ML UPDATE 18 / 2012

ML UPDATE 18 / 2012

26 Apr 2012

Stand by Bathani Tola in the Battle for a New and Just Bihar

Nearly 16 years ago Bathani Tola had shocked and shamed the nation as yet another site of a gory massacre in Bihar. An obscure sleepy hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district in Bihar, Bathani Tola experienced a brutal feudal assault on a fateful July afternoon in 1996. As many as 21 lives, including 11 women, seven children and two infants were killed with a kind of barbarity that was to be seen on a much bigger scale six years later in Gujarat. Bathani Tola was indeed a precursor to the 2002 Gujarat genocide. With Bathani Tola, the country woke up to the sordid reality of the Ranveer Sena, an upper caste feudal private army massacring the oppressed rural poor with the avowed aim of exterminating the CPI(ML) and the radical peasant movement.

Sixteen years later, Bathani Tola is back in the news. The oppressed poor of this obscure village, who have been waiting for justice for years together, have experienced yet another massacre. This time round, it is a judicial massacre perpetrated by the High Court of Bihar which has overturned the verdict of the lower court and acquitted one and all who were convicted for their heinous role in executing this barbaric massacre. While acquitting the guilty, the High Court has apologised to some of the accused even as it has termed the witnesses liars spinning tales. Nothing could perhaps demonstrate the farcical nature of the judicial system than the failure or refusal of the system to mete out any punishment to anybody for a massacre of 21 persons that had taken place not in the darkness of night but in broad daylight.

When Bathani Tola happened Bihar was being ruled by Laloo Prasad with the slogan of social justice. The government banned the Ranveer Sena but the ban was never enforced and the Sena went on massacring people at will. Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankarbigha, Narayanpur, Miyanpur – the list of massacres got longer even as Laloo Prasad himself told his audience in a public meeting that he was ready to team up with the devil to finish the CPI(ML) off. On one level Laloo Prasad waxed eloquent against the BJP, but in Bihar his own government continued to connive with the most reactionary organ of feudal-communal violence. Sixteen years later Bihar today is ruled by Nitish Kumar with the backing of an increasingly aggressive BJP. The slogan of social justice has given way to the rhetoric of development with justice. But for the predominantly dalit, and as in the case of Bathani Tola also Muslim, victims of feudal violence, justice clearly remains as elusive as ever.

What has happened to the Bathani Tola victims is no judicial accident. This has rather been the norm in Bihar and if this exposes for the umpteenth time the caste-class bias of the judiciary we must remember this bias is reinforced by the government of the day. This was true of Congress-ruled Bihar when upper caste politicians used to dominate in the government, and it has remained true all through the last two decades when Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar have been in the helm with slogans of social justice or good governance. We must remember that the first thing that Nitish Kumar did on assuming power was to abandon the Amir Das Commission set up in the wake of the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre to probe the political links of the Ranveer Sena. His government also made sure that Brahmeshwar Singh, the infamous supremo of the Ranveer Sena, came out on bail to vitiate the trial of various massacres cases. And Sunil Pandey, another notorious lynchpin of the Sena had already been acquitted and today he is the JD(U) MLA from the post-delimitation Tarari constituency that Bathani Tola comes under.

The abandoning of the Amir Das commission and the subsequent dumping of the Land Reform Commission reports have been two key steps of the Nitish Kumar dispensation that clearly reveal the pro-feudal character of the regime. The verdict delivered by the High Court is just a natural consequence. Equally ‘natural’ in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar is the conviction of people challenging the feudal order. Rupam Pathak, a teacher who had been fed up with being subjected to continuous sexual harassment by a BJP MLA has been issued life sentence and Bodhan Sada and his comrades, who had been fighting for the land rights and dignity of the landless rural poor of the Musahar community, christened Mahadalit by the Nitish government to win the community’s votes, have been handed out death sentences.

Even as Bathani Tola grapples with this judicial massacre, ruling class politicians continue to play their political cards. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram wonders why nobody is speaking out in favour of the Bathani Tola victims, Bihar government says it would now approach the Supreme Court for justice! While challenging the feudal bias on every front and level, the battle for justice for the Bathani Tola victims will have to rebuff this pretentious politics of crocodile tears. The renewed massacre and shame of Bathani Tola has revealed like nothing else what continues to ail and retard Bihar. For everybody aspiring for a better future for Bihar in the centenary of its administrative birth, the message is loud and clear. Bihar can only move forward by effecting a decisive rupture with the still well entrenched feudal forces and mindset, and the continuing politics of appeasement of and alliance with feudal forces is the biggest betrayal to the cause of both justice and development for Bihar. Let us stand by Bathani Tola in this battle for a new and just Bihar.

