I. Lahsuna-Sikandarpur (Masaurhi PS)
Party work was reorganised in Sikandarpur village in 1979 with the harijans (mainly Musahars and Beldars) offering a strong base. A village committee was formed by some vanguard elements including two progressive-minded individuals from the Kurmi caste. At that time the committee used to conduct all its activities in legal form. It used to maintain its register and inform the block administration about all its programmes and plannings. Solving disputes among the peasants, repairing ahars and ponds for irrigation purposes, making arrangements for night-watch against theft and dacoity, seizing vested and waste land and distributing such plots of land among the poor, opposing all acts of social discrimination and oppression committed by the landlords — such were the main functions of the village committee. It used to hold its meetings openly in the presence of the majority of the villagers. Armed with traditional weapons, village defence squads used to guard these meetings. These activities made the village committee very popular not only in Sikandarpur but also in a number of nearby villages like Lahsuna, Gurpatichak, Sukthia, Bansidih etc. where too it helped the rural poor get organised. It stood as a great hurdle in the way of the hitherto unquestioned arbitrary rule of the landlords in all these areas. The first confrontation took place with a landlord named Jeolal Singh who had a large plot of vested land under his illegal occupation and was in the habit of beating and abusing the poor. The broad masses of peasants rose against him, and ultimately his uncle surrendered before the people, and expressed his readiness to hand over the plot in question to the agrarian labourers.
Soon the peasants of Lahsuna also formed a village committee, and it began to assert itself much in the same fashion as its counterpart in Sikandarpur. Here, one progressive individual from the Kurmis joined the movement as a cadre.
The landlords were, however, not sitting idle. Instigated by Mahendra Singh, a notorious landlord of village Amat, the Kurmi landlords started ganging up against the ‘Naxalites’. In April 1980 they set fire to the Musahar tola of Sikandarpur village. And just as the peasants of Lahsuna had earlier taken the cue from their brethren in Sikandarpur, now the landlords of Lahsuna also sought to follow the footsteps of their Sikandarpur counterparts. But here in Lahsuna the harijan masses opened fire on the attackers and successfully checked their advance. The next day agrarian labourers went on strike which lasted for 20 days. During this hartal, many incidents of crop-seizure took place, levies were collected and some firearms were purchased. In 1981, 300 people jointly captured an ahar and a pond in the village (which were so far under the occupation of two major landlords, Chhotan Singh and Bandhu Singh) and proclaimed the village committee’s control over them. By this time, the Party organisation had asserted itself as the main force in the village. Certain Kurmi peasants had also expressed their desire to join the Party, but they were refused admission.
Strike broke out again during the season of paddy-sowing in 1981. Barring two landlords, Sahdeo Singh and Bandhu Singh, all others agreed to pay higher wages. Consequently, for two years, nobody went to work in the fields of these two persons.
It was in these circumstances that the Kishori Singh incident took place. This landlord, Raj Kishori Singh, had raped a village woman. In a villagers’ meeting it was then decided that he should be punished publicly. Accordingly, the village committee instructed the chowkidar to summon him and a public meeting was also convened. But somehow Kishori Singh had already come to know about this decision and had fled his house. Meanwhile Bandhu Singh had informed the police and soon a police party arrived in the village. And in an obvious attempt to save Kishori Singh from the wrath of the people, they arrested both him and the woman. Hearing this news, some 500 people immediately gheraoed the police party and snatched Kishori Singh away from their custody. It was decided that he should be executed and the decision was carried out forthwith. The next day a group of 150 armed policemen came to the village, beat up the villagers, ransacked their houses and arrested 21 villagers. But soon a mass of five to six thousand people gathered there and chased the police. But by the time they reached the railway station the police party had already left for Patna. Unable to get hold of the policemen, the furious mob attacked the station, ransacked it and pelted stones at the nearby police camp. Peasant leaders had a tough time pacifying the angry masses and bringing them back to the village.
After this incident, all the landlords of that village and of surrounding villages fled to Patna. In villages like Ghorahuan, Tandpar, Barah, Bela, Bagichapar, Sukthia, Sikandarpur, Niyamatpur and others, the crops and grains of Kurmi landowners were seized at random. A virtual “people’s raj” had been proclaimed, and this situation continued for about 5 months.
Afterwards police camps were set up in each and every village and with the active connivance of the police, the Bhoomi Sena entered the scene. The later years, often marked by armed clashes between the Bhoomi Sena and the people’s armed forces, are also full of instances of heroic struggles of the peasantry, but details are beyond the scope of the present collection.
II. Narhi-Pirhi (Bikram PS)
Land movement : During 1981-85, struggles for capturing vested land, ahars, river banks, ponds, orchards etc. were launched in a number of villages in this area like Narma, Pirahi, G. I. Dih, Jamui, Bharatpura, Lala Bhatsara, Rakasia, Kalyanpur, Narahi, Sabajpur, Soriama, Gorkhari, Arap and others.
In Narma village, some 1,000 peasants belonging to different castes (except the Bhumihars), under the leadership of the Party organisation, captured 60 bighas of vested land, including two ponds (of 12 bighas each) and an orchard,, that were under the illegal occupation of Bhumihar landlords. But the matter is not settled as yet as the landlords continue to put up a united resistance, and the struggle is still on.
In G. I. Dih and Bharatpura, peasants captured two ponds (one of 22 bighas and the other 20 bighas) which were hither-to under the control of the block office. Yet another pond (of 12 bighas) was captured in Pirahi village, and in Narahi, peasants established their control over a one-mile stretch of river bank in addition to five bighas of vested land and one ahar. Similar actions took place in other villages, too.
Wage movement : There are 32 panchayats and 128 villages in Bikram block. Of these, almost all the panchayats and more than half of the villages (72, to be specific) were affected by wage movement. In 38 villages, the movement was launched under the direct leadership of the Kisan Sabha, in another 11 villages it broke out spontaneously, in yet another 5 villages some other organisations led the movement while in the remaining 18 villages landlords increased wages without any direct movement. The increases in wages have been as follows :
Category of free labour
Pre-movement usual wages :: 2 kachchi seers* of rice and breakfast
Pre-movement exceptional wages :: 2.5 kachichi seers of rice, breakfast and meal
post-movement usual wages :: 1.5 pakki seers of rice, breakfast and meal
Post-movement exceptional wages :: 2.5 kgs. of rice, breakfast & meal
Category of attached Labour
Pre-movement usual wages :: 1.5 kachichi seers of rice, breakfast, meal and 10 kathas of land
Pre-movement exceptional wages :: 2 kachichi seers of rice, breakfast, meal and 12 kathas of land
post-movement usual wages :: 1 pakki seers of rice, breakfast, meal and 12 kathas of land
Post-movement exceptional wages :: 2 kgs. of rice, breakfast, meal & 12 kathas of land
* 1 kachchi seer = l/2 pakki (standard) seer
Resistance movement: The first mass organisation built up by our Party in this area was a youth organisation (formed in January 1980). And this very first effort evoked an atrocious response from the landlords, particularly from one Chalitar Yadav of Narahi village who had an illegal holding of 105 bighas. Later these village youths took initiative in forming a broad-based mass organisation, Jan Kalyan Samiti, and a few other organisations, which attracted the ranks of other political parties like the CPI, CPI(M), Janata Party and the Shoshit Samaj Dal. The Jan Kalyan Samiti staged its first demonstration at Bikram block on 30 September, 1980, demanding mainly the seizure of licensed guns and rifles of the landlords. And by January 1981, it had already grown strong enough to take out a 5,000 strong procession.
