Land Struggle in West Champaran Reaches New Heights


Investigation Report

Here is the report of investigation team comprising Dr Jayanta Rongpi, MP and CC member of CPI(ML), Ram Naresh Ram, Leader of CPI(ML) Lesgislature Group and Polit Bureau member of CPI(ML), Rameshwar Prasad, Ex-MP and General Secretary of BPKMS, Party’s District Incharge Virendra Prasad Gupta and Vidyanand Vikal, Secretary of BPKMS, who visited West Champaran on 12 August 2002.

1. Markandey Pandey, a resident of Deoria district in UP, is a notorious land mafia who has been illegally possessing 250 acres of land in Chiutahan village. He possesses legal papers only for 6.5 acres. When the authorities did not care to seize this benami and gair mazarua land from under his possession despite being urged to do so, CPI(ML) led the poor villagers to capture the same on 25 June.

2. Markandey Pandey got four villagers of Chiutahan implicated under the false charge of theft of a tractor battery. On the pretext of arresting these four accused persons Bettiah Sadar DSP Ram Vilas Mahato reached the village along with 200 policemen from 18 police stations. Mobilisation of such a large force to catch four “thieves” from a tola inhabited by just 70 landless-poor families only points to ulterior motive on the part of police. It is to be noted that the same police cares little about hundreds of murder cases waiting to be solved and dozens of notorious criminals roaming around freely. The police resorted to an unprovoked and indiscriminate firing, killing Laxman Majhi (12) on the spot. This is clearly a case of calculated killing in order to terrorize the villagers. Another Sheshnath Majhi was seriously injured (now in Narkatiaganj Hospital). Even a pig received a bullet.

3. At the same time the criminal gang hired by Markandey Pandey reached the village from another side and fired indiscriminately. This gang was led by BJP leader Harishankar Tiwari, ex-minister of UP. The police and the criminal gang together looted the property of all the 70 villagers, including 12 bicycles, poultry and pigs. Women and children were thrashed mercilessly. Police picked up 50 persons and took them to Mainatanr PS, where false charges were framed against 21 villagers including 12 women, one of them pregnant, and they were sent to jail. The SP was all along present in Mainatanr PS supervising the whole operation.

4. In order to pass this incident for an encounter, the police placed a country-made rifle in the hands of Laxman Majhi’s corpse. This rifle actually belongs to members of the criminal gang, Nitya Pandey and Suresh Sah. The police not only refused to register a case of killing and loot, they even refused to hand over Laxman Majhi’s corpse to his brother-in-law Sudama Majhi. Later the police secured thumb impression of one Akloo Majhi and burnt the corpse.

5. Police has camped at the kachahary of Markandey Pandey where Harishankar Tiwari gang is also lodged. They share a common mess. There was no magistrate present at the time of the police raid and firing in Chiutahan.

6. On 9 August, during West Champaran Bandh, the police in Bettiah killed Ramji Patel in cold blood. The police were already on the search of “a leader clad in dhoti and kurta”. No train was stopped at Bettiah, nor any act of destruction took place there. After observing Bandh, the people were actually waiting for the return train. It was not the rail police who had fired; rather the district police entered the railway station premises without a magistrate to issue an order.

7. The DM and Bettiah Railway Station Superintendent have denied any incident of destruction at the station and held the firing as unnecessary and unprovoked.

With this investigation report the investigation team met the Governor of Bihar on 13 August 2002 and drew his attention to these demands:

1. Judicial enquiry into Chiutahan and Bettiah firing.

2. Proper safety arrangement for the rural poor and dalits of Chiutahan.

3. Immediate orders for the arrest of Markandey Pandey and his criminal gang.

4. Stern action should be taken against SP of West Champaran.

In our last issue we carried a report on the agrarian labourers’ struggle in West Champaran district of Bihar. At the end of it we had noted: “On the whole, however, the avenues of broadening and deepening class struggle in this district and the scope of a big mass movement are clearly visible.” Subsequent incidents in West Champaran have fully vindicated this assessment. In that report we had mentioned the intensification of wage struggle in Gaunaha Block. This block witnessed renewed resistance struggles as well as repression. Also, while citing the incident of land seizure movement in Chiutaha village of Mainatanr Block against one Markandey Pandey, we had noted that “The notorious landlord is busy organizing criminal gangs of UP and Bihar with a plan to perpetrate massacre… Agrarian labourers are however not afraid of any carnage threat; they are prepared to give a fitting rebuff.” The battle has further sharpened towards the end of July and first half of August. Here is a report of the repression by the land mafia-criminal-police nexus over the struggling poor and landless agrarian labourers in West Champaran and the widespread mass movements launched against these assaults.

