Inquiry Report on Murder of Smt. Manju Devi of Arwal in Bihar

T he National Commission For Women (NCW), taking cognizance of the petition sent by Sarabjit Johal and others of the South Asia Solidarity Group, UK, directed the Bihar Government to conduct an inquiry into the killing of AIPWA leader Manju Devi by the Ranvir Sena in Arwal district. It asked the Government to submit its report to the NCW. As the Bihar Government failed to respond, the NCW was forced to send a team, led by member Nafisa Husain. The team visited the village of Manju Devi, Dharnai, went to the spot where the incident had taken place and also visited the CPI(ML) state office in Patna. Ms. Nafisa Husain met several women in Manju’s village and received a memorandum which had been signed by 300 villagers. She also heard the family members of Com. Manju and took a written statement from her husband. She promised that one of her dependents would be given a government job. In Arwal, Zilla Parishad member Jamila Khatoon gave a memorandum demanding protection to her and her minor daughter as she had been receiving anonymous calls over the phone threatening to kill her and get her daughter kidnapped. Sunita Bharati (wife of Arun Bharati, falsely implicated and sentenced to life imprisonment under TADA) and Jamila Khatoon (wife of Mukhia Chand Sahab, also falsely implicated and sentenced to life under TADA) also told the NCW team that they were being harassed by the administration. Com. Shashi, State Secretary of AIPWA met the team and she told them that the State Health Minister Akhilesh Sharma had masterminded the killing of Manju and was pressurising the local Karpi police station not to arrest any of the killers named in the FIR (Karpi PS. Case no.141/2003). She submitted a memorandum to the Commission demanding that immediate steps be taken to get the killers arrested and duly punished, since the police had failed to arrest a single killer even after a gap of one and half months.

Ms. Nafisa Husain said she had spoken to the SP of Arwal, who had admitted that the arrests could not be made as a result of political pressure from above. She said that she would speak to the Central Home Secretary on returning to Delhi and would send him to Bihar if necessary. Com. Shashi also told her that the police had been openly conniving with the Ranvir Sena as well as helping the PWG, which had threatened to kill another leader of Jehanabad AIPWA, Kunti Devi, who is at present a Zilla Parishad member from the district.
Below we carry the NCW report in full. —Ed.


T HE COMMISSION noted that after the diabolical attack on 10th Nov. 2003 leading to the death of Manju Devi and injury to Awadesh, a case was registered on 10.11.2003 at Karpi Police Station., vide Case No 141/03, u/s 324, 307, 302, 34 IPC and 27 Arms Act.

Facts that emerged during inquiry and a perusal of the FIR lodged with the Karpi Police Station referred to above would reveal that the deceased Smt. Manju Devi was pursuing the cause of the landless labourers belonging to the dalit and other weaker sections of the society for ensuring payment of minimum wages as prescribed by the State Government under the law to the labourers. It also appears that village Puran in Karpi PS of Arwal district has become a centre of constant friction between Ranvir Sena, an armed private army of the Bhoomihar landlords, of the area and the landless labourers who are fighting for their rights to minimum wages and against exploitation by the Bhoomihar landlords.

Late Smt. Manju Devi was district leader of All India Progressive Women’s Association and a political activist of CPI (Marxist-Leninist), popularly known as Ma Le (Ma stands for Marxist while Le stands for Leninist). Ma Le believes in electoral politics and takes active part in periodical elections to the Parliament and the State Legislature. It has taken active part in the General Election to the three tier Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI) in April, 2001 and many of their candidates got elected to various posts. Late Smt. Manju Devi herself was elected as a Member of the Zilla Parishad of the undivided district Jahanabad which was later divided into two districts, the new district being called Arwal. Late Smt. Manju Devi was a great crusader for the landless labourers and she was organizing the labourers for their participation in the State-level conference at Patna on 14th November, 2003. For the above purpose, she was returning home after attending a meeting of the part workers in Anandpur village in the afternoon of 10th November, 2003 accompanied by two male companions. In the past she was having support of the Yadav community and accordingly she used to take the road through the nearby Yadav village. But of late the Yadav community has withdrawn support to her and accordingly while going home she was taking a different route which incidentally passes by the side of the Bhoomihar village. When she along with her two companions reached a place near the high school east of Puran village at about 3.45 p.m they were attacked by three persons on a motor cycle and fired at late Smt Manju Devi and others and in the process she was shot dead on the spot.

