Bihar Poor Fight Back against Criminal-Police-Feudal Nexus

7th Bihar State Conference Resolves to Intensify the People’s Movement against the Repressive, Corrupt and Highly Criminalised Laloo-Rabri Regime

[The 7th State Conference of the Bihar unit of the Party was held at Aurangabad (renamed Rameshwar Muni Nagar for the occasion after the noted people’s poet of the movement who was killed by MCC goons) from 4 to 6 October. On the morning of October 4, Party leaders and many delegates first marched to Kaithi Bigaha to pay tribute to the great martyrs of the famed Kaithi Bigaha battle. Kaithi Bigaha, 20 km from Aurangabad, is the village where nine comrades had embraced martyrdom after 48 hours of armed resistance to police encirclement. Floral tributes were also paid at the memorial of Jagatpati, a local student martyr of Quit India movement. The delegate session was preceded by a more widely attended open session which was addressed among others by the CPI’s Bihar Secretary Comrade BN Lal, CPI(M) leader Sarvodaya Sharma, SUCI leader Arun Kumar and Party leaders including Comrades Dipankar Bhattacharya, Mahendra Singh, KD Yadav, Rameshwar Prasad, Saroj Chaubey and Rajaram Singh. The session stressed the need for Left parties to come together and lead the people’s movement against the repressive anti-people Laloo-Rabri regime of Bihar.

The delegate session started in the evening with presentation of Work Report of Bihar State Committee by Comrade Ram Jatan Sharma, secretary of the outgoing state committee. The delegate session was attended by 409 delegates out of 425 elected and nominated delegates, and 26 guests including Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, PB members Swadesh Bhattacharya, Kartick Pal, Ram Naresh Ram, CC members Raja Ram, Ramji Rai, Prabhat Chaudhary and BB Pandey.

In all 86 delegates took part in a lively debate over the State Committee Report on 5th and 6th October noon, after which the Report was unanimously passed by the house. Following this a 41-member new state committee was elected and Comrade Ram Jatan Sharma was reelected as the secretary.

To bring our readers an overall picture of the ongoing peasant movement in Bihar, we are serialising, in a slightly abridged form, the section of the report dealing with agrarian struggles and the Party’s rural work. – Ed.]

Indian agriculture is passing through a severe crisis, of which starvation deaths and farmers’ suicides are the most extreme symptoms. In Bihar, the all-pervasive anarchy prevailing in the state tends to overshadow the agrarian crisis. But reports of starvation death have started emanating from different corners of the state. The newspapers this morning (4 October, 2004) have reported four starvation deaths in a village in Nawada district. Only the other day, a dalit family in Sasaram, exhausted by poverty, attempted suicide; three of them died. In Hajipur, a woman sold her two and a half year old son for Rs. 6000, in Jalla area adjacent to Patna City, a farmer harassed by debt committed suicide; in Begusarai, a farmer unable to repay debts which had mounted upto Rs. 1 lakh, committed suicide. In North Bihar, the flood’s dance of destruction was followed by starvation, which has now begun to claim lives. Floods in the north and drought in the south have combined to create a food grains crisis in the state, reducing people to extreme misery and starvation.

Due to the cuts in public spending in agriculture, the already weak infrastructural facilities are now crumbling. Irrigation is a major crisis; government bore-wells lie unusable, and due to the electricity crisis, even private bore-wells can’t be used. While there is no attempt to tap the rivers in South Bihar by erecting small dams, even the traditional irrigation systems of river- payn- aahar- pokhar etc. have been allowed to fall into disrepair. In Nalanda, the Udera Sthan canal system has not been modernised. As a result, the mouth of the Muhane River closed off, creating a major irrigation crisis in several blocks of Nalanda district. On the other hand, surplus water from the canal causes floods in several districts. Even the Sone canal system, counted among the world’s most successful irrigation systems, stands threatened by the government’s attempts to privatize it and hand it over to feudal landlords and land mafias.

