Bathani Tola Massacre
CPI(ML) Lays Siege to Bihar Assembly

After the heavy rains in Patna, it was the turn for a 12,000 strong army of angry protestors to throw the city's life out of gear. With ire in their hearts thousands of CPI(ML) members and supporters stormed into Patna from all over Bihar to lay siege to the Vidhan Sabha on July 22. The massacre was a raw wound for them and the sentiment was well reflected in the militancy of their demonstration.

The most heinous and barbaric act in recent years, it reminded everyone of Arwal Massacre in 1986. But times and political situations have changed from what it was during the Arwal massacre. This massacre takes place under the regime of the 'messiah of the poor', Laloo Yadav. It also takes place at a time when the so-called forces of social justice wield power at the Centre calling it a "government of the poor and for the poor"; not to forget that a 'comrade' is the Home Minister.

It was after all for exposing the social injustice by this 'better' set-up that these poor and socially deprived people had thronged to the Assembly. Predictably enough, far from any justice, they were received by brutal police action not just in Patna but even in other parts of Bihar where police forcibly stopped our comrades from proceeding to the state capital. At Danwar-Bihta in Bhojpur district, not far from Bathani Tola, several buses carrying more than a thousand protestors were stopped by the police. Even then thousands made it to Patna and this in spite of heavy rains, flood situation in many parts of the state, paralysed rail transport in some parts due to a recent agitation and, above all, this being a reaping season when most of the poor families get to earn something.

With the slogan of 'Laashon ke saudagar, Laloo Yadav, Isteefa do!' (Merchant of corpse, Laloo Yadav, resign!) and demanding the immediate arrest of the guilty DM and the SP of Arrah, the marchers started from Gandhi Maidan. The police and Patna district administration had pulled up additional forces and blocked all roads leading to the Vidhan Sabha by putting up barricades. Accordingly, the rallyists, with a large number of women, had distributed themselves mainly at two points, one at R-block and the other off Bailey Road.

At the former point a pitched battle between the police and the demonstrators ensued for over two hours in which the police resorted to tear gassing, water cannons and lathi charging. Even the Patna City DM, Rajbala Verma and the ADM, Deepti Gaur, were themselves involved in stone pelting. But nothing, not even the gun-wielding policemen, could scare away the demonstrators who had not forgotten that the same police had quietly watched as Ranvir Sena butchered innocent women and children at Bathani Tola. The militant mood of the mass shook up the police as they were seen scurrying into nearby shelters everytime the demonstrators moved forward breaking the barricade. In a mass meeting at the site of the demonstration, CPI(ML) leaders Comrades Ram Naresh Ram, Ramjatan Sharma, KD Yadav, Saroj Chaubey, Mahendra Singh and others reiterated CPI(ML)'s resolve to continue with the struggle for land and democracy in Bihar and demanded the state administration to punish the guilty DM and the SP. Com. Mahendra Singh, the deputy leader of the CPI(ML) legislature party sustained a serious injury when he was hit badly during stone pelting from the police. About a dozen other comrades sustained serious injuries including a young comrade who sustained serious abdominal injury. Finally, with a sense of jubilation among the comrades at giving the administration a taste of what thousands of fighting people could do if their demands for justice were crushed, the programme ended.

At the other site too, the demonstrators put up a valiant resistance to the posse of armed policemen. But it was the youthful and swift team of AISA and RYA activists that sprung the biggest surprise for the administration. Operating tactfully a team of about fifty activists made their way through heavily cordoned gates of the Vidhan Sabha and lodged their protest right in front of the doors of Vidhan Sabha. Waving Party flags and raising slogans they were successful in their mission of gheraoing the Vidhan Sabha and this caused quite a ripple inside the house. However, the police which reached the entrance of the assembly after sometime, resorted to a brutal lathi charge on the young comrades, some of whom were badly injured.

Earlier in the day, the Party's legislators in the Assembly raised the question as to why the Chief Minister was shielding the DM and the SP of Bhojpur even though the all-party investigation team sent by the Speaker of the house reported that the incident could have been averted if the local administration wanted to, and demanded that the house urgently discuss this matter. However, the Speaker rejected their demand and they were marshalled out.