With the formation of the Kisan Sabha, all these earlier mass organisations merged with it. The branch organisation of the Kisan Sabha undertook extensive propaganda through village-to-village campaigns, panchayat level meetings, group meetings etc. In course of this propaganda and organisational work, it had to face many an attack from the landlords and the police. On September 24, 1981, the Kisan Sabha organised a militant demonstration and mass meeting against the repressive raj of the landlord-police-goonda combine. While the meeting was in progress, the police arrested two persons. Soon thousands of masses were on their way to the police station. Panicked, the policemen fled away and the infuriated masses then entered the police station, broke open the hajat (lock-up) and freed the two arrested persons. Women played a frontal role in this struggle.
After this incident the police arrested the secretary of the block committee of the Kisan Sabha, Rajeswar Ram, on 12 October, 1981. But again a mass of 4,000 peasants gheraoed the police station and got him released.
Soon after these incidents, in an obvious attempt to create terror in the area, landlords, led by the Congress (I), BJP, CPI, and some notorious Bhoomi Sena men, took out an armed procession with provocative slogans. Side by side, the police too intensified its attack. On 30 October, 1981, more than 100 armed police-men raided Narahi village, ran-sacked many houses, injured many villagers and arrested one student. The same police party then enacted a repeat performance of this brutal drama in Pirahi village. Here they shot dead Surendra Mahato, and while returning they killed Chandravati, a newly married girl of 15, when she was resisting the arrest of her cousin.
But these brutal repressive measures could not crush the revolutionary morale of the masses. In April 1982, hearing the news of the arrest of a person, thousands of peasants ran up to the police station, ransacked it, smashed the jeep and successfully freed the arrested person.
I. Mathila (Dumraon block)
This block is dominated and virtually ruled by the Rajput landlords. Though individual landlords do not possess more than 125 bighas of land in this area, they are, nevertheless, quite prosperous (and, of course, arrogant), thanks to adequate irrigation facilities and a high degree of fertility of land. On the other side are the harijans (mainly Dusadhs and Chamars) — many of them are still bonded labourers facing medieval atrocities and oppression in the hands of the landlords. In between these two camps, there are middle peasants and other middle strata (mainly Yadavas and Muslims).
After the All-India Party Conference in 1979, efforts began to organise mass movements in this block. At first in the village of Khewali, a village committee was formed and it started functioning in a semi-underground manner. The overwhelming majority of the members of the committee came from poor and middle peasants. Uniting and organising the people against landlords, resolving contradictions among the people, and organising them against theft and dacoity — such were the main functions of this village committee. The committee used to conduct political propaganda over 10 to 12 neighbouring villages. Soon village committees were formed in other nearby villages, too, and Mathila was one of them.
But like all other places, village committees in this area, too, did not find the going smooth. Particularly the police started creating all sorts of obstacles in the name of maintaining ‘law and order’. In response, the people of many villages rose in militant resistance against police interference. This resistance was so militant that the police did not dare enter the villages in small numbers. Once a police party headed by a sub-inspector tried to enter a house in Khewali village. The village womenfolk immediately encircled the police party, bashed them up and forced them to retreat.
At this juncture it was realised that the mass upsurge must be combined with movements on economic issues. Members of the Khewali village committee and cadres of other villages jointly issued a leaflet in which the following demands were placed on five specified landlords :
(i) withdraw the illegal and unauthorised occupation of a middle peasant’s land (this applied to one particular landlord),
(ii) withdraw all pending cases against peasants, and
(iii) increase wages. It was announced that whoever would not concede the demands would be socially boycotted. The land under the said illegal occupation was seized by the committee and restored to the concerned middle peasant. Side by side, agrarian labourers stopped working on the fields of those five landlords. Ultimately, four landlords conceded the demands, but the other, Jitendra Tiwari of Koran Saraiyan refused to compromise, and instead sought help from the police.
But just as the police unleashed a reign of repression, the struggle, too, turned against police repression. In one instance, armed policemen were taking away in a tractor the goods they had confiscated by raiding the house of a peasant cadre. But although they could break through the resistance put up by the people of that very village, soon on their way they were encircled by thousands of masses rushing out from neighbouring villages. With women lying down in front of the tractor and the swelling mob continuing to get more and more furious, the police could not proceed an inch. The gherao continued from morning till evening, when at last the DSP arrived on the scene and a peasant leader, too, reached the spot. The gherao was then lifted and the policemen allowed to leave, but only without the goods they had confiscated.
After this heroic resistance, the police further intensified their repression. Three of our comrades — Jeevan (Mukhtar Ahmed, member of Bhojpur Regional Party Committee), Vikas (Jai Govind, ex-worker in Rohtas Industries, Dalmianagar, and Party organiser in that area), and Narsingh (poor peasant, member of armed squad) — embraced martyrdom. Members of the village committee were all arrested. In face of such a heavy loss and repression, the mass upsurge temporarily subsided.
But the impact of the upsurge was widespread. And in its wake there developed a solid base over 30-40 villages in the area. Village committees were formed in almost all these villages. The poor and middle peasants as well as a section of rich peasants closely associated themselves with the movement. Soon after the Khewali struggle, Mathila came to the fore. New cadres emerged in the process of the movement and they embarked on an intensive propaganda. To ensure that the propaganda soon took on an agitational shape, the issue of 1,400 bighas of vested land was made its focal point. The village committee organised the landless and poor peasants and a memorandum was submitted to the administrative officials. In the mean time, two big ponds (of 52 bighas each) that were so far under the occupation of the landlords, were captured by the peasants. With their armed goons, landlords then attacked some peasants while the latter were fishing in the ponds. But they were soon chased away by a mass of 250 peasants. The masses also managed to catch hold of one of those goons, who was released only after 15 days after being issued a stern warning.
One of the landlords, Jagdish Singh, tried to mobilise the Rajput peasants against the struggling poor and prepared a blueprint for murdering peasant cadres. But thanks to correct and timely initiative on the part of the committee, middle peasants as well as a section of rich peasants of the Rajput caste came over to the side of the committee and Brahmin peasants were neutralised. Next the village committee mobilised poor and lower-middle peasants to capture a plot of vested land. The first bid was successful and as a mark of their control the peasants posted a red flag on the land. But the flag was soon uprooted by landlords and their armed goons and the peasants were threatened with dire consequences. The peasants were however not to be cowed down, and the very next day, accompanied by their armed squad, they made a bid to recapture the land. Fire was exchanged between the two sides, but ultimately the landlords were forced to beat a retreat. Peasants caught hold of four goons and gave them a thorough bashing. Out of panick, some landlords fled the village while others began to talk in terms of a compromise. This incident generated a renewed upsurge. A meeting of about 2,500 peasants was organised on the question of land, and a procession was taken out. Social boycott was enforced against two landlords. Peasant cadres widely propagated the agrarian programme of the Kisan Sabha and enlisted the support of middle peasants as well as a section of rich peasants of all castes. But as far as the landlords were concerned, they again fell back on the police and the administration. Many times cadres were sought to be arrested, but all the arrest bids were foiled by militant resistance on the part of the organised peasantry.