Convention Demands for Victims of Bathani Tola Massacre

A Convention was held in the national capital on ‘Bathani Tola Acquittal: Political Complicity and Issues of Justice in Feudal and Communal Massacres’, on 23 April in the evening, at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. The Convention was organized by the CPI(ML) in the backdrop of the Bihar HC verdict acquitting all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre.

Introducing the issue, Kavita Krishnan, Central Committee member of the CPI(ML) said that the Bihar HC verdict had serious implications for the struggle for justice, not only in the Bathani Tola case but for all victims of feudal-communal massacres in Bihar and the rest of the country. The verdict disbelieves the evidence of eyewitnesses, by suggesting that had they really been present, they too would have been killed by the perpetrators. The verdict therefore implies that only the dead can be accepted as truthful witnesses to a massacre! If we declare it impossible for there to be any survivors and eyewitnesses to a massacre, then how can we ever convict any perpetrators of a massacre?

Prof. Anand Chakravarty spoke about the deep chasm between the rule of law and ‘justice’. He said that ‘justice’ should be understood not just in a judicial sense but in the wider sense of economic, social, and political justice. Citing instances of judicial bias against the dalit and adivasi agrarian labourers, he quoted the Tamil Nadu High Court verdict in the Kilvenmani massacre of 1969, which had found it ‘astonishing’ and ‘difficult to believe’ that ‘rich men, owning vast extents of land’, one of whom even ‘possessed a car’, could be guilty of burning alive 42 dalits! In the context of the Rupaspur (Purnea) massacre of 14 adivasi sharecroppers in 1971, he quoted the words of a well-known advocate who had justified the massacre, “It is because of me (i.e the landlord) that he had the land, it is because of me that he had a livelihood … Now he is violating that relationship by refusing to share the crop; this is a breach of trust which cannot be tolerated.” Prof. Chakravarty spoke of the principal social contradictions of Bihar, in the backdrop of which the Ranveer Sena had conducted more than 23 massacres in Bihar in the 1990s. The apparent reason for the massacres lay in contestations over land, wages and social dignity, he said, and the mobilizations of the radical Left groups on the latter issues, he stressed, were largely demanding rights within the Constitutional framework. The real reason for the massacres, he felt, was that the assertion of the underclass was viewed as an act of defiance against the hierarchical class and caste order. He held that the Bihar Government today, for all its rhetoric, is actually deeply inimical to the economic, social and political entitlements of the oppressed classes, and that therefore the prospects of justice for the latter are quite weak.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan spoke about the entrenched upper class and caste biases in the judiciary, and about how difficult it is for the poor and oppressed to approach the Courts for justice, or even to prove their innocence when they are falsely framed for some crime by the state machinery.

Prof. Nandini Sundar of Delhi University said that we should be hopeful and confident that the people of Bathani Tola would get justice – not so much because one has faith in the judiciary, but because one has faith in the commitment of the people and the party towards the struggle for justice. She said that the verdict seems to blame the survivors and witnesses for the weaknesses of the police investigators and prosecutors. She questioned the underlying assumption that the Bathani Tola massacre was a result of group rivalries (i.e between CPI(ML) and the Ranveer Sena), and that the survivors’ political affiliation made them ‘unreliable witnesses.’ She said that P Chidambaram was being opportunist when he asked why no one demanded justice for the Bathani Tola victims; since he himself was in the habit of branding those who raised such matters as ‘Maoist sympathizers.’

Jaya Mehta, economist and activist, spoke of her visit along with a team, to Amausi in Khagaria district of Bihar, which was the site of a massacre in 2009. She pointed out that in stark contrast to Bathani Tola where the Ara verdict had come out in 14 years later, a verdict sentencing 10 musahars (‘mahadalits’) including Comrade Bodhan Sada to death had come out within four years. She held that Amausi verdict to be deeply unjust and out of sync with the facts on the ground as emerged from the team’s preliminary enquiry. Noting the Bihar Government’s back-tracking on the question of land reform, she stressed the need for a united Left movement on the question of land reform and land rights to the oppressed.

