Travesty of Social Justice in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar :: A Blood-Stained New Year At Rahariya

The atrocities on Mahadalits in Araria, Bihar, and the murders of CPI(ML) leaders organising struggles of the Mahadalits to retain hold on their rightful land, have once again called the bluff of the JDU-RJD Government’s claims of ‘social justice.’ This atrocity is the latest in a long line of similar attacks on homestead lands of Dalits and Mahadalits, and killings of activists organising struggles of the oppressed and landless poor. The rape and murder of a teenage Mahadalit girl Dika Kumari in Hajipur inside a Government-run Ambedkar hostel has also added to this churning.

Can any talk of social justice be meaningful without the right to equitable, good quality education; without dignified employment; without land rights and land reform; without justice and dignity? In the first phase of ‘social justice’ governance during the Laloo-Rabri regimes, the Ranveer Sena massacres of Dalit landless poor took place, at Bathani, Bathe, Mianpur and many other places. The social, economic and political assertion of the poor was met with massacres – with the collusion of the entire state machinery. In the second phase, Nitish Kumar has claimed to represent ‘Sushasan’ (good governance), which he defines as ‘nyay ke saath vikas’- ‘justice with development.’ In reality, his regime presided over the serial massacre of justice for the victims of the Bathani, Bathe and other Ranveer Sena massacres. While in alliance with the BJP, Nitish Kumar’s Government emboldened the feudal forces enormously, assuring them of impunity, and attacks on the landless poor – over issues of land and dignity – increased sharply. The killing of landless poor Muslims at Forbesganj, the anti Dalit atrocities at Baddi, the killing of CPI(ML) comrade Bhaiyyaram Yadav, the arrests of CPI(ML) leaders Satyadeo Ram and Amarjit Kushwaha following an attack on a Dalit settlement in Siwan were just a sample of such attacks. In Nitish Kumar’s ‘secular’ avatar, ruling with the RJD, such attacks are continuing, with several instances of arson against Dalit homesteads and killings of activists organising struggles of the Dalit landless poor.

On February 19 2017, CPI(ML) will hold an Adhikar Rally (Rally for Rights) in Patna with the slogan ‘Samajik Nyay Ke Teen Aadhar, Shiksha, Rozgar Aur Bhoomi Adhikar’ – to emphasise that the three essential pillars of social justice are education, employment and land rights. While the BJP, Sangh Parivar and Modi Government are ideologically and politically enemies of social justice, the Bihar Government which claims to champion social justice also fails and betrays miserably on all these counts. In this feature, Liberation provides in-depth coverage of the Araria atrocities and killings, and the struggle for justice for Dika Kumari.

A Blood-Stained New Year At Rahariya

New Year’s day came to Rahariya village in Bhargama block, Araria district, Bihar with a murderous attack on the Rishidev (Musahar) community by an organised gang of the dominant Yadav caste from the nearby Belsara village. Two CPI(ML) leaders – Comrade Satyanarayan Yadav (Araria district secretary) and Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev were hacked to death by this gang, which also tortured, stripped, molested and severely injured many others from the Mahadalit Musahar hamlet of Rahariya that day.

The Backdrop

For the last 40 years 35 to 40 Musahar (Rishidev) families have been settled in Rahariya Pokhra Tola barely 5 km from Bhargama thana in Arariya district. Most of them have ‘bandobast’ papers (khatiyan) and have been tilling the land for years. Of the nearly 100 acres of land in question, Mushahar families live in about 3 acres, and farm on 7 acres only; the remaining is fallow because of the terror of the landlords and neo-kulak Yadavs.

Next to this is another 1000 acres of ceiling surplus land for which the poor had received papers as long back as in 70s but never been allowed to take possession. These huge tracts of lands have been forcibly possessed by landlord mafia goons in full view of administration ever since.

In collusion with bureaucracy, Babua Yadav and Manish Yadav managed to get the 7 acre ancestral land plot of poor Musahars ‘registered’ in their names illegally by forging kevala papers with the collusion of local land and revenue officials, and evicted the rightful possessors. These are goons and close associate of local sitting RJD MLA from Narpatganj Anil Kumar Yadav who is their maternal uncle. They also enjoy protection from BJP, whose candidates won this seat in the previous two Assembly elections.

Earlier the same group of people had grabbed land belonging to Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev, demolished his house and constructed a pond on his land, again showing wrong land measurements on papers in connivance with land and revenue officials.

These lands belonging to Musahars are situated just next to the National Highway and are therefore very valuable. This is why the dominant caste Yadavs are so determined to grab the land at all costs.