However, certain anarchist elements also managed to penetrate into the peasant organisation. One of them, an aggressive youth, even came to exercise a strong influence on the organisation, including the local peasant leader, thanks to his display of great militancy. While the land struggle was getting intensified, these elements arrested a person, a suspected police agent, who was allegedly responsible for the murder of our three comrades, and demanded that the armed unit execute him. The unit did not oblige them and instead advised them to free that person and concentrate on the land struggle, promising full assistance as would be demanded by the struggle. These elements, however, condemned the commander of the unit as a coward and with the tacit approval of the local peasant leader, they went on to annihilate that person.
As apprehended by the unit, this anihilation brought a temporary setback to the cause of the land struggle. However, the peasant organisation gradually regained the initiative and formed an eleven-member land committee comprising mainly lower-middle and poor peasants from different castes and communities. Certain women members were also there in the committee. Prior to distribution, the committee conducted widespread propaganda about the seizure of the plot of vested land and about the mode of distribution to be followed. The police again intervened and the officials sought to divide the people through a parallel allotment of parchas. But under the leadership of the Kisan Sabha, peasants rejected the officials’ orders and demanded that parchas be issued according to the decisions of the land committee. This enraged the officials and they filed cases against many peasants accusing them of taking the law into their own hands. To defeat this conspiracy of dividing the peasants, a massive demonstration was staged in front of the SDO Court and the officials were forced to withdraw the cases.
After conducting extensive discussion, it was decided that land (amounting to a total of 150 bighas) would be equally distributed on individual basis among all those who had participated in the struggle. Subsequently, it was decided that care would be taken to accommodate also those persons who, for some reason or other, were not in a position to physically take part in the struggle. The distribution took place under two heads — house sites and cultivation. Nearly 20 bighas of land were distributed for the purpose of cultivation, and the rest for housing. The land policy stipulated that
(i) land would be distributed mainly among poor peasants, and middle peasants would get land only for building houses or barn;
(ii) if the official allotment were to go against the allotment made by the committee, peasants would abide by the latter;
(iii) no allottee would be allowed to sell the allotted plot of land, and if an allottee dies without an heir, the concerned plot of land would return to the possession of the committee;
(iv) a portion of land would be earmarked for collective cultivation and its produce would go to the fund of the peasant organisation; and
(v) a cooperative system would be developed which would deal with marketing as well, so as to prevent distress sale by the peasants, and the income from the two tanks under the possession of the peasant organisation would be utilised for the development of agriculture.
The trouble within the organisation was, however, far from over. Instead of changing his ways, that youth had only intensified his anarchist activities. It was also revealed that he had clandestine links with the Rajput gentry. At this stage he was expelled from the organisation. Following this, he unleashed a slander campaign against the local peasant leader, and raising the bogey of ‘undemocratic expulsion’, he virtually formed a parallel group in the village. The masses seem to be more or less equally divided between these two parallel forces. In the final analysis, this rather unexpected division in the ranks of the people seems to reflect the dissatisfaction of a large number of people with the land policy and its implementation. Particularly, the pronounced pro-participant bias in the distribution of land does not seem to have gone down well with the masses. And with the masses thus divided, none of the recipients of the distributed land has so far dared to start cultivation on the distributed land. The administration has taken the fullest advantage of this impasse, once again it has intervened in a big way to spread fresh illusions. On the one hand, encroachment notices have been served on the peasants who are currently occupying the vested land, and on the other hand, these very peasants have been allotted vested land in a neighbouring village.
The struggle in Mathila is thus clearly at the crossroads. The Party is reviewing the situation and efforts are on to break through the present impasse.
The wave, of this organised movement for land seizure has already spread to six nearby villages and advanced cadres from Mathila are fanning out to spread the message of their struggle and to organise the peasants
In its second phase, the movement in this block began in 1978. The Party forces started fresh efforts to rejuvenate the movement by waging mass struggles and developing mass organisations. An important development in this regard was the demonstration of 3,000 people at Arrah demanding the release of Girija Ram, an advanced peasant cadre as well as a member of an armed unit. This was the first ever mass demonstration led by us in Bhojpur district. Some middle peasants and PCC men, too, participated in it. By the end of 1979, a Jan Kalyan Samiti was formed, and during the 1980 famine, the Samiti organised a demonstration of at least 7,000 people at Sahar block office demanding declaration of Sahar as a drought-affected area and proper distribution of adequate relief. The activities of the Samiti frightened the landlords and they planned to set fire to one harijan tola. The Samiti immediately rose in action, exposed this conspiracy through mass meetings in several villages and staged a 5,000-strong demonstration before the block office on this and other economic issues.
In the face of landlords’ armed attacks and the police letting loose a veritable reign of terror, peasants’ armed forces felt that they badly needed more modern arms. With this end in view, our armed unit in the area attacked Fatehpur police camp and in a successful guerilla operation, snatched 7 rifles and 280 cartridges.
Meanwhile, the Korodihri village committee was striving to mobilise the agrarian labourers and poor peasants of some 5 to 10 neighbouring villages in a wage struggle against the landlords of Kharaon. (Sahar is dominated by Bhumihar and Rajput landlords possessing on an average 100 to 150 bighas of land.) A struggle committee was formed and demands raised. The landlords reacted by mobilising the entire Bhumihar community against hiring agricultural labourers. Instead they were encouraged to lease out land to the middle peasants. The committee then launched a counter-campaign to dissuade the middle peasants from taking land in lease, and the campaign proved quite successful. Enraged, the landlords decided to plough all their land by themselves. But they failed miserably in this venture and out of desperation, the ringleaders of their camp then planned to finish off the leaders of the movement. To start with they burnt down several houses. Initially, the masses got somewhat frightened. But the peasant cadres made all efforts to keep up the morale of the masses. They informed the police about the atrocities of the landlords. The Korodihri village committee imposed fines on, and collected grains and levy in kind from, rich peasants to support agrarian labourer/poor peasant families on strike. One mukhiya was punished by death for implicating peasant cadres in false cases. At this all landlords got panicky and expressed their desire to work out a compromise. Accordingly, negotiations were conducted in the presence of the officer-in-charge of Sahar police station and the BDO of Sahar leading to an increase in wages. This successful strike inspired the labourers of some 30 nearby villages. They too started planning a wage movement, but the plan did not have to be implemented, for, seeing no way out, landlords increased wages of their own accord. The following table shows the extent of wage-rise achieved through this struggle :
Category of Free Labour
Pre-movement wages :: 3 kachchi seers of rice, or Rs. 5 for male and Rs. 3 for female labourers
Post-movement wages :: 3 kgs. of rice or Rs. 8 for male and Rs. 5 for female labourers
Category of Bonded Labour
Pre-movement wages :: 10 kathas of land and 1 kachchi seers of rice
Post-movement wages :: 15 kathas or 1 bigha of land and 1.5 kgs. of rice
These achievements greatly boosted up the morale of labouring peasants in the entire area and gave a tremendous fillip to their struggles. At some places, the peasants also captured plots of land ranging from 30 to 125 bighas which are being collectively used for housing and cultivation purposes.
On the other hand, landlords and the police also mounted fresh attacks on this fresh eruption of peasant unrest. Raids were conducted in almost all the villages, but in most of the cases they did not go without resistance. Consider the case of Bahuara for example. The police had come to arrest one peasant cadre without any warrant. No sooner had this news spread than thousands of peasants from neighbouring villages rushed to Bahuara and encircled the police party. The latter began to tremble in fear, begged for mercy and finally took to their heels.