The husband of Manju Devi in a statement before the Committee of the Commission stated that he came to know of the murderous attack on his wife a couple of hours after the incident. He rushed to the spot along with the others. The Superintendent of Police with police contingents reached the spot a few hours after the occurrence but did nothing to nab the assailants. Later on the dead body of Manju Devi was sent for post mortem. Though the police had reached the spot, nothing was done to apprehend the culprits. Both Awedesh and Subhash stated that the criminals were at large and were threatening the witnesses which has created a fear complex in the minds of the villagers. The SP informed the Committee of the Commission that so far only one accused person, namely, Ranvir Sharma has been apprehended and is in judicial custody. Though the police has launched a drive to arrest other accused persons, so far they have eluded arrest. However vigorous efforts are on to nab them. No steps have so far been taken to launch legal proceedings by way of proclamation and attachment of properties. The Commission was distressed to find that the weapon of offence, the car and the motorcycle used by the assailants have not been traced so far. Investigations also remain incomplete. Both the SP and the DM rebutted the allegation that vigorous action had not been taken against Ranvir Sena because of the interference and pressure of local Minister, Akhilesh Sharma, a Bhumihar.

Some Dalit women met the committee of the Commission and unequivocally stated that they were harassed constantly and exploited by Bhumihar landlords who were not paying them minimum wage as per law. Death of Manju Devi who was espousing their cause has demoralized them. They wanted firm and deterrent action against the assailants. They also mentioned that accused persons with their guns are moving in the village and threatening the dalits not to depose against them. Both the DM and the SP assured the Commission that they would leave no stones unturned to apprehend the assailants, seize the weapons and also to ensure that those who violate the Minimum Wages Act are brought to book. It is yet to be seen how far these assurances are translated into action.

The Women members of the Panchayat have to constantly move to mobilize the villagers and collect funds. They leave behind their daughters and sons. These women have been receiving threatening calls from the Ranvir Sena men every now and then. A witness, Smt Jamila Khatoon who is the elected representative of Panchayat deposed before the Commission and stated that she had been receiving threats from the criminals that her teenaged daughter would be kidnapped.

A Member of the Committee Mr. Sankar Sen met the Director General Police and apprised him of the lawless activities of Ranvir Sena. DGP has assured vigorous action against Ranvir Sena. He further said hat the head of Ranvir Sena has been arrested and crackdown on Ranvir Sena would continue. The commission appreciates the stance of the DGP and hopes to see that meaningful concrete steps would follow.

Though the local police has lodged an FIR refered to earlier, only one of the accused could be arrested till the visit of Committee i.e. more than one and a half months after the incident. The two of the assailants as also the other named accused in the FIR are well known for their notoriety in the area but none of them could be arrested. In fact, the arms used in the murder of late Smt. Manju Devi could not be recovered. The investigation has been tardy and the attitude of the district administration specially the police administration has been lackluster.

The district administration has already paid compensation of Rs. 50,000 to the husband of Manju Devi. The District Magistrate also promised a suitable job so that he can look after the family. The Commission has requested the DM to ensure that an appointment is offered to him at the earliest.

The Committee of the Commission has recorded the Depositions made by the aggrieved persons which placed at the Annexure.


After taking into consideration the facts that emerged during inquiry and discussions with the DM and the SP and after perusal of the FIR and the depositions made by the aggrieved persons to the Committee deputed by the Commission, the Commission would make the following observations:-

  1. Late Smt. Manju Devi was a dedicated Ma Le political activist who was effectively organizing and uniting the landless labourers irrespective of their caste for ensuring payment of minimum wages prescribed by the State Government and in the process she became a very popular leader among the landless labourers. She was not an extremist. She was neither a person with criminal propensity. Late Smt. Manju Devi was Koeri (backward caste) woman married to an upper caste (Rajput) person and both husband –wife duo were Ma Le activists. An inter-caste marriage between a Rajput man and a backward woman in a backward rural area is a pointer to the dedication of Smt. Manju Devi and her husband to the cause of the landless labourers.

  2. The success of late Smt. Manju Devi in organizing landless labourers including women has panicked the Bhoomihar landlords who saw her as a great threat against their age-old grip on the poor and hapless agricultural labourers who completely depend on these feudal lords for their survival. Such vested interests, therefore, made a calculated move to eliminate late Smt. Manju Devi so as to permanently remove a potential threat to the exploiters.