Diesel and fertilizer subsidies are being slashed, while the prices of seeds and pesticides are being hiked. Imported food items are available cheap, thanks to the lifting of quantitative restrictions; as a result, farmers are forced to sell grains at throwaway prices. Last year in North Bihar, thanks to faulty corn seeds sold by the US MNC Monsanto, crops failed in several districts. But the government rescued the MNC while putting the blame on ‘excessive cold’ for the crop failure, and left the devastated farmers with neither relief nor compensation.

The fate of those who cultivate cash crops or grow vegetable and fruits is no better. Laloo Prasad has recently announced trains for vegetable growers; the fact is that basic facilities of cold storage, transport and markets are lacking. The dairy farmers of the state, rather than waiting in vain for government support, took the initiative of forming cooperatives. But a large part of the state is yet to be covered by this initiative, where dairy farmers remain at the mercy of the govt.

No land reform worth the name has been carried out in Bihar; the government says it does not not even possess land records! Lakhs of acres of bhoodan, ceiling surplus, benami and gair mazarua lands either lie pending in court cases, or, due to the Government’s inaction, remain in the clutches of landlords. According to its new agrarian policy, the govt. intends to do away with land ceilings in favour of corporate farming, whereas the need is for the land ceiling to be lowered and much more amount of land to be made available and distributed among the landless on a large scale.

In Chamaparan and Purnea, thousands of acres of land remain under feudal ‘estates’. In West Champaran alone, there are 45 landlords each controlling more than 1,000 acres of land. Estates like Shikarpur, Dumaria, Bilaspur are sitting over vast tracts of land. With the administration at their disposal, these estatewallahs virtually treat the entire area as their fiefdom. In Eastern Bihar (Katihar, Purnea, Bhagalpur), we see the phenomenon of traditional tenants being evicted from the land. Tenants in Bihar enjoy no security.

The out migration of agrarian labour from Bihar is, by now, a routine phenomenon. Nowhere in the state do labourers get the fixed minimum wage, and in most cases wages are still paid in grains than in cash. Neither the central government nor the state government has ever enacted any legislation for agrarian labour. Other labouring sections, from earh-diggers and brick kiln workers to workers engaged in rice mills or construction of roads, whose numbers are growing with the limited but growing penetration of capital in the countryside, are also victims of various kinds of injustice.

The public distribution system is being systematically dismantled. Other schemes like the Red Card Scheme, Indira Awas Yojana etc. have also fallen prey to widespread corruption. The Panchayati Raj system has sharpened the struggle for power in rural areas, and has created a section of “official” brokers, which permeate even the lowest layers of rural society.

We can also see the combined assault of the state as well as feudal and criminal forces on the movements of the poor, and their leaders. Apart from massacres and select killings of peasant leaders, we now also see cases of the rural poor being awarded death sentences or life imprisonment under the draconian TADA.

But no amount of feudal violence, terror of criminal gangs or state repression can cow down the revolutionary peasant movement of Bihar. There has been a steady intensification of the movement in the face of all these challenges. The present agrarian crisis is creating serious resentment and unrest among large sections of the peasantry. Without in any way diluting our commitment to the rural poor, we now have a real opportunity of boldly addressing the concerns and crisis of the middle peasantry and broaden the base of agrarian struggles and raise them to newer heights.

Some Significant Land Struggles

There has been a discernible increase in land struggles since the last conference held in August 2001. Struggles have spread to over 60 old and new points covering more than 8,000 acres of land. The most intensive struggles have taken place in West Champaran district over nearly 1,600 acres of land. Struggles have also been waged successfully in some areas to wrest control over land that had been forcibly occupied by the Ranvir Sena.

Chiutanha of Mainatand Block in West Champaran is now a major centre of a land struggle. The landless poor here have challenged the UP- based landlord Markanday Pandey, who has grabbed 300 acres of benami land. The protesting poor here have destroyed every vestige of Pandey’s ‘ Kachahari’. But with Pandey illegally ‘selling’ land worth lakhs to 36 middle peasants, the struggle has become somwhat complicated. On the borders of Gaunaha and Narkatiyaganj blocks, 235 acres of land of the Rajguru family has been captured by the masses, who destroyed this family’s ‘kachahari’ in Charihani and Basantpur.