Ever since 11th July various demonstrations had been organised all over the state leading to the state-level Vidhan Sabha gherao. At various places large sections of common masses responded to the Party's call and joined in the programmes as it had again raised the question of the safety of the poor under Laloo's regime, exposed the true colours of Laloo's 'social justice' and further revealed the direct patronage received by the landlords' armies from the BJP and Samata Party. From 12 to 20 July, street-corner meetings, awareness campaigns, dharnas, torch-light processions and Rail-roko in various districts were held. On 12 July, a successful demonstration was staged by AIPWA at the Vidhan Sabha. Without any restraint, policemen used water cannons and wielded lathis on the women. On July 14, the party called for a Bhojpur bandh in Arrah district which received good response. On July 16, a state-wide programme was undertaken in which the effigies of the Bhojpur DM, Gorelal Yadav, the Bhojpur SP, SN Pradhan and the Chief Minister were burnt. However, at Arrah, police lathi charged a 1000-strong peaceful demonstration without provocation. Similar incidents are steadily on increase wherever CPI(ML) activists demonstrate. On the one hand, police remains inactive and silently watches our innocent supporters getting killed by landlords' goons, and then suddenly become active and resort to the most brutal crackdown when we democratically express our protest, as if the whole force was raised only to combat ML.

On July 17, a 'Sankalp Sabha' (Meeting to Pledge) was organised by the Party at Bathani Tola. The meeting was attended by about 1,500 people. A good number of people had come from Tarari block in the southern part of the district. The meeting was attended by Com. Vinod Mishra along with Comrades Ram Naresh Ram, Ramjatan Sharma, Ramji Rai, Rameshwar Prasad, Shyam Sunder Chowdhury and others. They met the members of the bereaved families.

Speaking on the occasion Com. Vinod Mishra first paid condolences to the affected families on behalf of the Party's Central Committee. Referring to the incident where the victims were not provided with security even after repeated requests by them, he took a dig at the politicians saying that cheats and scamsters like Narasimha Rao, the ex-primeminister who has been charged under Section 420 for cheating, Lal Krishan Advani who has been charged in the Hawala scam and the chief minister Laloo Yadav who is caught in the Animal Husbandry Scam, are all provided with expensive and elaborate security. While, on the other hand, honest and innocent poor people like the helpless victims of Bathani Tola had no security for themselves as if their life had no value. He said that when the houses of the poor villagers were being burnt, when helpless poor were being burnt, the police watched all this silently but when people peacefully and democratically demonstrate by burning just the effigy of the guilty, the police no longer remained silent and beat up the demonstrators. He was referring to the incident the day before when police charged a CPI(ML) demonstration with lathis in Arrah town.

Com. Mishra said that being communists we could never have killed women and children, because we have an ideology. He added that, this incident had proven what we had been asserting for a long time that Ranvir Sena is Kayar Sena (Army of cowards). It has also been proved, he said, that Laloo Yadav was a merchant of corpse. After every massacre he distributes money but does nothing to arrest the officials involved. Had the Chief Minister wanted he could stop such massacres by arresting the guilty officials. He stated that the Laloo's administration was giving support to Ranvir Sena openly. He also said that feudal forces were trying to take back society to the past but we don't want to lose whatever rights we have achieved, because innumerable lives have been sacrificed for this purpose. At the end, he said that if required we would hit back against the attacks launched by the Ranvir Sena.

BJP-Samata nurtured Ranvir Sena

With the killings by Ranvir Sena at Belaur, the spate of massacres by the Ranvir Sena also become regular.