Comrade Ramji Rai, politburo member of the CPI(ML), said that 16 years ago, Ranveer Sena committed the massacre in Bathani Tola, but now, what we are witnessing is a judicial massacre of Bathani Tola. And the foundations of this massacre of justice, he said, were laid long ago: when the Nitish Kumar Government came to power and disbanded the Amir Das Commission that been set up to enquire into the political patrons of the Ranveer Sena.

He reminded that the Bathani Tola massacre was a virulent feudal-communal backlash against the bid at political and social equality by the poor and oppressed of Bhojpur. The CPI(ML) had won two Assembly seats at Sahar and Sandesh in 1995 – and this was the immediate backdrop in which the Ranveer Sena came into being. He recalled speaking to Sheetal Choudhury from Ara, who had said that Bhojpur had witnessed a ‘little revolution’ (chhoti moti kranti) that had forced the feudal forces to accept the dalit and landless oppressed as political and social equals. The massacre was intended to punish this assertion and reestablish the old order.

He pointed out the strong ideological and political linkages between the Ranveer Sena and the Sangh Parivar, and the communal overtones of the feudal massacre at Bathani Tola, in which Muslim families had been singled out for the most barbaric crimes. There was documentary evidence, he said, that the Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh had called to ‘throw out the red flag from India’s soil.’ Reminiscent of the Bajrang Dal, Brahmeshwar had called for liquidation of the ‘Naxalites,’ saying that when Hanuman burnt Lanka, he had not spared women and children. Brahmeshwar Singh, mirroring the nationalist posturing of the Sangh Parivar, had called his organization the ‘nationalist’ (rashtravadi) peasant organization. Nitish’s predecessor Laloo Prasad, in spite of his anti-communal posturing, had never acted against the Ranveer Sena. Brahmeshwar Singh, the Ranveer Sena chief, had never been named in any of the FIRs of massacres. And the Nitish Government had failed even to oppose the bail plea of Brahmeshwar Singh, allowing him to walk free!

Comrade Ramji Rai called for a countrywide declaration of rejection of and struggle against the ‘judicial massacre’ represented by the Bihar HC verdict on Bathani Tola.

The Convention ended with recitation of poems by the people’s poet and balladeer Vidrohi.

Day-long Sit-In at Patna Against Bathani Tola Acquittal

The CPI(ML) held a day-long sit-in at Kargil Chowk, Patna, against the acquittal of all accused in the Bathani Tola massacre case. CPI(ML) CC member KD Yadav presided over the dharna, which was conducted by party State Committee member Comrade Sudama Prasad. CPI(ML) activists from Ara, Jehanabad, Arwal, Nalanda, and Patna, as well as Bathani Tola massacre survivor Nayeemuddin, who lost six family members in the carnage, participated in the sit-in. Leaders of several Left-democratic parties, and progressive intellectuals participated in the sit-in and condemned the Bihar HC verdict.

The sit-in was addressed by CPI(ML) Bihar State Secretary Kunal, CPI State Secretariat member Chakradhar Singh, CPI(M) State Secretary Vijaykant Thakur, Arun Singh of SUCI (C), Forward Bloc State Secretary Vakeel Thakur and State Executive member Shri Narayan Singh, CITU leader Arun Mishra, CPI(M) State Secretariat members Sarandhar Paswan and Rajkumar Choudhury, Anoop Ram of the Bihar State Non-Gazetted Employees Association, AITUC leader Gaznafar Nawab, national secretary of Shoshit Samaj Dal Dr. Sant Singh, as well as CPI(ML) CC member Rameshwar Prasad, AIALA GS Dhirendra Jha, AIPWA State President Saroj Choubey and State Secretary Shashi yadav, AIKM leader Arun Singh, Chandradeep Singh, CPI(ML)’s Arwal district secretary Mahanand, Umesh Singh, Gopal Ravidas, Ramnarayan Singh, CPI(ML)’s Nalanda

district secretary Surendra Ram, and Jehanabad district secretary Sriniwas Sharma, AICCTU leader Ranvijay Kumar, Ward Councillor Tota Choudhury, AISA State President Raju Yadav, RYA State Secretary Naveen Kumar, Naseem Ansari, Mo. Shamim and other activists. Social activist Mohd. Ghalib also participated in the sit-in.

The participants in the sit-in accused Nitish Kumar’s Government of shielding the perpetrators of feudal massacres in Bihar. They pointed out that in this regime, the Amir Das Commission had been disbanded, the notorious Butcher of Bathani and Bathe, and Brahmeshwar ‘mukhiya’ released from jail, and that these events had set the stage for the acquittal of the perpetrators of the Bathani Tola massacre. Bathani Tola massacre survivor Nayeemuddin said he was stunned by the acquittal, and would appeal in the Supreme Court against it.