The Musahars were holding a meeting on January 1 to discuss the imminent attack by the land grabbers who had been issuing threats to the Musahars to force them to vacate the Pokhra Tola – the Musahar basti of Rahariya. Leader of the All India Agricultural and Rural Labourers Association (AIARLA) Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev who is from this village organised the meeting, and District Secretary Satyanarayan Yadav arrived to attend the meeting.

The Attack

The assailants had been partying on New Year’s Day just before launching their murderous attack on the Musahar tola of Rahariya – specifically on the ongoing meeting there. They attacked, armed with guns, sticks and arrows. The Bhargama thana in-charge and other constables had been part of the new year party, the mahabhoj.

When the attackers neared Rahariya, villagers hid comrades Satyanarayan and Kamleshwari in the hut of Khemia Devi. But the attackers found them and began attacking them with sharp weapons. Badly injured, Comrade Satyanarayan managed to make a phone call to Comrades Baiju Mandal and Rameshwar Prasad before he fell unconscious near the hut, pierced by an arrow by the attackers. Bechan Rishidev, who was also assaulted, said that the killers announced that they had ‘offered a ritual sacrifice’ (chadhaava) for the New Year’s day. This murder took place in the presence of the Bhargama police thana in-charge who watched the attack. The assailants then dragged Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev off along with Comrade Satyanarayan’s body.

Alerted by Comrade Satyanarayan’s phone call, CPI(ML)’s Bihar leaders tried to save the villagers and their comrades. The administration was informed and comrades from nearby towns started rushing towards Rahariya. CPI(ML) activist Sushil Kumar informed the Police Superintendent by phone. But all was in vain.

The attackers went on to torture and attack several others of the Musahar community. According to one of the eyewitnesses, the Bhargama thana in-charge took a hoe away from Manoj Rai, with which the latter had aimed to kill Bechan Rishidev, requesting the killers not to kill people right in front of him because he won’t be able to explain this later (hamre saamne kaatega to hum kahan jaayenge.) The killers were enraged at this, reminding the thanedaar that they had paid him Rs 5 lakh for murdering Musahars (hum paanch lakh taka diye rahe, ye Musahar ko kaate ke liye). But they did desist from killing any others, confining themselves to brutal torture.

Women and children were stripped, molested and beaten up with lathis. The attackers tried to rape a young girl who managed to run away. Pokhra Tola was surrounded so that information could not reach outside.

The killers also looted the meagre belongings of Musahar families. From the house of Sunil Rishidev they looted three boxes, five pieces of jewellery and a bicycle. Comrade Kamleshwari’s motorbike was badly damaged.

An arrow still pierced into the trunk of a tree is a witness of the brutalities unleashed on that day.

Brutal Torture

After the attack, dozens of injured Rishidevs were admitted in hospital, including Bechan Rishidev, Ramchandra Rishidev, Dinesh Rishidev, Vipin Rishidev and Shrawan Rishidev. Dinesh Rishidev’s legs are fractured, Shrawan Rishidev has a bullet injury in his arm, and Vipin Rishidev’s toenails were pulled out using pliers. Four persons were tied to a pillar and beaten up – in presence of the Bhargama thana in-charge; and an attempt was made to burn alive another four. All of them were saved due to the belated appearance of policemen from the Raniganj thana, in response to calls made by CPI(ML) leaders from the district.
Dalit men tied up like animals, tortured with atrocities like pulling out toenails, and nearly burnt alive – this happened in Bihar ruled by the self-proclaimed social justice champions Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav. Is it any less horrific and outrageous than the stripping, parading and public thrashing of Dalits by cow-vigilantes in Una in BJP-ruled Gujarat?

The Raniganj thana in-charge then freed the captive Rishidevs and sent them to hospital, but he made no attempt to find comrades Satyanarayan and Kamleshwari Rishidev. He and his team of policemen did not arrest any of the attackers on the spot, and instead let them all go.

After the Attack

People of Musahar tola were frightened but worried for Comrade Kamleshwari and Comrade Satyanarayan who were missing. They had witnessed Comrade Satyanarayan being grievously injured and unconscious, and had seen both the comrades being dragged away. When the police in Patna and Araria were asked to lose no time in finding the two leaders, they suggested that the two might simply have left the area on their own, and might return with time. The next morning the people of Rahariya set out to find the missing leaders. At 10 am, they found the bodies of both flung in the baanspatti (bamboo cluster) far outside the village, brutally dismembered and killed. Their arms and legs were severed, bodies dragged on the ground to a long distance, and they had been strangulated by tying ropes around necks.

Angry and grieved, the people of Rahariya blocked the Saharsa-Araria National Highway. Under pressure from this blockade, the authorities suspended the Bhargama thana in-charge.

