Hang the Killers of Manju!! AIPWA March to Vidhan Sabha

—Kumudini Pati

F IVE WEEKS AFTER Comrade Manju’s killing, none of those named in the FIR have been arrested. Instead, the Minister for State for Health, Akhilesh Singh, (alias Sharma) has been pressuring the SHO of Karpi P.S. to get the names of those accused removed from the FIR at any cost. The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), of which Comrade Manju was President of Arwal District, decided to organise a massive march to the Vidhan Sabha on 15 December demanding the arrest of the Ranvir Sena men who killed her, suspension of the minister Akhilesh Singh, who had masterminded the operation, as well as making public the report of the Amir Das Commission, which was meant to investigate the relationship between Ranvir Sena, the Bihar administration and politicians. As part of the campaign, I visited Arwal and Jehanabad while AIPWA National Secretary Saroj Chaubey went to different districts in rural areas of Patna district.

As the jeep neared Dharnai, Manju's village, we were supposed to cross a river to reach the village, we could hear the voices of hundreds of children, who waded in the waters to come towards us. We were made to sit in a boat to cross to the other side. As we climbed down the children began to chant slogans ‘Bhakpa Male (CPI-ML) Zindabad!’, ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ and led us to the martyr’s column built in the memory of Comrade Manju. It was a cemented slab with a tall column in which Comrade Manju’s photograph had been embossed in a glass box. We garlanded the memorial. A sheet was spread on a raised mud platform and hundreds of people stood surrounding us. Their eyes were full of grief but stern. The women seemed seething with anger, anger at the loss of a dear comrade and friend, a flower that had bloomed in Dharnai and surrounding villages amidst poverty and gloom. There were no slogans or jubilation as is common on meeting a comrade from outside. As Comrade Kunti spoke, an old woman with a little boy came running to me, and putting her head on my lap, began to weep, “Our village has become desolate, why did Manju leave us like this?” Comrade Kunti recounted how she had seen Manju work for the Party since she was young. She said it was a deep sorrow for her, because she had trained and carefully nurtured her as an activist. All those who spoke mentioned the name of Akhilesh Singh who was patronising the Ranvir Sena men and was the mastermind behind this killing and the RJD Government had a complicit silence. We then went to Manju’s house, where I met her three sons. The youngest one was still unable to comprehend the loss. We sat in one of the rooms of the mud house, talking to Manju’s husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and mother in law. We were told that Manju was a bold and defiant woman and was never afraid of taking risks. Even as the Ranvir Sena men encircled her, one of the comrades accompanying her suffered a bullet injury and the second took shelter in the fields, and she tried to wrest herself from their hold, even pushed two of them to the ground, and began to run. Two of the assailants had tried to lift her by waist and put her on the motor cycle but she had struggled free. Only when they failed to take her away, she was fatally shot at point blank range through the neck. There were some children in the fields nearby who had seen all this happen, and had later informed the villagers. Manju was already dead when her husband and bother-in-law reached the spot. Her family members showed us several photographs – Manju filing nomination for Zila Parishad elections, Manju at the nomination of Jamila Khatoon, Manju burning an effigy of Rabri Devi, then there were large photographs of Manju as well as photographs of her as she lay at the spot of her killing. As we met several women in the villages, some of them Muslim, they began to remember the days they had spent with her. “She was so bright and happy, she lit our dark homes when she came”, said one. “Whenever she came from party programmes she would come and sit with us, talk excitedly about all that had happened, we would remind her that her husband and children were waiting for her but she would just wave her hand carelessly”, another added. For almost an hour, they were engrossed in talking. Then there was a sudden calm. “We can’t believe she is not among us, her voice and laughter resound in our village – it is as though she will enter any minute.” Their eyes brimmed with tears. The whole night passed talking to Comrade Kunti as to how the Ranvir Sena was being supported by parties of all hues. Puraan (the village from which the murderers came) is the home of the Congress State President Ramjatan Sinha. He is known to be a supporter of the Ranvir Sena, which owes allegiance to the BJP. And there has not been a single statement against the killing from the PWG either. Kunti told us how the Ranvir Sena has changed its strategy and instead of resorting to massacres, they had begun targeting leaders of CPI(ML). Comrade Kunti said that the dust raised after Senari and Miyanpur massacres had settled down in an unholy compromise between the RJD and the Ranvir Sena.

On the next day there were meetings organised in Mali village and several bazaars in Arwal district. In Arwal Bazaar we met wives of TADA detenues, Comrades Shah Chand and Arun Bharatiya, Jamila Khatoon, Zila Parishad member from Arwal. The wife of Shah Chand told us that she was being regularly threatened by an unknown person on the phone – “They are saying they will kidnap my young daughter and also kill me, my children are small and I am alone in the house.” The last village we covered was Kodiha. It was pitch dark as we reached here. The villagers heard our announcement by jeep and rushed to meet us. The meeting was large and there was a mood of defiance among the people.

On 14 December, AIPWA held six street corner meetings in Patna town. A large van with banners and loudspeakers in which 9-10 women were seated moved through the thoroughfares of Patna, announcing the 15 December programme, chanting slogans and appealing to women to join the Vidhan Sabha march. Comrade Saroj Chaubey and I addressed the mass meetings.

On 15 December the ‘March to Assembly’ started from Gandhi Maidan. A large banner with the slogan “Rabri Devi Sharam Karo, Had Ho Gai, Gaddi Chhodo” (Shame, shame Rabri Devi, you have crossed all limits, you must step down) was in front of the procession. There were other banners too, one from Dharnai, saying “Manju Devi Ko Lal Salaam” (Red salute to Manju Devi) and another demanding immediate arrest of Akhilesh Sharma and several others who have been named as accused. Women from the Arwal-Jehanabad district marched in front, along with the sons of Manju, and the procession threw the whole of Patna out of gear. But this time there were no complaints from people caught in the jam. They silently expressed their support for the cause.

The rally was led by State Committee members of Bihar AIPWA including comrades Saroj Chaubey, President, Shashi Yadav, Secretary, Kunti Devi, Uma Yadav, Damyanti Sinha and others. The marchers shouted militant slogans, and the procession reached R-Block. Finding the gate chained and locked, the mood of the marchers was full of anger and they nearly broke down the gate. Then AIPWA leaders began the protest meeting. Around 5,000 women had gathered at the spot when Comrade Shashi Yadav began calling speakers. Among the main speakers were Kunti Devi, Secretary of Khet Mazdoor Sabha, Uma Yadav, Executive Member, Sunita Bharatiya from Arwal, Malti Devi from Siwan, Comrade Mahanand from CPI(ML) Jehanabad-Arwal, Comrade Arun Singh, MLA, Comrade Saroj Chaubey, and Comrade Kumudini Pati, General Secretary of AIPWA. Among the important resolutions were demands for dismissal of the SP and the DM of Arwal, arrest of the killers of Manju Devi, suspension of Akhilesh Sharma from RJD, investigation by the State Women Commission which had taken suo motto notice of DP Ojha’s (Ex DGP) remark on Rabri Devi but summarily dismissed AIPWA’s plea on the pretext that Manju was a political woman. In the end, AIPWA declared that it would stop Rabri Devi from conducting any programmes in the various districts of Bihar through black flag demonstration all over the state. Shashi Yadav ended the mass meeting with a vote of thanks to all those who had made the march a huge success.