members of the armed units, peasant activists, and even general peasant masses in the areas of struggle display keen political interest. Peasant cadres/activists keep themselves abreast of all latest national and international developments, and to constantly raise their ideological and political level, Party classes are held at regular intervals.
The children in these areas can be seen moving around in the lanes, shouting revolutionary slogans. In their games, too. they form two parties : the zamindars and the Lal Fauz (Red Army). Both sides arm themselves with toy guns made of tree-branches. The fight begins. The commander of the landlords’ army falls down after a brief battle while the members of his army start running helter-skelter, with the Lal Fauz chasing them all around.
Simple slogans, speeches, anti-government demonstrations, celebrations, observance of memorable days, various programmes of the people’s front, elections, popular songs and dramas have all helped make such great strides in imparting political education to the broad masses of the peasantry within such a short span of time.
* ‘King’ Mahendra, a notorious smuggler and now a Rajya Sabba MP, simply entered one polling booth after another in Gaya with jeepload of armed goons and government officials, asked the voters to disperse and stamped all ballot papers in favour of the Congress(I). Later on, at the Masaurhi by-election when the District Magistrate dared to detain him alongwith a State minister, the DM was transferred within 24 hours. The CPI MP, Ramashraya Singh and his gang were detained with arms while capturing a booth, while Karpoori Thakur of Lok Dal openly instructed his men to take up guns ‘to protect their voting right’, an instruction which, translated into the language of Bihar politics, simply meant ‘capture as many booths as possible’.
9. Helping Women Fight Shoulder to Shoulder with their Menfolk
In each and every case of struggle, particularly in resistance struggles, peasant women have played a very significant role. They have remained in the forefront of all militant struggles, despite having to bear the brunt of all repressive campaigns. They disarmed policemen at Kaither-kalan ( Bhojpur district) and actively participated in the raid on Bikram police station (1981) and in getting their arrested comrades released. Whether it is a mass meeting, demonstration, gherao of some official, or movement over land or wages, everywhere the women can be seen fighting shoulder to shoulder with their menfolk. And they, too, have shed their blood in these struggles — the martyrdom of Chandravati while resisting police repression in a village in Bikram PS (Patna, 1981) is a shining example of the women’s death-defying spirit and persistence in the movement. In keeping watch on the enemy, safeguarding the underground and maintaining the secrecy of underground work, it is the women who play the frontal role.
The peasant struggle in Bihar has made a great difference to the conditions and status of women, particularly of poor women of lower castes. Only a few years back, their conditions were simply horrible. Gangs of upper-caste bad gentry would freely enter the harijan tolas at any hour of the day, and would molest the daughters, sisters and wives in the presence of their frightened parents, brothers and husbands. In some villages, young girls as a rule were not to be found in their houses after 10 at night, ‘reserved’ as they were for the regular enjoyment of upper-caste landlords. The toiling people of lower castes had also begun to get infected with this corrupting influence of these parasitic upper-caste bad gentry. The struggle has radically altered the situation. Landlords do not dare to enter the harijan tolas any more, particularly after sunset. The women have found back their dignity and any case of rape nowadays evokes immediate retaliation.
Not only against sexual oppression by upper-caste bad gentry, the poor women in today’s Bihar are equally vociferous against male domination in their own families. In the event of a woman being beaten by her husband, women in their hundreds intervene, condemn the husband and sometimes even take punitive measures. If in any family the women are not allowed to join the movement, women from other families would enmasse approach the male members of that family and convince them.
The Kisan Sabha has organised a separate wing for women. This apart, there are certain women’s associations, too. The rate of women’s participation in the movement is highest among agrarian labourers and poor peasants. This is somewhat natural since they have relatively more freedom within the family than the housewives in middle peasant families. The latter, too, need to be brought more and more in the fold of the movement, but this depends very much upon greater mobilisation of the middle peasants/strata in the peasant movement.
10. Transforming Caste Conflicts into Class Struggle
If the agrarian scene in Bihar appears extraordinarily complex, to a great extent, that is due to the prevalence of the peculiar phenomenon of caste. In essence, this phenomenon is yet another reflection of the backward state of Bihar’s agrarian economy, where peasants appear more as social estates than classes with caste being the social expression of specific roles in agriculture. And as social contradictions assumed the shape of armed caste conflicts, there emerged in almost all castes, powerful caste leaders, more often than not with a criminal background, with the general members of these castes looking to them as their saviours. Finally, with the introduction of parliamentary democracy in the form of elections at regular intervals, the whole thing came to get further institutionalised with different political parties trying to outmanoeuvre one another through caste-based political mobilisation.