Thousands of people seized 450 acres of ceiling surplus land from Shivji Marwari in Sonvarsha- Matiyariya in Gaunaha Block, also 72 acres from Baldev Prasad in Badahawa, and 110 acres of ceiling surplus land in Araria-Barva. In Sonvarsha, people took in their control land of a bazaar, which was held on gair mazarua land, controlled by the Shikarpur Estate.

In West Champaran, we find a nexus of feudal gangs, the administration and even the courts, who conspire to evict poor peasantry from the land. The Manglapur Estate in Sikta Block used the Ramji Yadav-Bhim Yadav gang to evict the poor from 250 acres of land they had seized, and this land was given on rent to 47 farmers for cultivation.

The same gang began to wreak terror on the poor, in order to evict them from 300 acres of land controlled by Shanti Shahi. But when the gang attacked Satgadhi village, they met with bold resistance from the villagers, and Bhim Yadav was killed. The gang then disintegrated and the move to evict the poor proved unsuccessful. But police repression and flag marches followed. The feudal lords now began to take the help of the High Court in their eviction drive. The court, in several cases, has ordered the eviction of poor peasants even having ‘parchas’ (allotment papers) proving their right to the land. The feudal lords have produced forged papers in the court, following which the court has debarred the papers which show allotment of ceiling-surplus land.

In Gopalganj, people captured 126 acres of ceiling-surplus land from Hathuaraj. Feudal lords in Bhitbherva in Gopalganj Block tried to evict 70 dalit families who have lived on the land for several generations. This ‘tola’ used to be with the BSP, but the BSP did nothing to protect them. One rickshaw-puller, Uma Ram, contacted the CPI(ML) office. Enraged at this feudal goons thrashed Uma Ram’s wife and paraded her naked in the village, and the police refused to register a case. AIPWA gheraoed the DM, after which a case was filed, but the police didn’t arrest the accused. Due to the ensuing struggle, one of the goons surrendered before the people, begged pardon and paid a fine of Rs. 3000. The feudal lord has now backed off and the struggle continues for ‘parchas’ for the homestead land. The entire tola has left BSP and joined CPI(ML).

In Siwan, too, several militant and popular struggles have been waged to seize and defend people’s control over gair mazarua land. Some of the key points of struggle in the present period include Kalyani village of Guthni block (25 acres), Barka Manjha of Mairwa block, Karnai village of Darauli block (8 acres) and Mania of Andar block (10 acres). 

In Darbhanga, a landlord of Padiya Makhnahi village in Hanuman Nagar Block had sold 10 acres of ceiling surplus land to a brick-kiln owner. We mobilised people to demolish the kiln and seize the land, and we forced the administration to distribute Rs. 700 per family to start cultivation. In this district our movement succeeded in forcing landlords to share the costs of fertilizers and irrigation with tenants. Struggles are on over 9 acres of Mahsina Kothi land in Samastipur district, 17 acres of land of the Darbhanga Raj, 22 acres of Bhudan land at Meghaul in Begusarai and 26 acres of land occupied by an absentee landlord at Naula. In Sirdaula block of Nawada district, the poor occupied 3,000 acres of disputed forest land. The administration tried to evict the poor by burning down their huts, but backed by a powerful protest movement 600 families are still occupying the land frustrating the administration’s eviction plans.

In Bhojpur, there have been several struggles in Sahar, Sandesh, and Charpokhri blocks, to resist attempts by the Ranveer Sena to evict the poor from ceiling-surplus land. The people have succeesfully freed 10 acres of ceiling surplus land in Baruhi village of Sahar block nd 46 acres of math land in Andhari. Struggles are also intensifying at several points in Sandesh block.

In Kosiyama village of Kako PS in Jehanabad, the administration’s attempts to evict people from 62.5 acres of  ‘math’ land were foiled. In Hulasganj, a landlord, (who is also a Judge in Aurangabad District Court!) managed to get the High Court to dismiss the legitimate papers of the poor. But the poor responded by seizing 10 acres of land from his control.