Apart from such direct resistance, the Kisan Sabha (the Jan Kalyan Samiti had later merged with the Kisan Sabha) also organised protests on the plane of political propaganda. On the day on which the first demonstration was to be staged, the administration suspended all traffic and closed all the ways. But defying all these odds, a total of 250 people turned up in the demonstration, and the police resorted to lathicharge to disrupt it. The Kisan Sabha replied with another demonstration just after two months. This time despite heavy police bandobast no less than 7,000 demonstrators turned up and gheraoed the police station. Seeing the militant mood of the masses, the SP was forced to beg for mercy, but while the demonstrators were returning the police unashamedly lathicharged them.
Police atrocities are going on, so is the movement of the peasants. In village Kharaon, peasants have captured 30 bighas of vested land on the bank of the river and the same has been distributed among them through a committee. Efforts are going on to capture vested land in some other places as well.
Jehanabad is a subdivision in Gaya district and the peasant movement here has spread to all the seven blocks in this subdivision, viz., Arwal, Kurtha, Karpi, Jehanabad, Kako, Ghosi and Makhdumpur. A small part of this subdivision (areas adjacent to Patna district) is dominated by Kurmi landlords but in other parts, it is mainly the Bhumihar and partly Rajput landlords who rule the roost. Here, too, land and wage struggles are going on in a number of villages.
Under the leadership of the peasant association, peasants have captured several plots of vested land in villages like Barki Murahari, Saida, Salempur, Shahpur, Nighma and others. These plots have been used mainly for the purpose of housing. In Barki Murahari, 8 bighas of vested land were captured and some 50 to 60 erstwhile houseless ‘households’ were accommodated in huts built on this land. Now they are demanding parchas for these land plots. Here two decimals of land have been allotted to each adult in a family. Each household has been asked to plant one tree (preferably mango). This hamlet, Sravannagar, has been named after a martyr comrade who was killed in a clash with landlords and their goons in Firoji village.
In Nighma village of Kurtha block, the peasant organisation is waging struggles for capturing vested land and land above ceiling. About 15 bighas of land have already been captured.
In Ghosi block, the peasant organisation launched a militant movement for capturing the land of the self-styled Mahant of Deora Math who possesses no less than 200 bighas. Here many clashes took place between peasants and the combined forces of the Mahant’s goons, Bhoomi Sena gangsters and armed policemen. The armed squad of the peasants killed a notorious landlord, Ram Sagar Singh, and some Bhoomi Sena lieutenants. The peasants even captured 175 bighas of math land. But the final battle on this question is yet to be won.
In Jehanabad area, the peasant organisation took certain successful concrete steps to combat the menace of caste-based mobilisation. In Bhawanichak village, the Bhoomi Sena had killed three poor peasants including an activist. Tension rose so high that hundreds of bighas of land (belonging to landlords and to middle and rich peasants of Kurmi and other castes) remained uncultivated for two full years. Earlier a people’s committee had been formed in the area. This committee held a meeting of poor, middle and rich peasants of at least 12 villages and explained to them how landlords were trying to break the peasants’ unity through leasing out or selling their land. Since the landlords were also trying to mobilise those middle peasants whose lands, too, were lying uncultivated, the meeting decided that the land of poor, middle and rich peasants would henceforth be cultivated. A separate committee was formed and certain policies were adopted. It was decided that landowning peasants would cultivate their land all by themselves, and would hand over that part of their land which they could not cultivate themselves to the committee. The committee would then lease out that land to poor and lower-middle peasants for cultivation. Accordingly, cultivation was resumed and the tension was somewhat eased. Unity in practice was thus achieved among harijan agrarian labourers/ poor peasants and Kurmi middle peasants.
Another communist revolutionary group, COC (Party Unity) also has its mass following in this subdivision. They have a mass organisation, Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samtti, and also some armed squads. Our peasant organisation always tries to maintain warm relations with them. Joint movements are also sought to be developed. Against Dubey government’s Operation Task Force strategy to curb the peasant movement, the two peasant organisations jointly organised a huge rally and mass meeting on 4 October, 1985, in which more than 20,000 people participated.
The Arwal Massacre
Arwal, a block under the Jehanabad subdivision of Gaya, stands face to face with Sahar, the stormcentre of the Bhojpur peasant struggle in the 70s, and the borders of the two districts of Patna and Aurangabad are only a few kilometres away. The river Sone separates Arwal and Sahar, but the message did frequently cross the river from much earlier periods.
Considered as a stroghold of the CPI and the Brahmarshi Sena led by the notorious criminal-cum-MLA and Bhumihar landlord, Sardar Krishna Singh, Arwal joined the map of revolutionary struggles in the early 80s when a section of forces of the CPI came over to our Party and apart from other struggles, an armed action to snatch rifles was successfully carried out at Badrabad police outpost. Subsequently. there arose serious complications. leading to a setback, but in recent months the mass movement in the area was again picking up. On April 15 of this year, the BPKS convened a mass meeting at Arwal as a part of its programme to observe a protest day throughout the State in memory of Comrade Brajesh (Assistant Secretary of IPF who was hacked to death by landlords in Purnea on 15. 3. 86). The police tried to disrupt the meeting under the pretext of Section 144 and serious altercations ensued. However, sensing the mood of the enemy, the organisers, determined to hold the meeting, finally decided to shift the venue. In the last three to four months, there had taken place a spate of armed actions on police camps in the districts of Bhojpur, Rohtas, Gaya and Patna resulting in the death of 7 policemen and the loss of 19 rifles, and everywhere people’s militancy was on the rise. In retaliation the enemy was planning a pogrom to be perpetrated at the first opportunity. And Arwal provided the ideal place from where the message could be sent to four districts at a time.
On 19 April, exactly a year after the Banjhi killings in which 15 adivasis, including Father Murmu, an ex-Rajya Sabha MP, were killed by the police, the massacre at Arwal took place taking a toll of over 60 lives. The entire plan was designed and executed on the pattern of the Jallianwallabagh firing of 13 April, 1919.
The mass meeting at Arwal was convened by the Mazdur Kisan Sangram Samiti (MKSS), a mass organisation owing allegiance to COC, CPI (ML) (Party Unity) and headed by Dr. Vinayan, a grass-rooter theoretician and an ex-activist of the JP movement, as part of a struggle for a plot of land. Dispute on the plot was going on for years between 9 landless families on the one hand and the landowner, belonging to the backward caste of Rajakas (washermen), on the other. As a superintending engineer in the irrigation department in the secretariat, the landowner has good rapport with the administration and police officials and it is with their help that he has been illegally occupying the land for years. In the month of January he demolished the huts of the 9 above-mentioned families and erected a cemented wall on the plot, all with the help of the police.