Belaur was a new area of struggle for us. The incident revealed in clear-cut terms that a nexus was working against us. At the same time, the open political patronage received by the Ranvir Sena from the BJP and Samata Party is markedly different from the earlier armies. In the villages all the Ranvir Sena men are known to be BJP leaders or supporters. Even in this incident some of the identified Ranvir Sena attackers belonging to Barki Kharaon village like Sharada Singh, a Bhumihar landlord, Gupteshwar Singh, Subhash Mowar are all local BJP leaders. It is learnt that BJP leader Kailashpati Mishra held secret conclaves with the members of the Ranvir Sena and the party's former MLA, Swaminath Tiwari had attended a meeting organised by the Sena. Barmeshwar Singh, a mukhia from a nearby village and a BJP leader is the local leader of Ranvir Sena. During the recent elections Ranvir Sena had instructed to all its men to support the BJP-Samata alliance (the letter was recently produced in the state assembly). That the Ranvir Sena is not just serving the interests of Bhumihar landlords and that there are strong interests of BJP for its political gains, has been reflected in the actions of the Ranvir Sena. The goons of the Sena had captured lands belonging to Karbala and Kabristan in the village of Kanpahari against which our Party had launched a Karbala Mukti March in the beginning of this year to release these lands from their hold. Majority of the victims in the killings at Nonaur and Bathani Tola were Muslims. Interestingly Laloo who otherwise would do anything to keep his minority vote bank intact, attributed the killing of Muslim women and children to personal enemity which had no political motivation behind them.

Role of Police and Administration

The villagers of Barki Kharaon and Bathani Tola, anticipating a major attack by the Sena, had submitted a memorandum to the SP of Arrah on 27 June which the latter's office refused to accept. Regularly from June 27 to July 10 the SP and the DM were informed of the apprehension of the villagers in writing as well as over the phone asking for security measures. Then a group of villagers led by partymen met the DM and requested him to visit their village by July 9 or 10 or else it might be too late but the DM declined to do so. Later it was revealed that police already knew that Sena men were meeting in a nearby village on the night before the massacre to plan the attack. Laloo still defends the DM and SP and has taken no steps to disarm the Ranvir Sena. The JD MP from Arrah and a minister at the centre, Chandra Dev Prasad Verma has even called for lifting the ban on the Ranvir Sena. Till date none of the guilty, DM or SP of the areas where such massacres have been perpetrated on CPI(ML) supporters, has been arrested.

Party Has Plans For Political Offensive

Even in face of these terror tactics CPI(ML) has been very selective in concentrating its fire to counter the attacks by the Ranvir Sena. From June 20 our Party had launched a new initiative for peace and development all over the district against this spreading terror. Between June 20 to 24, Party leaders organised peace marches and held public meetings in areas where we are involved in sharp struggles with the Ranvir Sena. Partial success was achieved with landlords in 5 villages, 3 dominated by Rajputs and the rest by Bhumihars, pledging not to call Ranvir Sena, respect the poor's dignity, not to capture polling booths, not to stop the poor from voting and to withdraw all cases. In some of the villages the landlords also returned the land they had forcibly captured, paid wages that were due and also had to pay a fine. Earlier in the month the Party had organised a six-day lockout in the Tarari block of the district raising the various developmental issues like building roads, providing electricity etc. The local AIPWA unit also staged dharnas on various social issues like banning vulgar literature and music cassettes and closure of liquor shops. These initiatives have also shown that ML is the only party committed to struggle for the economic development of the region.

Our struggles have also shown that it is not just a caste war; rather it is our class approach that has even brought some of the Bhumihars close to us. The long-standing economic blockade by the landless labourers against the Bhumihar landlords has created cracks within their community. Even the strong caste feeling whipped up by Ranvir Sena is failing to convince some sections of the Bhumihar community in the face of the blockade.

Party's incharge for Bhojpur, Comrade Shyam Sunder Chowdhury says, "For the coming days we'll make full use of the fissures in the JD's social base. These sections have consciously stayed out of the fight so far. Secondly, we are stepping up our military pressures on the Ranvir Sena to strike it hard. Thirdly, we are trying for a split within the Bhumihars. Thus, on its part, the party is also bracing up for its political and military offensive."

Medieval Barbarity Strikes at Bathani Tola

About 55 km from the district headquarters of Bhojpur, Arrah, and under the Chauri police station lies the village of Barki Kharaon, of which the hamlet of Bathani Tola, the scene of the massacre, is an extension.

Barki Kharaon is a village dominated by both Rajputs and Bhumihars. The Tola is at about 200 metres away from the village boundary. Usually these tolas are occupied by the lower caste villagers who are forced to do so under a threat to their lives from upper caste landlords. In Bathani Tola there were about 40 households belonging to the dalit, Muslim and extremely backward communities.