To outside observers, this is indeed quite a puzzling phenomenon, particularly when they find even toiling masses rallying behind certain notorious criminals of their ‘own’ castes. Be that as it may, it is quite clear that mere denunciation of casteism, even in the strongest of terms, is going to make absolutely no difference to this situation. In fact, it is futile to look for any straightforward answer to this complex question. While sharpening of economic struggles would accelerate intra-caste class polarisation, simultaneously we have also got to work within various caste organisations so as to provide them with a progressive orientation, and last but not the least, we have got to assert ourselves as a force capable a guaranteeing security to the weaker castes.
Here are certain experiences. In the period 1976-77 there had emerged an organisation named Harijan Mahamukti Sangh in some parts of Bhojpur. To mobilise the harijan masses, the Sangh concentrated on the tenancy dispute over 350 bighas of land at Kathrai village in Charpokhari block. By 1979-80 it managed to draw a large number of people under its fold from whom it collected a huge amount of subscriptions. It was at this point that we decided to intervene, and gradually there surfaced a veritable polarisation within the organisation, with the opportunist leaders trying their best to submerge the struggle in the quagmire of legalism vis-a-vis our constant efforts to unleash a militant mass movement. Soon the Sangh got disintegrated, with many corrupted leaders who had by then amassed great fortunes joining the Congress(I), Lok Dal or Janata band-wagon, while the broad masses and a few honest leaders came over to the peasant association.
In another instance in Bhojpur, Rajput landlords had formed a Kunwar Sena after the name of Kunwar Singh, the legendary hero of the first war of independence, installed a statue of his, and demanded a university at Arrah after his name. Kunwar Singh for them was simply a Rajput king and his banner was glorified to organise the Rajputs as a caste. The Lok Dal, the so-called representative of the backward castes, opposed this move and its cadres even went on to demolish the statue of Kunwar Singh. We opposed this attitude of the Lok Dal, hailed Kunwar Singh’s patriotic role and stressed the necessity of continuing the struggle against imperialism. This brought the peasant association support from many progressive Rajputs, including the direct descendants of Kunwar Singh.
Emphasis has been laid on formulating specific policies for specific castes. Readers have already learnt about our policies concerning the Kurmis and the Yadavas. Below we narrate an experience of dealing with the Bhumihars who are coming closer to the peasant association in many parts of Bhojpur and Gaya. In Sahar block of Bhojpur, Bhumihar landlords’ gohar against harijans was a common phenomenon till 1979. But now this phenomenon has withered away, and nearly 35 per cent of the Bhumihar population, directly or indirectly, is under the influence of the movement. In fact, some enlightened and influential Bhumihars are always alert to nip any caste conflict in the bud. But this great change did not come of its own; it required the following conscious efforts on our part:
(i) Underground links were established with certain individuals among the Bhumihars, and they were gradually transformed, first into our sympathisers and then into active members.
(ii) Widespread propaganda was conducted through leaflets and propaganda teams, explaining the aims and objects of our movement and clarifying its targets and allies as well as our attitude to various castes.
(iii) Sometime during its night-marches, our armed unit would make a sudden appearance before some Bhumihar individuals/groups. Apprehending trouble, the latter would initially get panicky. But to their utter surprise, our armed unit would talk to them with respect and explain that they had no quarrel with any caste. They would put before them the programme and policies of the Party. Again, when some tyrant Bhumihar landlord is found in a group in the company of others, action would be carried out only against that tyrant, and the rest, even if they happen to be all landlords and rich peasants, would all be set free. These events received quick propaganda and helped a lot in removing false fears about us among the entire Bhumihar population,
(iv) Attacks were concentrated only against certain selected tyrants, particularly the ones with whom their own castemen had already got fed up.
(v) Certain mistakes committed by us were admitted and rectified, both in word and in deed.
(vi) In the event of any serious actions being taken against certain Bhumihars, particularly in case of executions, leaflets and appeals have always been issued explaining the rationale behind such steps.
(vii) Various initiatives taken by the Kisan Sabha, e.g., big mass meetings and rallies addressed by its leaders, created a positive impact on those among the Bhumihars who were so far viewing our struggles in a rather narrow framework.
(viii) Disputes among the people have all been settled amicably through people’s panchayats and thefts have been completely eradicated.