In West Champaran, the agrarian labourers’ strike movement on the demand of minimum wages has succeeded in mobilizing labourers to such an extent that it was seen in the struggle against Digvijay Yadav (Sherpur Estate) in Gaunaha Block that even the elephant-trainers, servants looking after livestock and housemaids had struck work. When such a complete strike continued even after a week, the perturbed estate owner had to sell dozens of well-bred cows for the paltry sum of Rs.56,000. The labourers only joined work after the wages were increased following an agreement.

Similarly, the land seizure movement has also reached new heights with the seizure of around 250 acres of land illegally possessed by feudal mafia Markandey Pandey in Chiutaha village of Mainatanr Block. The red flag hoisted on this land continues to flutter unchallenged for one full month.

This awakening of the landless labourers and poor peasants has resulted in intensification of class struggle in the countryside. Of late the movements on the questions of land and minimum wages have faced severe attacks by mercenary criminal gangs at most of the places. However, in the face of organised strength and the militant mood of the people, they had to beat a retreat and at many places they were chased away. Resistance struggles at Mandiha village of Gaunaha Block and Chiutaha village of Mainatanr Block stand testimony to this. However, on the other hand, the police have also surpassed most heinous records of brutality, as witnessed in both Mandiha and Chiutaha.

On 30 July a criminal gang patronised by landlord Sanjay Mishra of Muzaffarpur and other big landlords fired at Ram Kishun Oraon of Mandiha village in Gaunaha Block, injuring him seriously. He is still struggling for his life in PMCH, Patna. CPI(ML) activist Mukhlal Mukhiya, who went there to investigate the attack, was shot dead on the morning of 31 July. Comrade Mukhlal (50) was an active party worker who had taken the lead in establishing Sherpur Sugauli village of Bagaha block into a political centre. He used to keep an eye on all noteworthy activities in the district and that is why people called him Khabarilal. “Farewell comrades, take care that the Party remains intact” were the last words he uttered.

An orchestrated terror campaign by criminals against the poor villagers followed, but the police cared little for protection of the villagers. Ultimately the agrarian labourers and poor peasants from other villages assembled at Mandiha and tried to put pressure on the police to take action. The peasants even held four goons. But the impact of this on the police was, however, just the opposite. A contingent of more than a hundred police reached Mandiha on 1 August. In this attack besides the DIG and SP, around 200-250 policemen belonging to 20 police stations took part. Entering the houses they started beating the poor people, injuring scores of them. As the people started pelting stones the police opened fire indiscriminately. Ultimately 18 persons including two women were arrested. They were severely beaten even after arrest and one of them, Maharaj Diswa, died in police custody. Another villager Gharbharan Majhi is seriously injured. Maharaj Diswa (40) was from the Tharu community and took active part in the resistance struggles.

The land illegally held under possession by Markandey Pandey, a land mafia belonging to Deoria district in UP, in Chiutaha village of Mainatanr Block was captured on 25 June, when thousands of poor people hoisted red flag there. The main participants in this struggle were 70 Mushahar families residing in Uttarbari tola of this village, all landless and poor agricultural labourers. The step towards seizure of land was taken under Party leadership after a memorandum given by the CPI(ML) to the district administration demanding redistribution of this 250 acres of benami and gair mazarua land among landless and poor villagers fell on deaf ears.

