Reminder Of Unfreedom On Independence Day: Atrocity On Dalits In Bihar
Fact Finding Report
21 August, 2013
For Dalits in India, freedom is still a far cry. The atrocity perpetrated on Dalits in a Bihar dalit hamlet on Independence Day this year brings home this stark reality. A Fact-finding Report by a CPI(ML) team comprising All India Kisan Mahasabha General Secretary Rajaram Singh and Arun Singh, former MLA from the Karakat assembly constituency, follows.
Baddi village, in Shivsagar block of Rohtas district, about 15 kilometres from Sasaram, has about 80 Mahadalit (Ravidas) homes, and 100 Rajput homes. A pucca road leads to the village, one fork towards the dalit tola (hamlet) and one towards the Rajput tola. Near the dalit tola, on the roadside, is a two-storey temple dedicated to Sant Ravidas, after whom the community is named (1)
In June this year, an idol of Ravidas was installed in the temple; before this, the Dalits used to worship a photograph. The Dalits had collected Rs 1.5 lakh to install a marble idol instead. The Sant Ravidas temple is, undoubtedly, a symbol of the Dalit community and its sense of identity.
The Ravidas temple standing at such a prominent place in the village was resented by the powerful upper castes in the village. For quite a while, they had been trying to wrest control of the 6 dismil of gair mazarua land on which the temple stood. And the pretext for doing so was that they sought to replace the Ravidas temple and idol with one of the freedom movement martyr Nishan Singh. Nishan Singh, a Rajput landowner of the same village, had been active in the 1857 First War of Independence and had been executed by the British. When Nishan Singh's descendants had sought to install his statue on the same piece of land where the Ravidas temple stood, the Dalits had argued that these descendants already owned quite a bit of land, while the Dalits could only use gair mazarua public land. There was another plot of 3 dismils of land at a short distance that was available for a statue of the freedom fighter. Why distort and diminish the stature of the freedom fighter and martyr to that of a symbol of anti-Dalit feudal dominance, by pitting his statue against the temple of the Dalit saint?
A couple of days before 15th August, the Dalit villagers had informed the Baddi police outpost and the SP too, of the impending attempts to forcibly grab the land on which the temple stood, on the pretext of installing a statue of Nishan Singh.
It was the practice, at 8 am on Independence Day every year, for the Dalits to hoist the tricolour flag at the flagpole near the temple. This year, the Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had ordered that the tricolor be hoisted officially in all Mahadalit tolas, and so the Baddi Dalits were expected to wait for the BDO to hoist the flag. The BDO had told the Dalits that he would come at 10 am.
At 8 am, however, the Rajputs came, and on the pretext of hoisting the national flag, began digging to install the statue of Nishan Singh. The Dalits spotted this, and gathered to protest, realizing that if the statue were installed there, it would mean the loss of their control over the plot of land and the temple. They informed the police, and the digging stopped.
The Rajputs went to the police outpost, and sat there for some time. Then, clearly with the blessings of the local police, they returned at around 9 am, armed to the teeth, to attack the Dalit tola and temple with firearms and iron rods. Vilas Ram was dragged off, badly beaten, and shot dead. Women, children, and elderly folk were brutally thrashed with iron rods. A seven-year-old boy was flung from the roof of the temple. The heavy iron gate to the Ravidas temple was broken, the temple set on fire, and the hand of the idol broken. Two Dalit homes were burnt down, with all their belongings. Two teenage schoolgirls were being dragged off by the assailants, but their schoolteachers intervened to rescue them. The water pump and solar light were vandalized.
The SP had been called when the attack began, and he arrived at Baddi one and a half hours after the attack began. His arrival averted an even bigger massacre. However, there has been an obvious attempt to cover up the atrocity, and the collusion of the local police outpost with the assailants. The BDO had the idol and various blood stains cleaned up, thereby destroying important evidence.
Around 40 people were injured badly enough to require hospitalization; some of them were taken to hospital in Sasaram, and 12 of them who were seriously injured were admitted in the PMCH at Patna. One person died in the attack. The deceased was identified as Vilas Ram
Feudal Assertion in the Shahabad Region
The Shahabad belt of Bihar, especially the Rohtas district, have witnessed a bid at feudal reassertion during the Nitish Kumar tenure. CPI(ML)'s Rohtas Secretary Bhaiyyaram Yadav was killed last year by feudal forces when he protested against the rape of a dalit girl child.
A week before the Baddi incident, there was another instance of feudal violence in Karakat block of Rohtas district, that underlines the feudal backlash against any sign of independence from feudal bondage on part of the agricultural labourers from the oppressed castes.
On 7th August, Geeta Devi, a woman labourer from the Kahar caste (an extremely backward caste) in Raghunathpur village was approached by Sunil Mishra, a local lumpen, to work at sowing (ropni) in his field. She told him she had already committed her time for both halves of the day, and even taken advance payment from the two employers. She assured him that she would do the sowing in his field the next day. When she was on her way to work, he abused her and ran to attack her. Other women labourers saved her from his attack. At 3 pm, when she and other members of her household were away at work, Mishra used a JCB machine to destroy the cattle-feeding trough at Geeta Devi's home. At 7 pm, she returned and was sitting at her doorstep, when Mishra came and dragged her off. Hearing her cries for help, her father-in-law came out of the house. Mishra shot him, and beat him savagely with a lathi when he fell. Several other men - Munna Kahar, Hari Kahar, and Ravindra Kahar were also beaten up when they came to the rescue. CPI(ML) leader and former MLA Comrade Arun Singh visited the village, and the party organized a protest. An FIR was lodged, but as we go to press, no arrest has yet taken place, weeks after the incident. The CPI(ML) will hold a protest meeting in the village on 29th August.
The incident shows that in today's Bihar, where the CM is being hailed by the corporate media for having 'changed the subject' of feudal upper caste violence and ushered in an era of progress, feudal forces actually feel emboldened. The subject is far from changed. The simple freedom of a woman labourer to choose in whose field she will work (even though she is inevitably paid less than the minimum wage and less than men for the same work), is intolerable for the feudal lumpens who seek to punish her for this.
In the Baddi incident, it is significant that the forces of upper caste feudal reaction chose to cloak themselves in the garb of nationalism. The Dalit symbol of Sant Ravidas, like the statue of Dr Ambedkar in other parts of the country, is targeted for violence. The act of wresting land legitimately controlled by Dalits was sought to be done in the name of hoisting the national flag on Independence Day, and installing the statue of a freedom fighter and martyr. This is part of the same pattern where the communal and feudal forces seek to disguise their anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit fascist agenda as 'patriotism.'
Throughout Nitish Kumar's tenure, successive events have given the feudal forces a sense of entitlement and impunity: the scrapping of the Amir Das Commission (set up to probe political links of the Ranveer Sena); the betrayal of the Land Reforms Commission report; the acquittal of the perpetrators of the Bathani and Nagari massacres and the violence unleashed after Brahmeshwar Singh's killing. In Baddi and Raghunathpur, too, the failure to arrest the assailants continues to send a message of protection to the feudal forces.
1. Ravidas or Raidas was a saint poet of the 15th century bhakti tradition, from the 'untouchable' tanner community, who explicitly attacked the Brahminical order and untouchability and expounded a egalitarian social and spiritual philosophy. A poem of his speaks of 'Begumpara' as the ideal 'land without sorrow', where none would own property and there would be no wrongdoing or pain, and which clearly saw a vision of liberation for the oppressed castes:
"Oh my brother, I've come to take it as my own,
my distant home, where everything is right...
They do this or that, they walk where they wish,
they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged.
Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,
those who walk beside me are my friends."
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