  3. Though the Bhoomihar landlords own the only productive assets i.e. the land in the area without any other meaningful economic activity, they do not do any manual work and therefore they are fully dependent on the landless persons who are expected to work in their lands on wage, dictated by their greed for more money, which is much below the minimum wages (about Rs.40 per day partly in cash and partly in kind) prescribed under State’s Minimum Wages Act.

  4. The landless labourers have no other source of income and therefore for their sheer survival they have to accept whatever wages are paid to them. Thus the landless labourers are pitted against the mighty landlords who are also armed with various weapons to terrorize such people. Thus, the exploitation of the poor and landless labourers by the powerful landlords is complete and the labourers had no option except to organize themselves against the exploiters and that was what late Smt. Manju Devi was doing for which she paid a heavy price at the hands of the exploiters.

  5. Arwal district is an extremely backward one and the conditions of roads are miserable so much so that the roads look like chains of pot holes. In fact, the Committee took long time to move in the area. Because of such poor infrastructural facilities no other economic activity except cultivation of agricultural land is possible and therefore the landless labourers have no other option.

  6. Though the DM and the SP appeared to be sincere and they had no caste interest in the incident, the approach of the District Admn. Has not been upto the mark. No doubt a payment of Rs. 50,000 has been reportedly made to the family of the deceased Smt. Manju Devi, prompt action has not been taken by the local police in arresting the FIR accused persons except one. This has demoralized and frightened the victims and their sympathizers. Such lukewarm attitude of the District Admn. has emboldened the killers and those who harbour them. There is a general feeling that the District Admn. is siding with the culprits. In fact all the persons including the women activists who made their depositions before the Committee were very categorical that the District Admn. has failed in its duty and the accused persons have been allowed to be at large and these people and other landlords are threatening the victims and their sympathizers. It was also submitted before the Committee that whenever people like them make complaint against any exploiters before the local police station no action is taken and on the other hand the complainants are threatened and quite often raids are conducted by the police in their houses on flimsy pretext. These are allegations made by uneducated elderly women belonging to backward classes and the Commission do not find any reason to disagree with the above submission of the victims and their sympathizers.

  7. The local Police has not so far seized the arms used in the murder of the victim, nor it has taken any action against other armed licensees of the landlord community and such armed people would continue to be a threat to the landless and the unarmed poor people. The Arm licenses are obtained ostensibly for self protection and for the protection of the assets of the licensees but the same are more often than not used for crude display of their might.

  8. Election to the Panchayati Raj Institutions has generated political awareness among the poor people including the women in the rural areas and such emerging grass roots powers have created a sense of panic among the vested interest specially the land owing classes in the rural areas and this is the reason for the local Bhoomihars to eliminate late Smt. Manju Devi. After observing the movement of Smt. Manju Devi for sometime, the culprits made a calculated move to finish late Smt. Manju Devi once for all. But the departure of Smt. Manju Devi does not mean that the political awareness among rural people specially the women can be suppressed for long.

  9. In this particular incident there was no indication of sexual harassment of late Smt. Manju Devi. While making depositions before the Committee, the husband of late Smt. Manju Devi has referred to certain rape cases in the area as also the alleged pernicious practice of keeping lower caste women as mistresses by the Bhoomihar landlords. The district administration admitted the incidents of rape cases in the area. As regards the alleged practice of keeping mistresses there were some oblique indications that the hired killers of the Bhoomihar landlords at times need some physical entertainment and in the process exploitation of lower caste women can not be ruled out.

  10. The Commission returned after visit from Arwal and Patna on 29th Dec’2003. It had received assurances from the district administration as well as the DG Police and IG Patna range that firm steps will be taken with the miscreants of Ranvir Sena and they will not be allowed to continue the tactics of murder and intimidation. The Commission however notes with deep distress that immediately after its visit so many have been murdered (as reported in the press) by Ranvir Sena outfit. This heightens the anxiety of the Commission and reinforces its feeling that the authorities are not serious in firmly dealing with Ranvir Sena for multiple reasons. The Commission may be constrained to explore other strategies appropriately dealing with the resultant situation.


After due deliberations the Commission would make the following recommendations.

  1. All the accused named in the FIR who have not yet been arrested should be arrested immediately so as to generate confidence in the victims and their supporters.

  2. The case should be thoroughly investigated and charge sheets against the accused persons should be filed in the court within three months from the date of occurrence and in any case not later than 29th February, 2004.