Prior to the mass meeting, the masses led by the MKSS demolished the wall. The meeting began at 2.45 pm Participants, numbering well over thousand, came from Karpi, Jehanabad, Arwal (all in Gaya) and Paliganj (Patna). Nearly 40 per cent of them were women, many carrying their children, too. The police led by the Superintendent C.R. Kaswan (once again of a backward caste) opened fire on the unarmed people with the clear intent of killing as many as possible. The meeting place was surrounded from all sides and the people had no way to escape other than scaling the boundary wall. The ground became filled with dead bodies. Even those fleeing on the roads and lanes were not spared, the police chased them for a long distance and shot whoever came within the firing range. No distinction was made between men and women, between old, young and children, or between participants and passers-by. The Indian police were acting in the best traditions of the British dogs, with C R Kaswan stepping into the shoes of the notorious General Dyer. Throughout the night the police were busy removing the dead bodies and killing the injured. The government was determined to send its message and make it clear that henceforth pogroms like Arwal would be on its agenda to quell the growing militancy of the masses, and therefore, it has refused to retreat a single step even in face of nationwide protests. Krishna Singh, the leader of the Brahmarshi Sena, has openly come out in support of the massacre; the Bharat Sevak Samaj; a body of feudal landlords, has justified the killings in its so-called citizens’ enquiry report; the DIG of the police has blatantly threatened the ‘extremists’ with more Arwals in the days to come; and Bindeshwari Dubey, the Chief Minister, has expressed satisfaction in the fact that Arwal has finally succeeded in enforcing ‘peace’ in troubletorn Bihar.
Well, the reactionaries cannot behave otherwise. Arwal has, however, triggered off a nationwide protest movement, it has widened the cracks in the administration and intensified the crisis of the ruling classes in general and the ruling party in particular. The big business press has, as usual, sensationalised the whole affair, reporting in detail the activities of the dissident Congressmen regarding Arwal, the so-called plans of Zail Singh to visit Arwal, statements of scheduled castes and tribes commissioners, and so on and so forth. Numerous protest rallies at Arwal by revolutionary democratic organisations, bandh in Patna and Jehanabad at their call, powerful women’s rally at Jehanabad by democratic women’s organisations, and above all, the solidarity visit to Arwal by two truckloads of activists of the Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union find no place in the press.
History shows that the Jallianwallabagh Massacre had only resulted in the ouster of the British government and General Dyer; to be sure, the same fate awaits C. R. Kaswan, Bindeshwari Dubey and their masters. Far from sounding the death-knell of the peasant struggle in Bihar, Arwal has only revealed its intensity.
Peasant movement under our leadership started in this area with a crop-seizure campaign in 1979. There took place a few armed clashes with the landlords during this campaign and the whole experience generated a new confidence among poor peasants in the area. By the end of 1979, the agrarian labourers were on strike demanding an increase in their wages. The strike continued for one full year despite a number of attacks by the landlord-police combine. Hundreds of peasants rose in resistance, and Ravindra Singh, one of the chieftains of the attackers, was executed by the armed unit. At last wages were increased. This success gave a new fillip to the peasant movement in the area. In the process, there emerged many new cadres, the struggle against social oppression also intensified, and one by one, a number of villages were engulfed by the fire of wage struggle. And what is most important, in almost all these villages, the movement has scored an initial victory.
In Bairiganj village, a struggle was launched for capturing vested land. The landlords sought to suppress the struggle by unleashing armed attacks, but this only resulted in the struggle spreading to more and more villages in the area. In the face of a peasant upsurge, landlords turned desperate. They prohibited the labourers from going out of the village and also from cattle-grazing and grass-cutting on their fields. And, of course, many poor peasants were also physically assaulted by the landlords’ armed gangs and the police. Armed policemen raided many villages, many peasants were arrested and police camps were set up in a number of villages. At the same time, the landlords began to fan caste sentiments and to organise thieves and robbers. They even went so far as to form an armed organisation called the Kshetriya Kisan Mahasangh. Under the banner of this Mahasangh, they conducted armed attacks on several villages and killed a number of peasants. To be sure, these attacks did not go without resistance. The Party organisation also decided to execute certain ringleaders of the Mahasangh. Accordingly, the armed unit executed Mahendra Singh in February 1982 and Bhattu Singh in July 1982. Land-seizure and resistance apart, the peasant organisation also undertook certain constructive measures, like laying a canal, constructing a dam on river Lokayan, and so on. Negotiations were also initiated to resolve contradictions with middle peasants and a section of rich peasants. As a result of these multifarious efforts, the Mahasangh gradually fizzled out.
This area served as a fountainhead of inspiration for many nearby villages. The peasant organisation soon spread to 55-60 villages of this block and the work expanded to other blocks, too. In the south-eastern part of Hilsa, many peasants left the CPI to join the Kisan Sabha. They launched a strike in 15 villages demanding an increase in wages. The strike was successful in 10 villages (wages increased from 1 seer to 2.5 kgs of rice) and the organisation expanded to 30 more villages.
In this and nearby blocks numerous struggles took place for seizing vested land and establishing peasants’ control over water reservoirs, tanks etc. And to be sure, many such struggles have been successful. Many militant demonstrations have also been staged against police repression in which hundreds and thousands of peasants have participated. The 1985 Assembly election also provided a good opportunity for conducting widespread political propaganda and for consolidating and expanding our work in these areas. Contesting from the prison, the People’s Front candidate in Hilsa polled more than 20,000 votes despite heavy police repression. Thus, combining all forms of struggle, the peasants of Hilsa are striking heavy blows to the hegemony of the landlords.
Land movement : The first incident of land seizure in this district under our leadership took place in village Alpa in Haspura block. The Bhumihar landlords of Itwan village had grabbed 52 bighas of land from Koiri middle peasants of Alpa village. But the landlords were divided into two groups and taking advantage of this rift among the landlords, our Party led the Alpa peasants in a successful seizure of those 52 bighas of land in December 1976.
Again in July 1977, 60 bighas of vested land were captured by landless poor peasants and lower-middle peasants of Alpa and Itwan villages. This land was distributed among 65 families, each family getting nearly 18 kathas of land. The landlords could not tolerate this loss. Twice (January and March 1979 ), they launched attacks with the help of armed goons, but in face of the united resistance of the armed peasantry, they could not do anything. Rather one landlord, Krishna Singh, and two hired goons lost their lives. October 1980 witnessed another incident of land-seizure, when peasants captured and cultivated a stretch of 20 bighas of riverside vested land.
All these captured plots are still under the possession of the peasants. These successful land-seizure struggles acted as a model for the whole of the area, inspiring landless and poor peasants of several other villages.
In 1979, braving severe police repression, agrarian labourers and poor peasants of Sansa village (Daudnagar PS) captured 2 bighas of land belonging to a very cruel landlord, Hiralal Singh. The same year, they also captured a pond under the possession of the same landlord.
In February 1983, 40 bighas of vested land were captured by peasants in Nauner village of Obra block. Here, too, the police and goondas launched an intense repression campaign, but the peasants put up a militant resistance, injuring several policemen and officials. Peasants of nearby villages extended active cooperation.
In Hichchhanbigha area of Daudnagar block, the people captured an orchard covering nearly 200 bighas of land.
All these instances of land-seizure movement were found to generate tremendous enthusiasm, and also to forge immediate unity, among agrarian labourers, poor peasants and even middle peasants.
The Kaithi Incident
The village Kaithibigha under Obra block is one of the most advanced centres of the peasant movement in the district. The village is virtually ruled by Bhumihar landlords. Earlier, the CPI had a considerable following in this village, but with the Kisan Sabba mobilising the agrarian labourers and poor peasants in struggles on questions of wages and land, and the CPI always siding with the landlords, the latter gradually lost its old base. A veritable polarisation took place — agrarian labourers, poor peasants and a sizeable section of middle peasants led by the Kisan Sabha and supported by the peasants’ armed squad on one pole, and the landlord-CPI-administration combine on the other. Contradictions sharpened during the parliamentary elections of December 1984 when the IPF decided to extend support to the Janata Party candidate as opposed to his CPI counterpart and declared that it would resist any move to capture booths.