11. Checking Communalism
There has been no incident of communal riots in the main areas of struggle. Muslims, particularly the poor and lower-middle sections among them, also participate in the movement and they feel quite protected. However, from time to time some communal forces or certain persons with vested interests do try to foment communal clashes. To foil such attempts the following measures are generally adopted:
(i) presenting the actual facts before the people, exposing the vested interests behind such evil designs, and propagating all these things in a convincing way among both the communities;
(ii) separately approaching some enlightened and influential persons in both the communities and making them realise the necessity of taking active initiative to nip all such troubles in the bud ;
(iii) organising joint meetings involving prominent persons of both the communities;
(iv) holding joint mass meetings and peace rallies;
(v) quickly passing on informations about the design of the communalists to the people of neighbouring villages, emphasising the necessity and benefits of strong unity among the people of different communities and pointing out the disastrous consequences of such clashes ; and
(vi) issuing warnings to a few miscreants on both sides.
To be more specific, let us take two examples. In Barki Moap village in Bhojpur there are 90 harijan families, 80 Rajput families, 70 Muslim families and the rest belong to several other castes. Struggle was going on against a Rajput landlord. Muslims were initially rather hesitant in their support to this struggle, but gradually they began to actively involve themselves in the movement. At this stage, a few Rajput lumpens kidnapped a Muslim woman. This naturally evoked a sharp reaction from the Muslims against those criminals, but the Rajput landed gentry spared no time to give the whole thing a communal colour, and tensions began to rise.
The local peasant organisation and the people, however, took prompt initiative. They investigated the matter and found out the truth. They assured the Muslim family of their full cooperation in locating and recovering the woman and in punishing the culprits. They also contacted some enlightened Rajputs. Harijans and Hindus of other castes, numbering at least 150, took out an armed procession, and shouting slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity and against the landlord behind this kidnapping episode, they marched on from one village to another. In every village the procession would culminate in a mass meeting and subsequently more people would join in it. The Hindu poor declared that if anybody in their villages were to try to attack the Muslims, he would have to confront them first of all. But certain Rajput trouble-mongers would not give up so easily, they threatened that they would not allow the Muslims to take out the Tajia procession. The harijans and other people of the village, however, asked the Muslims to go ahead with their preparations, and in fact, the residents of the harijan tola themselves prepared a Tajia as a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. The evil design of the trouble-mongers was finally frustrated.
By this time, activists of the peasant organisation had recovered the woman. And it goes without saying that the culprits were also punished.
In a more recent incident at Garhani in Bhojpur, a Rajput landlord gang had killed two poor Muslim cycle repairers in connection with a petty quarrel over a meagre 10 paise. The agitated masses chased the gang and killed two of its members in retaliation. Rajput landlords then tried to give the whole thing a communal colour with a view to mobilising the entire Hindu population of the locality. But their design was foiled by the prompt intervention of the Kisan Sabha, Hindu and Muslim toiling masses displaying a militant solidarity.
12. Ushering in a Great Change in Socio-cultural Life
Theft, gambling, abusing women, etc. have been very much eradicated in Sahar, Hilsa, Poonpoon, Jehanabad and certain other blocks in the areas of struggle. In many other areas, the incidence of such social evils has come down by 75 per cent. However, the big thieves have managed to shift their areas of operation, while socio-economic rehabilitation of the petty thieves is yet to be achieved.
A large number of peasants in such areas, particularly the new generation of peasant youth, are more or less free from all sorts of superstitious beliefs. Addiction to liquor and untouchability have been considerably reduced.
Few years back, the drama staged locally in the villages was based either on mythological themes (e.g., Bir Abhimanyu, Satya Harishchandra etc.) or on the exploits of dacoits kings (e.g., Sultana Dakoo, Chambalka Lutera etc.). A perceptible change is noticeable nowadays — while the youths of upper-caste and landlord families continue to stage the same old types of plays, with the addition of chauvinistic themes like Tiranga Jhanda, poor peasant youths have switched over to plays of an altogether new variety, like Inquilab (Revolution), Khoon ka Badla Khoon (Blood for Blood), Roti aur Insaf (Bread and Justice), Karwan Dilli Jayega (The Caravan Shall March to Delhi), Janjirein Tod Do (Smash the Chains), Derh Bigha Jamin (One Acre of Land), Sava Ser Geinhu (One and a Quarter Seer of Wheat) and so on and so forth. While some of these plays are their original creations, many are in the old tradition of what are called ‘Bhagalpuria plays’ with the modification that whereas the traditional Bhagalpuria plays use to end in defeat for the rebel peasant fighters despite many a heroic deed, the present plays conclude on an optimistic note and many revolutionary songs are interspersed in between. Staging such plays has become a very common and widespread phenomenon in the areas of struggle and often engenders serious conflicts with the landlords as the latter try to stop such plays at all costs. Often these plays are also banned by the police.