CPI(ML) leaders Dhirendra Jha, Rameshwar Prasad, Nawal Kishore and Jaynarayan Yadav visited Rahariya village on 2 January. Eyewitnesses named Manish Yadav, Rama alias Ramu Yadav, Babu alias Babuaa Yadav and Manoj Rai alias Surendra Yadav as the main organisers of the attack – they are not yet arrested. Among other accused were nearly 200 goons including Nikku Yadav, Rajendra Yadav, Anmol Yadav, Mrityunjay and Sakal Deo Yadav. Till now, only three killers including the last one have been arrested. Other names included in the FIR are Rajiv Yadav, Parmanand Yadav, Kalanand Yadav, Dinesh Yadav, Arvind Yadav, Vikas Yadav, Dileep Yadav, Umanand Yadav, Rajendra Yadav, Sunil Yadav, Anil Yadav, Raushan Yadav, Kundan Yadav, Shambhu Yadav, Chandan Yadav, Jaldhar Yadav, Sujit Yadav, Subodh Yadav, Subodh Yadav, Suman Yadav, Tulha Yadav, Ashok Yadav, Naresh Yadav, Bindeshwari Yadav, Newton Yadav, Sunil Yadav and Tipan Rishidev.

Serial Attacks on Rahariya

Bihar’s police, revenue department, bureaucracy and polity right up to the highest corridors of power in Patna, all connived to teach Rahariya’s Musahar families and their leaders a lesson for not giving up their claim on the 100 acres of land which had been in their possession for generations.

The January 1 attack was the third deadly attack on the Musahar tola in two months. Bechan and Bhavanand Rishidev’s houses were burnt on 25 October 2016 and beat up several people in the tola. Ten days later the assailants came again and burnt Pawan Rishidev’s hay-stack and again beat up all who were present. Repeated complaints to the police and local administration brought neither protection nor action. This calculated inaction together with the presence of the Bhargama thana in-charge during the attack on January 1 points to the high degree of collusion in the murderous attack and atrocities.

When JDU Leaders Came Visiting

The JD(U) MP from Araria Taslimuddin and the sitting Raniganj MLA Achamit Rishidev, also from the JDU, made an official visit to Rahariya village after the attack. They included the BDO and CO in their official delegation – the same authorities who helped forge papers to allow the assailants to grab the Musahars’ land. One of the survivors of the assault had told journalists that the CO used to abuse Musahar villagers for not leaving their lands in favour of the dominant caste Yadavs. The JDU leaders felt no shame in visiting the victims accompanied by the very same officials who collaborated in the grab of Dalits’ land and are therefore morally implicated in the attack.

The Martyred Comrades

Comrade Satyanarayan Yadav was 60 years old and Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev, 36.
Comrade Satyanarayan joined college in 1974 – but almost immediately was catapulted into the JP Movement, during which he was jailed. Like several others in Bihar, he joined the communist movement on coming out of jail. He first joined the CPI(M), and joined CPI(ML) in the early 1980s.

In videotaped testimonies (given below), survivors of the attack Bechan and Phoolchand Rishidev refer to Comrade Satyanarayan as ‘Lal Salaam,’ just as they refer to the party as ‘Lal Salaam.’ It is the highest tribute to Comrade Satyanarayan that he was seen by Bihar’s most oppressed people as personifying the communist movement. In a deeply caste-ridden society where nearly everyone is identified by their caste, he earned this identity of ‘Lal Salaam’ over and above the “immediate identity of his birth,” a caste identity that he shared with his killers.

Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar also boast of being products of the JP Movement: but they have chosen to collude in the massacres of and injustices against the Dalits and oppressed people. Comrade Satyanarayan’s life and death are in stark contrast to the rulers’ legacy of betrayal and mockery of social justice slogans.

Comrade Kamleshwari Rishidev joined the party around 2009 – he had never been a member of any party before that. The Rahariya Pokhra Tola held a procession and memorial meeting on 3 January before cremating him. In a report on the funeral, the Hindi daily Hindustan observed, “Peering through thick glasses attached to his face by a thin thread, 70 year-old Khushi Das said slowly ‘We will all be killed like this if we won’t get organised. I’ve never seen such a huge gathering even at the annual mela (fair).’”

Comrade Kamleshwari’s wife Comrade Rekha Devi is an extremely courageous young woman. She is left with three daughters and two sons – all very young – to sustain on her own. But she is boldly fighting for justice for Comrades Satyanarayan and Kamleshwari as well as for dignity and rights of the entire Rishidev tola.

Araria’s Socio-Economic Realities

The Government’s own data should have established Araria as one of the top priority districts – for a government which boasts of social justice and empowerment of Dalits and oppressed sections. Instead, Araria and its adjoining regions are known for huge illegal landholdings and attacks on landless poor. The Koshi-Seemanchal region has had an old history of burning down Musahar tolas – the attack on Pokhra tola shows that this feudal legacy continues unabated.