It was in this background that the Kaithi incident took place. An armed unit of ours had taken shelter in the harijan tola of the village. Tipped off about the presence of the unit by one CPI man, Sita Ram, the police launched a massive attack, murdering 12 persons including 2 boys and 2 women. Fighting a losing yet brave battle against this massive police encirclement, two members of our armed unit finally embraced martyrdom, but not before they had killed four policemen and injured several others. This massacre was by no means an isolated incident. A few days before the incident, the then Bihar Minister of State for Home, Bhola Singh, had visited Kaithi, and while distributing more gun-licenses to the landlords he had told them that guns were not meant to be kept in the almirah (PUDR report, March, 1985). One need not comment further on the government-landlord nexus.
Exactly one year after this incident, on 1 January, 1986, the people of Bihar observed Kaithi Day in response to the call of the Kisan Sabha. And in Kaithi, a martyrs’ column was erected in the presence of more than 10,000 peasants. They vowed to carry the peasant struggle through to the end, come what may.
Keer is a village of about 360 households in Bhabhua PS of Rohtas. It used to be just like any other village of the district, but today it stands apart as the peasants of Keer have resolved not to allow the Kurmi landlords to turn it into another Samhauta, Bishrampur or Shahar Bakasara (villages of Rohtas where the poor peasants’ attempts to raise their heads were crushed by Kurmi landlords in the past who went on a killing and burning spree).
There are eight kutcheries (rent collectorates, popularly known as chhawanis) of absentee landlords in the village. The chieftain of these landlords is Krishna Singh, one of the biggest landlords of Rohtas. He owns three tractors and about 900 acres of land, 300 acres in Keer itself. In contrast to some other landlords who lease out their land, he resorts to self-cultivation with the help of his managers and even leases in land. His brother Bhanu Singh is the president of the Kurmi caste organisation and he grows cash crops. All the eight absentee landlord families have family ties among themselves.
Our work here began two years ago among peasants of various castes, the Rajputs, Kurmis, Yadavas, Kahars and Chamars being the main caste groups in the village. To start with, a struggle was launched on the question of wages. It assumed the shape of a struggle of primarily harijans against well-to-do peasants and landlords of all castes. Later, agrarian labourers and poor peasants came to an agreement with the middle and rich peasants. But no agreement was possible with the eight landlord families led by Krishna Singh, who arrogantly declared that he would pay his hired labourers one pau (233 grammes) less than the amount paid by all other landlords or peasants of the village. In face of strike by the agrarian labourers, he hired labourers from outside. Thanks to timely intervention by the Party, a clash with these labourers could be averted, but the strike went on.
During this year’s harvesting season of wheat, landlords threatened the agitating labourers with dire consequences. Alongwith a Sub-Inspector (SI) of the police and hired goondas, Krishna Singh encircled the harijan hamlet and opened fire. The labourers were also prepared and replied with counter-attacks. In face of resistance the goondas took to their heels. Soon peasants of almost all castes gathered there and the women encircled the SI. He was then bashed up by the masses and let off without his revolver. After two days, the police and the goondas came back alongwith an Inspector and demanded the revolver. The people refused and asked them to bring the Magistrate. When the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) came, the masses asked him to file a case against the SI and raised the question of wages, too. On getting an assurance from the DSP, they finally returned the revolver. This mass resistance has had a widespread impact and our work has expanded in 60 to 70 villages.
Presently a police camp has been set up near the harijan. hamlet. Krishna Singh is resorting to caste-based mobilisation and is threatening the Rajputs, too, for many of them sympathised with the movement. With the help of some 70 armed goondas, he has hired labourers from outside for the purpose of harvesting. The CPI MLA, Ramlal Yadav is actively helping the landlords. The peasant organisation has issued an open letter to Bindeswari Dubey and called upon the peasants to carry on their resistance struggle.
The spring thunder of Naxalbari had found its first echo in Bihar at Musahari (’68-’69), till then an obscure block of Muzaffarpur district. But the anti-feudal mass struggles that had broken out at that time could not be carried forward as the then State Party leadership followed a Menshevik class line, emphasising unity with rich peasants and consequently failing to strike deep roots among agrarian labourers and poor peasants. Hence class struggle could not be sustained in face of severe police repression and Jaya Prakash Narayan made Musahari his experimental ground for curbing the ‘menace of Naxalism’.
It was only after 1978 that we could start reorganising our work in this area, and mass movements began to pick up, slowly but steadily. Village committees were formed and after a few initial rounds of struggle against a particular lumpen element, agrarian labourers and poor peasants were organised against a tyrannical landlord. Agrarian labourers went on strike demanding higher wages and in some cases wages were increased, too; but on the whole we could not achieve much of a success, and landlords began to harass advanced labourers. The ringleader of the landlords stopped paying wages to his labourers even as they worked full hours on his land. After a few days, one labourer, out of sheer hunger, picked up a jackfruit from the landlord’s garden. At this the landlord’s son mercilessly thrashed him and he had to be immediately hospitalised. But the police refused to register any case against the landlord and the hospital authorities also released the labourer half way through the treatment even as his conditions remained quite serious. Hearing this, peasants became furious. Group meetings were held in the village and it was decided that the landlord should be taught a good lesson.
Accordingly, one morning some 200 peasants gheraoed the landlord’s house. Hearing the slogans, more people joined in and the gherao of 200 peasants was soon transformed into a raid by a thousand people. Meanwhile, all members of the landlord’s family, barring an old man, had taken to their heels. But the old man was also a cruel oppressor and the masses, therefore, gave him a good thrashing. Efforts were made once again to lodge a case against the landlord with the police, but the SP and the DM would never accept any case against him. Meanwhile the old man died in the hospital and the police unleashed a series of raids on the houses of peasant cadres and activists. But faced with a determined resistance from the masses, the police were ultimately forced to retreat.
This struggle has dealt a heavy blow to feudal highhandedness and had a good impact on several other villages in the neighbourhood, culminating in the emergence of a network of village committees in the area.
The peasants of Musahari have begun to assert as a political force and are actively participating in various movements on democratic issues. 500 peasants participated in the anti-Press Bill rally convened by the IPF in Patna, 300 peasants took out a militant torchlight procession in protest against the murder of a PCC, CPI (ML) cadre, 400 peasants joined in a procession against Operation Task Force and about 350 peasants attended the Kaithi Day memorial meeting on 1 January, 1986.
The murder of Comrade Gambhira Sah, Party leader in this area, in police lock-up on 3 July, 1977, gave rise to a widespread protest movement. His funeral procession was attended by 7,000 people of 25 villages, all armed with traditional weapons, and they vowed to avenge the murder of their beloved leader by further broadening and intensifying the peasant struggle. Every year the people of this area observe July 3 as martyrs’ day and renew their pledge.
In September 1978, the landlord of Tinkoni village, who bad collaborated with the police in murdering Comrade Gambhira was punished by death.