The sit-in resolved to take forward the struggle for justice for the victims and survivors of the Bathani Tola massacre and other feudal-communal massacres committed by the Ranveer Sena.

Violence on Dalits in Dadri

Dalits in Chamravli Ramgarh village of Dadri (Distt. Gautambuddh Nagar) in UP, not far from the national capital, were brutally assaulted by the dominant sections, in order to punish them for refusing to cooperate with attempts to alienate dalits from their rightful land and sell to real estate lobbies and builders.

On March 14, the Gram Pradhan of Ramgarh, Kuldeep Bhati and his goons attacked the dalit settlement of the village, entering homes and beating up men, women, and elderly alike with sticks and iron rods. Several were injured, and three of those severely injured by sharp weapons had to be hospitalised in intensive care. More than 10 men and women had broken limbs. A few narrowly escaped bullets. A large number of women were badly injured. The police, when it finally arrived on the scene, did nothing to arrest the assailants who brazenly remained at the spot. More than a month after the incident, no one has yet been arrested for this criminal assault in broad daylight. The dalit youth are being threatened, the perpetrators roam free, and the entire dalit community lives in fear.

At the bottom of this attack is piece of gram panchayat land of about 5 bighas, which is part of the panchayati land reserved for the use of dalits, which Gram Pradhan Kuldeep Bhati has illegally grabbed by force. The dalit homes which for years have been on this land, have been surrounded by a 7 foot-high wall. Virtually imprisoned, they have to scale that wall every time they want to go out of their homes. Every day, every time.

Ever since a written complaint about this encirclement and attempted land grab was submitted to the SDM on 24 January, the offensive on the dalit families, especially on youth, has intensified. There have been attempts on the life of Brahm Jatav, the youth who made the complaint.

Quite a while ago, many Valmiki (dalit) families have already been beaten up and forced to leave the village, and their land has been occupied by the dominant sections. In neighbouring Bironda village, too, there have been attacks on dalilts by the dominant sections, over land. The dalits and the poor are the softest target of the drive by corporate houses like JP and Ansals to corner land for huge apartment complexes, malls, elite cities, and so on. The spreading real estate bazaar has, on the ground, created a dangerous nexus of feudal criminals, local authorities, elected representatives, and land mafia.In the entire Gautam Buddha Nagar district, this nexus is conspiring to encircle dalits and forcibly make them give up their rightfully allotted land. And all this is well known to the authorities, and both in the earlier Mayawati regime and now in the SP regime, the nexus is actually being encouraged to alienate dalits from their land by hook or crook.

CPI(ML)’s Noida city activist Comrade Chandrabhan Singh got to know of the incident and made contact with the affected people. A CPI(ML) fact-finding team CPI(ML)’s Gautam Buddh Nagar In-charge Comrade Shyam Kishore; Noida City CPI(ML) leaders Comrades Chandrabhan Singh and Shivji Singh; AISA National President Sandeep Singh, JNUSU General Secretary Ravi Prakash, RYA leader Aslam Khan; and AISA activists Anubhuti, Anmol and Harsh visited the village on 27 March 2012. On 29 March, the villagers under the banner of CPI(ML) demonstrated at the DM’s office, and a delegation including Brahm Jatav, some of the injured women, and CPI(ML) leaders, met the DM, who assured them that action would be taken. But instead of arresting the perpetrators, the latter have been let off on bail one by one on some pretext or the other.

The village youth have formed a unit of the Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA), and have called for a protest meeting in the Ramgarh village itself on 25 April.

All over UP, there have been several instances of attacks on Dalits after the SP victory. In the Noida-NCR region, however, the main factor behind the attacks and harassment of Dalits is the agenda of forcing Dalits to vacate their rightful land which will then be sold by dominant sections to real estate builders – and this agenda carries over from the previous regime to the new one.

Party Foundation Day

The 43rd Party Foundation Day of CPI(ML) was observed by party members and units all over the country on April 22. Saluting the legacy of Comrade Lenin on his birth anniversary, and the legacy of the Naxalbari movement, party members hoisted the party flag, held meetings at district and state levels in all states, and adopted the party’s call resolving to ‘Intensify the Battle against Corruption and Corporate Offensive and Launch all-out Preparations for the Party’s 9thCongress’.

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