The displacement of these households in recent years had been taking place chiefly because they were CPI(ML) supporters. However, the immediate reasons related to the killing of Sultan Mian, a local CPI(ML) leader from Barki Kharaon village on April 25 by the Ranvir Sena. Com. Sultan Mian was involved in a feud between the Muslim community and the landlords of the village over an Imambara land which the latter had encroached on. Ever since his killing the villagers, especially Muslims, were under constant attack from the goons of the Sena. Seeking safety, these households who had been identified by the landlords as being close to the Party and Sultan Mian, moved out to settle in the Tola.
Even before the July 11 massacre, there had been repeated attacks by the Ranvir Sena. The first major attack was made on June 14. On July 3 about twenty rounds of shots were fired by armed Sena men. From July 3 till the day of the massacre, 6 attacks were made on Bathani Tola and other settlements of CPI(ML) supporters in that range. On July 8 the exchange of fire had taken place for about two hours. On each of these occasions the villagers had frustrated their attacks by retaliating with matched firepower. For additional defence some of our comrades from nearby villages had also come to the Tola.
On the day of the carnage, somewhere between 100 and 150 armed Ranvir Sena men emerged out of Barki Kharaon at about two o'clock. Some of these men had come from the nearby villages. From a range of about 300 metres they opened fired at the Tola. Many of the men and some of the women of the Tola had gone out for reaping the fields in nearby villages. With only a dozen men, a stiff and valiant resistance was put from the Tola. But the Sena with large amount of ammunition recently acquired from the local policemen, had the upper edge after two hours. Slowly these 100-150 men started circling the Tola.

With their ammunition running out, the helpless villagers' only escape route was to run away from the Tola across the fields to safer shelters nearby. But among the helpless were many women, some even pregnant, and small children. After circling the Tola the Sena men who according to their plans were carrying kerosene, set the houses in the northern and eastern end of the Tola, on fire. Advancing further inside they set afire the house belonging to Marwari Mallah, where most of the unarmed women and children had huddled together during the exchange of fire and could not escape while the sena was closing in. As the houses burnt, the heat inside them became unbearable for the trapped victims and they all made a last attempt to escape by running out. But waiting outside were the butchers, this time armed with swords, spades, knives and other traditional weapons. Like barbarians from the dark ages they pounced on the poor women and children as they cried helplessly.

With unimaginable brutality they spared none, not even a 9-month old infant, Suganti Kumari whose small head was chopped with a sword. The hands, legs and other body parts were cut off from the body. The breasts of a woman was sliced off. Some of these mutilated parts were thrown into the fire. One woman who had managed to hide in a corner with her infant was given away by the child's cry and both were mercilessly hacked to death with swords. Among the handful witnesses who escaped the murderers' swords, was 5-year old Noor Jahan who hid in a haystack and two children who had closeted themselves in boxes. Such was the barbarity in the killings that many of the villagers of the Tola refused to remove the formless bodies and the human limbs lying around.

In all 20 people were killed of which 10 were women and 9 were children. The lone man, Balchand succumbed to bullet wounds in the hospital. Still others were injured among whom are a pregnant woman and a child. (see photo) The dead were taken to Patna for postmortem where even after their death they were denied any human dignity as the negligent authorities piled the bodies one at the top of other. It was only after a strong demonstration by AIPWA and AISA activists that due care was accorded to the bodies.
Along with these heinous killings, the Ranvir Sena also looted and plundered whatever they could lay their hands on. Of the dead 15 of them belonged to 5 households alone. Naimuddin who had been targeted by the Sena for taking initiative in the burial of Sultan Mian which had been disallowed by Ranvir Sena, lost six of family members. Other women and children belonged to the households of Babban Chowdhury, Kisun Chowdhury, Lalchand and others.
There are three police camps near Bathani Tola all within a radius of 5000 yards, one from where the carnage was visible and another right in the village of Barki Kharaon. All through during the two-hour firing none of the policemen came to the Tola or even later when approached for help by some of the men who had escaped from the Tola after their ammunition had finished.