A local mass organisation was formed in 1979 and under the leadership of this organisation 200 acres of land were captured and distributed among sharecroppers. In 1981, a successful wage movement was conducted simultaneously in 4 villages. Some struggles on sharecropping rights also took place in some villages. This organisation later merged with the BPKS. Subsequently, a massive demonstration was staged against police repression in Baithuhia village.
Peasants of all castes have rallied here under the banner of our peasant organisation. A good number of Muslims, too, support our organisation. And from the very beginning, broad sections of middle peasants are also involved in our movement and organisation. With caste-mobilisation thus rendered ineffective, the landlords in this area, find themselves deprived of one of their traditional safeguards against militant peasant struggle.
The Naugachhia subdivision in Bhagalpur district can be divided into two parts — the diara area inhabited by mainly backward castes (Yadavas, Gangotas, Koiris, Baniyas, etc.) and the area by the side of the railway track and the national highway where landlords reside. The landlords are mainly Bhumihars and the majority of their holdings are in the diara area and are cultivated by Gangota labourers. Land is mainly concentrated in the hands of Bhumihar big landlords, each possessing hundreds of acres of land, though landlords and rich peasants are there among the Yadavas and Koirts, too. But the biggest of all landlords is Ram Ghulam Sahu of Parbatta (commonly known as Sahu Par-Iratta), a banlya, who possesses more than 30,000 acres of land. The entire area is infested with dacoits, dacoit gangs are formed along caste lines and they are often utilised and protected by the landlords of their respective castes.
Tenancy and surplus land (land over and above the ceiling) are the two major issues of peasant movement in this area. In contrast, wages have always been a minor issue.
This part of Bhagalpur has always been known for the activities of certain armed groups of peasant rebels. These groups, particularly the one led by Kailash Mondal, waged militant struggles on the two aforesaid issues. But ultimately they all degenerated into lumpen and dacoit gangs.
The beginning of our Party’s work in this area dates back to 1970. In the initial years, certain notorious landlords were killed no doubt, but the organisation remained quite weak.
The beginning of the second phase in 1976-77 was marked by a crop-seizure movement. Hundreds of peasants forcibly harvested the crop on 25 bighas of a landlord’s land. Thousands of peasants participated in the seizure of maize from 125 bighas of Sahu Parbatta’s land. In the absence of any mass organisation or peasant committee, the crops were distributed among the peasants under the direct supervision of the Party cadres. It was only in the late 70s, towards the end of the rectification movement that a village committee was formed here for the first time.
In one area, it was declared that no landlord or rich peasant would be allowed to sell his land without the concurrence of his tenants. As for seizing land, it was decided that (i) only that part of a landlord’s holding would be seized which is cultivated through hired labourers, and the land thus seized would be leased out among agrarian labourers and poor peasants, and (ii) in case of vested/government land, such land should be seized and distributed among agrarian labourers and poor peasants. It was further decided that struggles should also be conducted against moneylenders.
Soon the people from surrounding villages also started coming to the village committee with their problems. Subsequently, broad masses of agrarian labourers and poor peasants of the entire area were mobilised, and 30 bighas of uncultivated land were seized from the possession of one landlord. Through a land distribution committee, the land was then distributed among 26 landless peasants.
Regarding sharecropping it was decided that
(i) the landowner would not be allowed to send his musclemen for inspection of the land leased out;
(ii) he would not have any right to enquire about the produce; and
(iii) the sharecroppers would themselves hand over a fixed amount of produce to the landowner.
One landlord had grabbed 6 bighas of vested land which were previously under the occupation of a poor peasant. The village committee organised a public meeting and forced the landlord to return the land.
By the end of 1979, such types of movements became a common occurrence. Consequently, massive repressive measures were let loose by the administration and a permanent police camp was set up in the area. During 1980-82, another area witnessed incessant struggles of the sharecroppers. In one instance of anti-eviction struggle, 8 bighas of land were captured in 1983. But while the peasants were ploughing the land, the goons of the landlords opened fire, killing one peasant. After this incident, processions, mass meetings, protest demonstrations were organised in several villages in the area. Thousands of peasants participated in these programmes. Presently, about 15,000 peasants are associated with the Kisan Sabha.
Rajnagar has been the centre of mass struggles in this district. During 1979-85, this area witnessed several struggles on questions of wages and land as well as against social oppression and police repression.
In Bhatsimar village, a struggle was launched against a landlord (who also happens to be the mukhiya of the panchayat), opposing eviction and demanding wage-hike. Ultimately the mukhiya bowed down and in a panchayat meeting attended by nearly 1,000 people, a compromise was worked out—wages were increased by 1.5 kg. and the landlord also agreed to increase the quantity of breakfast by 150 grams.
In Rampatti village, sharecroppers under the leadership of the peasant organisation captured 60 acres of land belonging to a Mahant.
In Simri village, 45 acres of vested land were captured and distributed among 45 peasants.
The Bhatsimar incident
Two musclemen of the landlord-cum-mukhiya had molested a woman. The villagers protested against this and gave a thorough bashing to the musclemen. The latter then returned with the police, took away one peasant to the police camp and beat him black and blue. Hearing this news, peasants gathered there and raised their voice against police highhandedness. The BPKS decided to organise a demonstration against police highhandedness and the arrest of the peasant. Accordingly, on 3 April, 1982, some 300 peasants marched to the Baluaha police camp, demanding, among other things, the release of the arrested peasant, withdrawal of the police camp, and enforcement of minimum wages.
While returning, the demonstrators were pelted with stones by the musclemen of the landlord. And when they started chasing the musclemen the police opened fire. Two persons, including one woman, died on the spot. Later on, four injured peasants were dragged out of their houses and they were then shot dead in the police camp. And the main leaders and cadres were all put behind the bars.
The massacre of these six peasants, no doubt, caused a temporary setback to the developing peasant movement, but it has not been able to silence the oppressed peasantry for ever. Last year, when a group of armed policemen, headed by a sub-inspector, tried to arrest one Kishan Sabha activist from Raiyam village of Jhanjharpur block (constituency of the former chief minister, Jagannath Mishra), peasants immediately encircled the police party and gave all of them a good bashing. And later, when the policemen took one peasant to the police station, hundreds of peasants gheraoed it and forced the police officials to release the arrested peasant.
Till date, Purnea is the strongest bastion of the feudal forces in Bihar. It is perhaps here in Purnea that all the obnoxious features of feudal remnants appear in their crudest expressions. The district of big landlords (controlling thousands of acres in many cases) with their octopus-like grip over the lives of the peasants, Purnea was regarded as Kalapani (forbidden land) till few years back. The incidence of sharecropping is highest in Purnea — 534 out of every 1,000 cultivators as against the corresponding figures of 184, 139 and 86 for Bhojpur-Rohtas, Patna and Gaya respectively. In the 1950s Purnea had witnessed militant movements of the peasantry, particularly of the sharecroppers, under the leadership of the CPI and the Socialists. The rugged countryside of Purnea, often haunted by the fury of the dreaded river Kosi, produced the prose of peasant ‘disturbances’ in the legend of Nakshatra Malakar. By the 60s, however, the legend was lost as all movements were locked up in the labyrinth of legalism by the CPI leadership. The Naxalbari movement in the 70s made little headway in Purnea, except sporadic struggles and ferocious attacks by the landlords (like the one at Chandwa-Rupaspur where 35 Santhals were burnt alive) nothing much was heard about the district.