Fierce land struggles have taken place in the Dulhin Bazar and Naubatpur Blocks of Patna District. In the villages of Bara-Bela-Tarari of Naubatpur, the struggle was against the nexus of PWG and Ranvir Sena for control over the Pachahuan River, which for years had been in the control of the poor. In Bara, the feudal lords of the Bhoomi Sena have gone over to the PWG, and in Bela Tarari, they are now with the Ranveer Sena.

PWG and Ranveer Sena, with the support of the administration displaced an entire ‘tola’ of poor people from Bara villages. When a procession was held demanding rehabilitation, the PWG fired on it. A 17-day ‘Ghera Dalo-Dera Dalo’ campaign demanding rehabilitation followed, and finally the administration was forced to rehabilitate the people on the 18th day. Similarly in Shahbazpur of Punpun block, Bhoomi Sena men who have joined PWG have tried to wrest control of the Punpun River from the rural poor. The struggle in Bara and Shahbazpur continues, though the rivers remain under the control of the poor.

In Kaimur district successful land-seizure movement has been waged at Awaraiya-Ajgari of Kudra block (31 acres), Khanav of Bhabhua block (62 acres of ceiling-surplus land) and Dimri in Rampur block (2 acres of homsestead land). An investigation conducted over 72 villages of the district revealed that more than 6733 acres of land remain under the illegal control of landlords. The Party has launched a systematic campaign to liberate this land and this has evoked a very positive response among large sections of the rural poor including those who were till recently under the influence of parties like the RJD and BSP.

Struggles are also on at several points in Rohtas, Buxar, Nalanda and Gaya districts.

Wage Struggles Are Acquiring a New Intensity

West Champaran has been a site of continuous wage struggles. Following a wage struggle in 183 villages, wages were increased by 1-3 kilos. In the Gaunaha Block, 70 villages waged a struggle with the slogan “Abolish ‘Hatai’ (a small container used for measuring grains, landlords usually use a smaller size for paying wages and a bigger size for claiming their own shares); pay us wages in kilos!”

The determined wage struggles in this region made it a target for the combined assault of feudal forces, criminals and the police. In November 2001 when two members of our Gaunaha block committee were kidnapped by feudal goons from Mandiha village, thousands of people rose in protest, they blocked the road and four men of the feudal forces were taken hostage in retaliation. The administration was thus forced to secure the safe release of our comrades. Popular mobilisation succeeded in defeating and dismantling a youth group formed by feudal youth to attack the rural poor. In Ramnagar Block, there were long-drawn-out wage struggles. The feudal forces tried to import labour from outside the region, and often, there were armed clashes. But eventually, an agreement was reached in presence of the SP, declaring wages to be raised to 5.5 kg.

In Sabajpura and Rakasiya (Dulhinbazar block, Patna district) the wage rate was 2.5 kg. At both places, a hartal (strike) lasted 2 years. In Rakasiya, the landlords were already with the PWG, while in Sabajpura the landlords joined the PWG following the hartal. In both places, the wage struggles took the shape of a confrontation between the CPI(ML) and PWG. In the agreement at Sabajpura, the administration decreed 5 hours of work and 3 hours of rest, along with a wage rate of Rs. 41.50. Initially, the landlords refused to comply, but later the agreement was implemented. In Sikariya (Paliganj Block), a hartal against landlords associated with PWG lasted 2 years, ending with a settlement of 5 hours of work and Rs.41.50 as wages. However, in Vijaypura (Dhanrua Block), where a 2-year long struggle still continues, the administration has declared a wage rate of Rs 41.50, but it is yet to be implemented. Crops were forcibly cultivated on 4 bighas of land, and the Labour Court gave a judgment ordering 22 landlords and farmers to pay between Rs.25,000 to 75,000 as arrears. When this order was not implemented, the labour court ordered land belonging to 8 people to be auctioned to pay the labourers’ arrears. The strike is on, and the auction is yet to take place.