The storm took one month to build up. In this period Markandey Pandey was busy mobilizing criminals and feudal estates of UP and Bihar, and the police-feudal-criminal nexus was planning its next course of action. Then, on 26 July people came to know that criminals led by BJP leader and ex-minister of UP Harishankar Tiwari have assembled at the kuchhery (managerial office for leasing out land and collecting rent) of Markandey Pandey. Our Party’s district unit immediately informed the Party State Office in Patna about this. On the same day the Party State Office informed the DM and the SP of West Champaran by fax about the criminal build up. Party’s State Secretary Comrade Ramjatan Sharma himself talked to the DM Ravi Parmar over the phone at 10 p.m. on the night of 26 July. And on 27 July, an urgent letter was handed over to the Home Secretary in Patna. However, it came out that no precautionary steps were taken while hundreds of criminal thronged Markandey Pandey’s kuchhery.

On 28 July these criminals launched an attack on Chiutaha village. Apprehending this, the poor villagers had already prepared themselves for counter-attack with traditional weapons. A gathering of 1,500 villagers offered stiff resistance to the criminals and ultimately the latter had to retreat after indiscriminate firing for 2-3 hours. Throughout this the police remained a “neutral” spectator. Even after that no action was taken against Markandey Pandey and the assembled criminals. They remained at the kuchhery for some more days after this incident.

For one week there was no activity on the part of criminals in Chiutaha. The criminals had learned that they could not make a dent in the self-defence of the spirited villagers. So the onus of teaching a lesson to the villagers fell on the police. The police took the lead in harassing Party activists at the district level. Soon Comrade Sunil Rao, Party leader and member of the District Council was arrested on 31 July at 10 p.m. in the night from his own house. Before people could take any initiative for resistance, the police arrested Party’s District in charge Virendra Prasad Gupta and Chanpatia Block secretary Nawal Kishor Kushwaha from Chanpatia Party office at 5 p.m. on 2 August. Even their whereabouts were not revealed.

The Party decided to hold district wide protest movement on 2-3 August against these arrests. Under this programme, torchlight processions were brought out at Chanpatia and Sikta. On 3 August, Ramnagar Police Station was gheraoed, dharna was staged at Narkatiaganj Subdivision office, street corner meetings were held at Chanpatia, a resistance march was taken out at Bettiah and around 300 villagers gheraoed Mainatanr Police Station and Block Office.

The gherao of Mainatanr Block was the most militant of all. The employees were all driven out and offices were locked. Agitators demanded release of the arrested leaders within 24 hours and warned the police of further intensifying the movement if the leaders were not freed. In the face of militant protests the police had to set free the three leaders, who had till then not been sent to jail but illegally held in various police stations.

On 3 August Party District Committee announced the holding of a massive resistance meeting at Narkatiaganj on 6 August against the feudal-criminal-police nexus. Preparations had already begun. In the meantime on 5 August the police raided Chiutaha village in the name of nabbing warranted persons.

On 5 August a large police contingent (around 200 policemen picked up from 18 police stations) led by DSP (Sadar) Ram Vilas Mahato attacked Chiutaha village around 3-4 pm. The SP of West Champaran Anil Kishor Yadav was himself camping at Mainatanr, only 7 km away from Chiutaha. Actually from there he had assumed indirect command of this operation. Later it was learnt that Markandey Pandey had lodged an FIR against four villagers implicating them in a fictitious case of theft of a tractor battery. And the police had come there simply to arrest not more than four accused persons!

The villagers resisted this attack and pelted stones. The police fired 20 rounds, killing Laxman Majhi (12) on the spot. He had just returned after work from a nearby village. Another villager Sheshnath Majhi was seriously injured. He is now in Narkatiaganj Hospital. The police contingent had attacked from northeast corner of the village. From southwest corner, where Markandey Pandey has his kachhery, criminals coming from that side fired 6 rounds. Ultimately in this uneven battle the villagers had to retreat to their houses. The policemen then entered the houses and created another record of barbarity. They mercilessly beat the villagers with rifle butts and lathis. Women were disrobed and dragged out of their houses. In the meantime the criminals had also entered the scene and joined this operation. Then the houses were razed to the ground and even their foundations were dug up. Their belongings, including utensils, bicycles and poultry, were all looted by the police and the criminals. It was a “destroy all and evict all” operation. Dozens of people suffered injuries and among them 12 were women. In all, 21 persons including 9 women were arrested. They were beaten even after arrest.

Clearly the police attack on 5 August was continuation of criminals’ attack on Chiutaha on 28 July. This is another clear example of criminal-police nexus in Bihar and events also show that this nexus enjoys the full backing and protection of politicians.