It was again in the early 80s that we began to make fresh inroads in Purnea. At a very preliminary stage of our work we shed our first blood in the martyrdom of Comrade Brajesh Mohan Thakur on 15 March, 1986. Similar has been the fate of all his predecessors who had dared to rouse and organise the peasantry in Purnea. But the aftermath of Brajesh’s martyrdom has turned out to be entirely different: a new chapter of peasant movement seems to have been ushered in in this accursed district.
The initial shock following his murder soon gave way to militant protests. Hundreds of Santhal peasants armed with bows and arrows gheraoed the police station demanding immediate punishment to the culprit landlords and their goons. In another incident, the masses chased and thrashed one of the goons who was a party to this ghastly murder. The notorious landlord and the main culprit, Sitaram Singh was also encircled and he was let off only after he begged mercy. (Subsequently, on 7 June, he has been done to death.) Such militant protests in the wake of the martyrdom of Com. Brajesh were unique in the history of peasant movement in Purnea and even surpassed our own expectations. On May 30, 1986, nearly 10,000 peasants gathered at Kakkarbigha village in Dhamdaha P.S. to erect a memorial in the memory of Com. Brajesh defying Section 144 declared by the district administration. Undaunted by the threats of landlords and their goons, dozens of activists had put in tremendous efforts to make this mobilisation a success. Instead of getting panicked, the peasants are clearly in a militant mood and seem to be preparing for a showdown.
Peasant struggles in our areas of work in this district have mainly revolved round the issues of (i) rehabilitation of, and compensation and employment for, displaced persons, (ii) minimum wages, (iii) social oppression, (iv) police repression, and in some cases, (v) land and crop. The targets of such struggles have been a varied lot : management of the Central Coalfields Limited, Cantonment Board, contractors and their goondas, landlords and rich peasants, and police officials. And as for forms of struggle, demonstrations, armed militant gheraos, strikes, etc. have been the major ones.
In 1982, in one area there took place a militant peasant movement against displacement. The Cantonment Board wanted to take over a large part of peasants’ agricultural land — hundreds of peasant families were thus threatened with displacement. Peasants were mobilised to resist this move, they dismantled the tent and also ploughed a sports ground which had been illegally captured by the Cantonment Board. Later, a militant demonstration was also staged against the proposed take-over bid. Alongwith these agitational programmes, legal possibilities were also explored and necessary measures adopted. Ultimately, the Board officials were forced to withdraw the displacement notice.
In one area, a rich peasant had been controlling a plot of adivasi land for more than 10 years. Our mass organisation mobilised 300 peasants and seized the crop of that rich peasant. His bullock cart was also seized. The landlords in the area summoned the police, but the village women prevented them from entering the village. Subsequently a compromise was worked out and the bullock cart was returned to the rich peasant.
Struggles have taken place in this district on the following issues : (i) corruption of block officials and officials of the Konar dam project, (ii) police highhandedness, (iii) minimum wages, (iv) fair compensation for land taken over for the purpose of constructing canals, (v) jobs for local people, (vi) encroachments by the Forest Department on the peasants’ rights, and (vii) land and crops.
Such struggles have been launched against block and dam project officials, the police, contractors, forest department, Sahukars and landlords. Demonstration, gherao, strike and beating have been the main forms of struggle.
Our peasant organisation here has been baptised amidst fierce attacks by the landlords. The awakening began with peasant youths rising against social oppression. In face of landlords’ attacks, the mass organisation forged an anti-repression front with some other likeminded democratic organisation. The front staged a massive 3,000-strong demonstration against feudal highhandedness.
The landlords retaliated in an extremely barbarous fashion. They forcibly entered the house of a teacher (of middle-peasant status) at the dead of night with the avowed aim to finish him off. But as he was not there, they cruelly raped his wife and daughter. The mass organisation organised a demonstration in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office in protest against this ghastly crime.
Struggles in this district have been centred on the following major issues : (i) vested and communal land, and tanks under the occupation of landlords, (ii) famine relief, (iii) irrigation facilities, (iv) police repression and anti-social activities of the goondas, and (v) the menace of mushrooming liquor shops. Landlords, goondas, block officials and the police have been the usual targets. The form and intensity of struggles have ranged from demonstrations to seizure of land and crop and even to primary resistance.
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In this districtwise survey of certain major milestones, so far we have restricted ourselves to only a narration of events. Before concluding this chapter, let us have a micro-level view of the underlying process of ideological struggle without which the protracted peasant movement in Bihar could have never become a reality.
An experience of ideological remoulding of a poor peasant fighter
Comrade A, a poor peasant fighter, has always been known for his militancy and bravery; but at the same time, he was also well known as an anarchist with characteristic indiscipline and arrogance.
In 1979-80 his area witnessed a wave of mass movements. As this upsurge encompassed a very wide area and the Party lacked in capable cadres, the movement could not be kept under control. There took place several anarchist acts and unnecessary annihilations. In fact, out of the 15 annihilations that took place during this period, only 3 or 4 can be considered as really essential. These acts limited the scope of mass movements, and with the formation of the Bhoomi Sena in 1982, there ensued a veritable war of attrition. All these annihilations were carried out under the personal leadership and initiative of Comrade A. Armed struggle was rendered the principal form of struggle and Comrade A became famous as the individual hero of this struggle.
In view of the fighting capabilities of Comrade A, the local Party organisation preferred to keep mum about his shortcomings, and even the unnecessary annihilations were also not opposed. All this exacerbated the ideological problems in him. He became quite arrogant and started considering himself as above organisation. Cashing in on the enormous prestige that he enjoyed among the masses, he started indulging in whimsical acts and adopted the roving rebel style of work. Around him gathered many militant cadres whose political consciousness was quite low. He did not consider himself answerable to the Party organisation. He would spend levy-money in an irresponsible way and would never submit any accounts. He was then shifted to another area, but there again he assembled many militant youths around him and continued with his old style of functioning. The Party began to consider him as a hopeless case.
At this juncture a programme was undertaken to remould him ideologically. Care was taken to ensure that we did not lose sight of the fact that Comrade A has been with the Party for a very long period, has come from the poor peasant class, is resolute and militant, and has sacrificed a lot in struggle (his father having been murdered by the Bhoomi Send). His problems had cropped up in a particular situation. And for all his problems, generally no personal interest was involved in his activities. Whatever he did, he did in the name of the Party, and he always regarded his group of 10 to 15 youths as a Party group.
Basing on the policy of ‘curing the sickness to save the patient’, he was patiently explained the new conditions in his area. It was then pointed out how the problems got compounded due to mistakes on his part as well as on the part of others. Accordingly he was urged to rectify these mistakes in order to protect the gains of the struggle. A Party committee was organised in his area and he was brought under its control. He was subjected to organisational discipline and a persistent struggle was conducted against his wrong ideas. On many an occasion, he got irritated, but the responsible Party organiser always kept his cool and took care to integrate with him.
Simultaneously, the youth belonging to his group were also educated in communist conduct and character as well as in the Party’s line, so that they did not blindly follow Comrade A. Gradually their understanding improved and they came to understand some of the shortcomings of Comrade A. But we had to go about this whole thing very carefully so that Comrade A did not misinterpret it as instigating his ‘followers’ against him.
At last, this relentless, painstaking campaign proved to be a success. Comrade A began to realise his mistakes and gradually started identifying himself with the new trend. Now he is quite disciplined and has been promoted to the position of a member of the local Party team.