Obscene songs and dances that earlier formed an important component of rural culture have now been greatly replaced by revolutionary songs, many of which proved to be quite popular with the masses. In fact, many poets have sprung up from illiterate poor peasants themselves. Revolutionary songs are also an important medium of the propaganda conducted by armed units and many poor peasant fighters are good composers and singers. Here are the first few lines from some of the most popular songs.
Master Jagdishji rachalan Bhojpur ke rachanava/Roye zalim zamindar/Jiya banchi na hamar/Bharat nagari mein (Jagdish Master was the architect of the great saga of Bhojpur. ‘Nothing can save me in this land’, weeps the tyrant landlord.). Lakhanji Surdas roams all around Bhojpur, singing such inspiring songs, composed by none other than himself, amidst the masses. The police have tried all means to silence this blind singer, but in vain.
Goli kahe moral bekasur ho/Nayanwa se dur bhaila babua (Why did you shoot my innocent son? Oh, my eyes will not see him any more). This song composed by a fighter of an armed unit depicts the agony of a mother whose son has been shot dead by the police. The song ends with the mother urging his thousands of sons to take revenge for their lost brother.
Kahat Akari, Bihari mazdoor par/Sahat ada bhaiya, kauna kasur par. This song composed by Akari, an illiterate poor peasant, calls upon the workers of Bihar to refuse to submit to exploitation and oppression.
The Birha (a popular folktune ) team of Bansiji of Aurangabad is quite popular among the masses. He has composed a song on the Kaithibigha incident.
Many revolutionary intellectuals have also come up with their songs, stories, plays and novels on the theme of the peasant struggle in Bihar. Most notable among them are Gorakh Pande of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and Brijendra Anil, a teacher of a village school in Bhojpur, whose hands were broken by a gang of landlords led by Birbahadur Singh, an ex-MLA, so as to prevent him from wielding his pen.
Many revolutionary teams like the Yuva Niti of Arrah, Hiraval of Patna, and Lalkar of Rohtas, to name only three, often visit the countryside to sing their songs and stage their plays before the masses. These organisations have had to face severe repression in the hands of the landlords and the police. Dr. Bindheswari, who heads a cultural organisation in Rohtas, was mercilessly thrashed by the police and was subsequently falsely implicated in a case of rifle-snatching. Members of the Hiraval cultural team from Patna were severely beaten and arrested by the police so as to prevent them from campaigning in favour of the IPF candidate at Masaurhi. Cultural teams of Bhojpur and Nalanda have also been arrested many a time. This repression has, however, only strengthened their resolve all the more and they cling to the countryside as the testing field for their cultural creations, for they believe in ‘art for the people’s sake’ and in ‘raising the standard’ of their cultural creations through constant interaction with the masses.
This cultural awakening has also had a positive impact on the social conditions and status of the rural poor. The people of the lower castes now enjoy some dignity in the society and upper-caste men are forced to address them in a different tone.
13. Developing Mutual Cooperation
Agriculture : In agriculture, mutual cooperation at present takes the following major forms.
(i) Collective ownership : Such plots are cultivated through collective labour and crops are also shared collectively.
(ii) Collective funds : Out of such funds loans in the form of cash and seeds, repayable after the harvest, are made available to the members of the fund. Machineries are also made available to the members at a nominal rent.
(iii) Collective granary : Grains collected as levy, subscription etc., are stored in a collective granary, erected, through collective free labour, on a plot of land under the occupation of the committee of concerned peasants. In times of crisis, grain-loans are advanced from the granary to needy peasants. Such loans are usually to be repaid after the harvest, but under certain special circumstances, they are also transformed into grants.
(iv) Collective free labour : Peasants offer free labour for repairing ahars, tanks etc, for digging wells as well as for constructing dams. Several such dams have been erected within an amazingly short span of time, which are presently irrigating a sizeable stretch of land. Naturally, landowners benefit most from such dams, while the landless labourers do not get any benefit at all simply because they do not have any land to irrigate. Some measures need to be devised to compensate the latter, perhaps by levying some suitable tax on the recipients of these irrigation facilities.
Apart from such collective endeavours, which are all managed by concerned committees of the peasants, one also witnesses such forms of mutual cooperation as peasants helping one another with free labour, or exchanging ploughs, oxen and other materials.
Housing : Here mutual cooperation takes the following two major forms :
(i) construction of houses through collective free labour ; and
(ii) settlement of new colonies through collective labour under the supervision of concerned committees. Sonatola (in Sahar PS of Bhojpur), Madhuban (in Masaurhi PS of Patna), Srabannagar (in Kako PS of Gaya) are three such colonies settled through collective labour.