This heinous attack further fuelled the discontent among people throughout the district against police repression and more than 5,000 people participated in the resistance meeting on 6 August. Apart from State Party Secretary Ramjatan Sharma and Rameshwar Prasad, Secretary of BPKMS, District Party In charge Virendra Prasad Gupta and District leaders Sunil Rao and Nandji Ram also addressed this meeting presided over by Comrade Kedar Ram. The meeting demanded removal of the SP and urged the people to observe Champaran Bandh on 9 August. On this day the Party had already taken up “Jail Bharo” programme under the slogan “Saffron Forces, Quit India!”

On 9 August thousands of people took to the street to implement the bandh call. The bandh was quite impressive throughout the district. More than 500 people were arrested at Bagaha in the morning itself. At Narkatiaganj, agitators marched on the streets into the afternoon in the form of procession but they were not arrested. However, at Bettiah, police resorted to lathi charge in an unprovoked manner and then killed Com. Ramji Patel, a Party leader in cold blood by firing a shot. In protest, the Party’s District Committee has undertaken that until the SP Anil Kishor Yadav is removed from Champaran, the movement will continue on this demand.

Starting from the first week of July till 9 August, in all five Party activists or sympathisers have been killed. Hundreds of people have been implicated in false cases. Around 50 persons have been arrested and sent to jail. The discontent against the police is on the rise. The continuous campaign launched by the police to terrorise people and break their morale has however not succeeded so far. The proof of this is in large turnout of people in various movements and programmes against incidents of police repression and atrocities from 31 July to 9 August.


West Champaran: Ruled by The Estates

West Champaran district lies in the northwestern corner of Bihar. The northwestern part of this district is forest. Dozens of small rivers, some of them resembling streams, have originated from this forest-hilly region. Whichever party may rule over Bihar, this district is under feudal estates’ sway even after 55 years of independence. There are half a dozen estates possessing thousands of acres each and around a hundred feudal lords, each illegally occupying hundreds of acres of land. On the other hand, there are landless and poor peasants and agrarian labourers who face brutal attacks by feudal goons and police in case they demand minimum wages. Here are some facts about various estates:

Shikarpur Estate: Dilip Verma, Madhu Verma, Om Verma and their families belong to Kayastha community. They are in relation to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India. They have around 5,000 acres of land under their possession. Their land spreads over Shikarpur, Gaunaha, Mainatanr and Ramnagar blocks of the district.

They also have a large part of Bhikhnathori hillock under their possession. The other part of the hill is not under their possession, but they sell its stone to crushers and road builder contractors. Almost all the small rivers are under the domain of this estate, and they sell the riverbed sand, from which they earn crores of rupees annually. This family is partner to the business of smuggling precious timber as well as skin and bones of wild animals from the forest in connivance with corrupt forest officials and district administration. Dilip Verma runs a charitable trust, which earns him money from foreign funding agencies. He is currently an MLA elected from Sikta constituency on BJP ticket, Om Verma is member of district council, Madhu Verma is a mukhiya and the wife of Om Verma is chairperson of Narkatiaganj Municipality. Another brother is Block pramukh of Gaunaha.

Bhaisahi Estate: The owners are Krishna Prasad and Om Prakash, who are of the same kin, belonging to Kalwar caste. Together they own 2,500 acres of land. Their land spreads over Mainatanr, Chanpatia and Lauriya blocks. The biggest lodging hotel Amrapali and the market complex at Bettiah belongs to this family. They also own a petrol pump. It was this family that perpetrated Inarwa massacre.

Krishna Prasad was Shiv Sena candidate from Sikta constituency in the Legislative Assembly elections held in 2000. Currently he is district president of Ambedkar Sena headed by Ramai Ram.

Ramnagar Estate: It is also known as Ramnagar royal dynasty. At present the main members of this dynasty are Baba Raja, Dhananjay Raja and Arjun Raja. They belong to Rajput caste and possess more than 5,000 acres of land spread over Bagaha-I, Bagaha-II, Gaunaha and Ramnagar blocks. They own a large marketing complex at Ramnagar and houses in several big cities. Like Shikarpur estate they also have hold over a good part of the forest and several rivers under their control. The family has entered into matrimonial relations with Nepal’s royal family.