  3. Apart from arresting the FIR accused, the Police should immediately apprehend the Ranvir Sena members of the area and those who support and harbour such persons. SP has furnished the Commission list of Ranvir Sena members who are involved in a number of criminal cases and not yet apprehended. This is unfortunate. They should be arrested and prosecuted on a top priority. This will make a sea change in the confidence of victims and their supporters especially the women. This will also be test of district administration earnestness in curbing the menace of Ranvir Sena.

  4. An all out drive should immediately be launched to seize all illicit weapons in the hands of the Ranvir Sena and their supporters as also weapons used for the murder of late Smt. Manju Devi and for other criminal activities.

  5. A dedicated full time senior officer preferably a young officer should be posted in the District for the enforcement of the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act and he should be given adequate legal power to take punitive action (like detention) against the persons who refuse to pay minimum wages. Specific powers should be vested in such officer to take summary action on the spot against such persons who refuse to pay minimum wages to the women labourers. Such posting of a dedicated officer should not dilute the responsibility of the District Magistrate who should be personally responsible for the enforcement of the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act. To ensure the compliance by the District Magistrate, there should be specific instructions to Divisional Commissioner to make a mention in the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of the District Magistrate concerned on the state of enforcement of the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act and atrocities against women specially those belonging to the dalit and other weaker sections of the society. The Chief Secretary as a Reviewing Authority shall ensure that an objective and appropriate remark on the nature of enforcement of the provisions of Minimum Wages Act and on atrocities on women is made in the ACR of the concerned District Magistrate.

  6. The local police should arrange for police patrol in the locality of the weaker section of the people including the victims and their supporters so as to create a feeling of safety and security among the landless labourers, especially women.

  7. It is understood that a periodical meeting with the local people by the District Magistrate has been introduced. This is a welcome step. However, the Commission would like that meetings with representative of land owners, landless labourers and other interested groups are attended by the DM and the SP on a regular basis after giving prior publicity about the proposed meeting. In fact, a particular day/days (say second and fourth specific day of the month) should be fixed permanently and any change should be widely notified in advance.

  8. The Commission has noted the sincerity of the DM and the SP in dealing with the situation. However, the Commission would like the DM and the SP to take a pro-active role in containing such unfortunate incidents so that a genuine crusader like Smt. Manju Devi does not become another victim.

  9. The DM and the SP should be seen as standing by the side of the poor landless labourers especially the women when they need their presence most.

  10. Explanations should be called for immediately from the local police officials for delay in arresting the accused persons and for the tardy progress in the investigation of the case and appropriate disciplinary action should be taken against the delinquent officers if they are found guilty.

  11. An explanation should be called from the DM and the SP for not taking prompt action in arresting the accused person. The DM and the SP shall also explain why no action was taken on their own against the landlords for refusing to pay legally prescribed minimum wages to landless labourers. Since non payment of minimum wages is the root cause of the present turmoil, the DM should remain alert on this account as any failure in enforcing payment of minimum wages may result in more bloodshed.

  12. xii. It is essential that surplus lands are distributed among the landless labourers on war footing. It looks unbelievable that there is about 200 acres of surplus land in the district as conveyed to the Committee of Commission during its visit.

  13. If adequate surplus land is not available for distribution among the landless people, the only other option is to create some opportunity to take up other economic activities like setting up of small road side shops which would generate some income among the landless labourers especially during lean season when agricultural operation is not in place. This can be possible only if the condition of roads is improved. In fact, in the name of road only pot holes are in existence which makes it impossible even for the local police to move to a particular spot. Once the roads are repaired certain economic a activities like Rickshaw pulling, running road side Paan/Tea Stalls would come up automatically. In fact, this will also improve mobility in the labour force which can move easily to other areas where some wage earning activities can be found. The woman leaders who met the Committee of the Commission during its visit made it very clear that they are toiling persons and they want to live a simple life with dignity. Such sincere submission coming from the hearts of these illiterate women should not be taken as their weakness as they are politically very alert and they know how to achieve their goals and murder of late Smt. Manju Devi can not suppress these rising women powers.

  14. The State Government should post young officers, preferably outsiders, who do not fit in the local caste alignment as DM and SP. The Commission understands that the State has such dedicated young IAS and IPS officers in good number whose services could be utilized for such districts where exploitation of women is rampant.