Last year’s state-wide one-day agrarian strike called by the Khet Mazdoor Sabha escalated into a month-long strike on the question of wages, in a dozen villages in Punpun block. In several villages in this block, wages were increased by 1/2-1 kilos. In Punpun block itself, the landless labourers of Bakarganj village, who were associated with the CPI(M), demanded an increase in wages from the landlords and farmers, also with the CPI(M). The later refused to meet the demand. The labourers then appealed to the CPI(M) state Committee to intervene, but the CPI(M) leadership pleaded helpless. Eventually the labourers approached our Party, and we declared a strike which lasted a month. During this struggle, landlords from the Kurmi caste, belonging to CPI(M), blocked labourers from passing through their fields, even to  defecate. There was firing too, but eventually the labourers succeeded in achieving a settlement of 8 hours work and Rs. 41.50 wages.

The Jehanabad-Arwal region too has witnessed some significant wage struggles. In Koil village of Kaler Block, landless labourers have won an important victory. This is the village of Akhilesh Sharma, the former Health Minister in the RJD Government and now RJD MP from Motihari, and he was the main target of the strike. Wages were merely 2 kilos, and the landlords provided neither proper food nor water for the labourers. The landlords even banned the growing of trees around the fields, for fear that the workers would take rest under them! The only existing well was blocked up by the landlords. The landlords’ prying eyes left labouring women with no privacy even to attend the call of nature. During work, labourers were forced to drink stagnant rain water and eat sattu. Finaly, the labourers went on strike. The landlords took the help of police and labourers from outside the village, in an attempt to break the strike. Dharnas were organised against the State Minister, both at the local Headquarters and at Patna. Eventually, wages were raised upto 3.5 kgs, and arrangements for food and water too were achieved.

This struggle inspired others in the region. In the Daidih village of Ghosi Block, hartals had already failed twice on the issue of compensation for workers who had suffered serious injuries in the course of agricultural operations. This time, the issue of minimum wages was also raised along with that of compensation. Eventually, the owner was forced to give Rs 15, 000 as compensation, and wages were fixed at Rs.52. Another successful hartal followed on the question of equal wages for women labourers.

Successful struggles on the issue of compensation and wages were waged elsewhere in the Hulasganj Block too. In Rustampur village of Ghosi block wage struggle was combined with the demand for a reduction in the rent that labourers have to pay for leasing in land. Similar attempts have also been made quite successfully at Sonbarsha village of Charpokhri block in Bhojpur district.

In Jamuaon village of Sandesh Block in Bhojpur, there were several wage strugles between 2002 and 2004. After a long struggle, landlords were forced to concede equal wages for men and women at the rate of Rs 38. In several villages of Tarari block, wage struggles were successful in winning hikes ranging from Rs. 5 to 15.

In Pavarpur village, Navanagar thana of Buxar, women used to be paid 10 rupees and men, 20. The feudal forces here called in the Ranveer Sena to crush the strike, the poor people’s tola was surrounded and several rounds of firing took place. But the Ranveer Sena had to beat a retreat eventually due to the people’s resistance. Police was forced to intervene and an agreement was reached with the landlords, increasing women’s wages to Rs. 30 and men’s to Rs 40.

In Khaneti village of Bhabhua block in Kaimur district, local agricultural labourers fought against the use of harvesters and labourers from outside. Landlords tried to terrorise the labourers, but the latter successfully chased away the landlord’s hired goons. Eventually the landlord had to give in and had to stop using harvesters and labourers from outside. In a similar struggle in Pandeji village of Andar block of Siwan district, local labourers successfully resisted the farmers’ attempt to hire cheap labour from outside and forced a wage hike from Rs. 15 to Rs. 25.

In Athur village of Bonchaha block in Muzaffarpur district a dali agricultural labourer refused to work any longer for a Brahmin landlord because of extremely low wages. Enraged, the landlord beat up the labourer’s wife and tried to prevent villagers from holding a protest meeting. When the issue was taken up in a big way and the DM was gheraoed, the landlord had to beat a retreat. He had to offer a public apology and raise wages from Rs. 8 to Rs. 40. The labourers of the village have since joined our Party.