Araria is one of the most backward districts of Bihar with a 46.18% literacy rate and with 82.71 percent of households with the income of the highest earning member being less than 5000 per month. Another 14.21% households earn between Rs 5000-Rs 10000 only. 73.68% survive on manual casual labour. Only 3.07% earn an income over Rs. 10,000 in a month out of which 2.32 % of households are with salaried jobs. This means that a very small fraction of less than one percent households are those who actually have control over land and other resources – and in turn they are the bosses in every social and political sphere to the extent that a thana incharge plays foot-soldier for their collective might and watches brutal torture and humiliation of hundreds of Musahar Mahadalit families and the murders of two of their leaders.

About 70 percent households are officially landless in Araria district but the figure of thirty per cent people with lands seems quite misleading and certainly does not conform to the rest of the socio-economic data of the district. The actual pattern of farming and land holdings can be understood with the number of kisan credit cards issued, which is only 1.74% of total households.

By every standard of law and justice, the Musahars of Rahariya had the right to the land on which they have lived for decades. They were attacked only because they were unwilling to vacate their homestead lands after their small agricultural lands were conspiratorially and forcibly taken away by dominant caste persons. The Bihar government should have given these Rishidev families proper possession on their lands and protection as they have the entitlement papers (parchas) since 1975 itself under land ceiling provisions. Instead the Government connived with the dominant caste men who were able to get papers (kevala) forged. After ‘legally’ taking possession of the land these men built up a structure – the kamat (a camp house built on agricultural fields.) Emboldened by this, the goons, knowing well they did not even have forged papers for the homestead land, planned to grab it by force.

Attacks on Dalits Common in Bihar

The attack in Araria is no isolated incident – a series of attacks on Mahadalit colonies to evict them from homesteads and land have taken place in Bihar in the past year – at Bhagalpur, Nalanda, and also in Saharsa not long before the Araria attack.

Mohan Paswan was lynched in Parhuti village of Patna in 2012 by a village strongman Pramod Singh for using a hand pump. The same year a 58 year old dalit woman was branded a witch and forced to eat human excreta and then beaten and killed in Gaya district. The next year on Independence Day, 15 August in Baddi village in Rohtas district, 80 year old Ram Vilas was killed during an attack on a Ravidas temple belonging to the Dalits.

The year 2016 in Bihar has been the year of dispossession from lands for the poor and the dalits, in which dozens of poor have been injured or killed by feudal landlords in Saharsa, Arariya, Bhagalpur, Katihar, Purnea, Beguserai, Darbhanga, Champaran and many other districts. CPI(ML) lost several leaders in such targeted attacks: including Comrade Mahesh Ram and Ram Pravesh Ram, and later Rajaram Paswan and Anita Devi in Begusarai. Last year in Araria itself, dominant caste men opposed the construction of a concrete road on land belonging to Mahadalits, claiming that the land belonged to the dominant castes, and threw acid on 6 Mahadalits.

Recently the JD(U) president of Rangra block in Bhagalpur along with his men burnt down 115 homes of Dalits belonging to the Bind caste and looted away their belongings on a tractor. Of these families who lived on their ancestral lands in Ganga diyara, many got their limbs broken in the beatings. The attackers held a feast on the lands grabbed from the Dalits, just after the incident. Till today no arrest has been made in this incident. In another incident in Bhagalpur town, poor Dalit men and women had to face brutal police repression for raising their rights to homestead land. Left parties held Bhagalpur Bandh on 16 December to protest these attacks.

Just before the Araria atrocity, a settlement of mahadalits and other extremely oppressed castes in Purushottampur village, Sattar Kataiya block, Saharsa district was attacked by BJP-supported dominant caste forces on 25 December in order to grab their land. Chano Ram and his brother Vakil Ram were killed in the attack which was carried out under police protection. Four others were seriously injured. CPI(ML) held a Saharsa Bandh to protest the killings.

Earlier, on 14 September 2016 also these same feudal forces had attacked Mahadalits, whose attempts to register a case was in vain. In Chirayya village of Saharsa RJD-backed goons evicted 150 poor families living on a bhoodan land for 50-60 years.

A municipal councillor of BJP in Patna evicted many poor and maha-dalit families even from the public footpath. Feudals in Darbhanga attacked 50 homes in Kataiya Musahari in order to grab 22 acres of land that Mahadalits had been occupying for decades. Men and women resisted in 100s, in the course of which Jagmaya Devi was killed. To grab 50 bigha bhoodan land occupied by poor families in Korthu village in Darbhanga, goons attacked on the village and burnt houses resulting in grave injuries to five people. 