Arjun Raja has been elected to Legislative Assembly several times and was a minister in the Congress regime.

Vilaspur Estate: The owners are Chandramohan Rai and Vishwamohan Sharma. They belong to Bhumihar caste, possessing more than 3,000 acres. The land spreads over Lauriya, Bagaha-II, Ramnagar, Shikarpur, Mainatanr and Gaunaha blocks. In several cities they own hotels and marketing complexes.

Currently Chandramohan Rai is MLA from Ramnagar elected on BJP ticket, and Vishwamohan Sharma is a Congress MLA from Lauriya and a minister in Rabri government.

Dumaria State: Its owner is Ranvijay Shahi, belonging to Rajput caste. The estate has 3,500 acres of land spread over different blocks. A number of IAS, IPS officers, doctors and engineers belong to this family. It owns a marketing place named Shahi Complex in Bettiah.

Bargaon Estate: It is owned by two brothers, Markanday Singh and Jhunnu Singh. The estate possesses around 1,500 acres of land. Dozens of buses are also owned by the estate operating under Singh Transport Co. In Bagaha it has a Singh Market Complex. It owns two petrol pumps. The brothers were earlier with Congress, but now they have shifted to BJP.

At a particular time these estates may be associated with a particular party but they always maintain amicable relations with the leaders of all political parties. Often different members of the family belong to different ruling parties. Their offsprings usually receive education in foreign countries.

In general the estates utilise various criminal gangs as their own private armies and offer them patronage in return. In Champaran one may witness a lot of incidents of abduction and robbery. Never however one would come across an incident of robbery in an estate or abduction of a member of any estate family.

Each estate has its own managerial office (Kuchehary), where private employees reside, looking after accounts of the land. Through Kucheharies land is given on lease to peasants and in return rent and various taxes are extracted from them.

Corvee (begari) system is in vogue in these estates till date. Wages are given in hatai measure (a wooden vessel used for measuring grain).

Apart from these old landlord families known as estates, there are around hundred feudal families having 500 to 1,000 acres of land under their possession. These include a number of neo-rich families, who have quickly risen to reach the present prosperity in the recent years by way of utilising corrupt and criminal means. Prominent among them are Bharat Rai and Shivji Prasad of Lauriya Block, Sardar Bahadur Rai and Virendra Kunwar of Chanpatia, Baldev Sah, Shankar Sharan Rai (Pakri Durbar) and Digvijay Yadav (Sherpur Durbar) of Gaunaha Block, Family of Brigadier BN Shahi in Majhaulia, the present Food & Supplies Minister of Bihar Purnamasi Ram and criminal chieftain Laloo Yadav of Bagaha-II Block, Bhagar Yadav or Bairiya Block, Rajguru Family and Rana Ranvijay Singh of Bettiah and Markanday Pandey of Mainatanr. They also own market complexes, petrol pumps, gas or kerosene agencies, cinema halls and passenger buses; some of them bag contracts. Almost all representative institutions in the district are dominated by these feudal or neo-rich families.


Landlord families against whom struggle is going on under Party leadership



In villages

Krishna Prasad Inarwa of Mainatanr

Bakulhar Math Behara of Sikta and Rampurwa of Mainatanr

Shivji Prasad

Sihpur of Mainatanr

Shahi Family

Bharwalia of Majhaulia, Mohachhi of Chanpatia, Sirisiyan Guliriya, Lathihayee, Kadamawan, Jagarnathpur and Mahesara and Sundergawan in Sikta and Sihpur, Belwa Toli and Pakuahwan in Mainatanr

Bankeshwar and Guneshwar Ojha

Mangalpur, Behri, Ekdehri, Chhapauniyan and Guleriya of Sikta,

PR Sinha

Jarar village of Bagaha-II
Amarnath Mukherjee Sukhabari of Bettiah

Ramnagar Estate

Barhawa of Bagaha-II

Markandey Pandey

Chiutahan village of Mainatanr
Rajguru of Bettiah raj Basantpur, Bargaon, Charihani, Ekderwa and Barhinar in Sikta Block.