In Memory of the Martyrs of Bathani Tola
Bathani is a little hamlet where 14 years ago, on 11 July 1996, a private army of upper caste landlords brutally massacred 8 children, 12 women, and 1 man from the landless Dalit community living there. And now, 14 years later, on 11 July 2010, a memorial was erected there. In this sculpture by the young artist Manoj Pankaj, we see the martyrs breaking through stone to rise and become visible. In the centre is a child holding a butterfly on whose wings a hammer and a sickle have been carved. This memorial not only evokes the dreams, aspirations, and the irrepressible strength of the poor and toiling masses in this country, but also raises questions about the social structure of rural India. The memorial bears the names of the martyrs and their age – and one wonders what it was about these people that the murderers could not countenance. What was it about these little children or about these women who dreamt of making life in the community just a little bit better, that they were all massacred in such a brutal way? At the time the Ranvir Sena and its chief Brahmeshwar Singh had justified the cold blooded massacre with their stock justification (through statements in the papers) that "women give birth to naxalites, and children grow up to become naxalites." We could well ask –if what about the massacres that continue to happen in Gohana and Mirchpur – which 'naxalites' are they supposed to finish off? It is only a matter of coincidence that when the memorial was being planned, the picture of Nitish and Narendra Modi shaking hands raised a storm in Bihar. On the one hand, Nitish was trying to protect himself from being tainted by association with the pogrom in Gujarat, and on the other hand, the RJD and other ruling parties who had shielded the Ranvir Sena during the Bathani Tola massacre were now giving statements to the press criticising Nitish and trying to buy themselves secular credentials. And of course, in the Modi-sponsored communal carnage in Gujarat 2002, women and children were massacred in a way that mirrored the Ranveer Sena brutalities at Bathani.
Bathani Tola is that mirror which even today shows us the ugly face of all political parties. All those parties which preach 'non violence' and 'social justice' had kept quiet about the massacre on account of their anti-poor politics. Those parties in power who wanted to entrap the supposedly 'violent' CPI(ML) in a war of retribution, failed completely. In fact the CPI(ML) led a nationwide agitation against this brutal massacre and compelled communal-casteist forces to retreat.
At that moment, there was a surfeit of those in the cultural-literary-intellectual field who envisioned the unity of Dalit-marginalised- Muslim communities in order to combat the forces of Hindu revivalism, and yet, intellectuals remain oblivious to the unity that can be forged on the ground. Naeemuddin, who lost 6 of his family members in the massacre tells of how he had sought refuge along with his entire family in Bathani Tola when he felt threatened living in neighbouring village of Badki Khadanv. The landlords there had born a grudge against this family and others right since 1978, when a young man called Mohd. Yunus had been chosen Mukhia on the plank of a larger unity of Dalit, Muslim, deprived, poor and backward communities. This was a unity that had proved to be grit in the eyes of feudal forces. When they tried to grab land that belonged to the Imambada, which stood on 1 decimal of land owned by the Bihar Government, they were beaten back. Naeemuddin also tells of how they had fought a battle in court in order to take back the land from the graveyard (Karbala) that had been grabbed by the landlords, a battle that only served to anger the landlords. When the Karbala Mukti Janjagaran Manch was launched in January 1996 with the leadership of the CPI(ML) in order to take back the graveyard land that was grabbed in Kanpahari and Nawadih villages, peaceful villagers returning from a march were attacked by goons of the Ranvir Sena. However, two of those goons, who underestimated the resistance of these villagers, were killed in the ensuing clash. After that Ranvir Sena goons killed Mohd. Sultan and did not allow his burial in Badki Khadanv. Mindful of the private army’s penchant for massacres, people buried him in the neighbouring Chhatarpura village. After that, the Ranvir Sena attacked and looted Muslim and Dalit homes and families in Badki Khadanv, as a result of which 18 Muslim and 50 other families were displaced. Naeemuddin recalls that he came to Bathani Tola after that. The Ranvir Sena attacked Bathani Tola repeatedly. The police, the local administration, and the government looked the other way, but the people beat them back six times through concerted resistance. In spite of the presence of no less than 3 police camps in the vicinity, the feudal landlords' 'army' attacked the village repeatedly, and finally succeeded a seventh time in carrying out cold blooded murder.
That was a day worse than the most terrifying of nightmares. Three month old Asma Khatun was tossed in the air and her neck was slashed by the murderers. A pregnant woman was murdered along with her unborn child when her belly was slit open. Naeemuddin’s sister who held on to his daughter was shot with a bullet that also killed the child. Lukhia Devi, the seventy year old washerwoman who was on a round to deliver clothes was not spared. They slaughtered Shrikishun Chaudhary’s wife and two little daughters – while he later remarried, it is a spectre that he cannot forget and wants that those responsible for the carnage be hanged. Recently, the Sessions Court has sentenced 23 out of the 53 defendants, when the demand has been that all of them be sentenced. The demand is particularly that Brahmeshwar Singh be punished in an exemplary way. But the JD(U) – BJP government that succeeded the RJD iyn Bihar is also shielding those who want to protect the Ranvir Sena. In fact, Brahmenshwar Singh is a member of the BJP. Even at this level Nitish is in cohorts with communal and casteist forces. Nitish wants to represent himself as an emancipator of women; Radhika Devi who survived despite her many gunshot wounds to testify in court, undaunted by threats, has a question for him: "Did he feel any shame at all when shielded those who wanted to protect the murderers of Bathani?"
This massacre also exposed the so-called social sensitivity of many literary figures. When the loved ones of the victims of the massacre appealed to them not to accept awards from the Bihar Government that was shielding the perpetrators of the massacre, many shamelessly went ahead and accepted their awards and even offered lame justifications for their acceptance. Well, the massacre victims were mere strangers for these luminaries: but not for the working people of this country nor for the CPI(ML). The Bathani massacre victims were remembered by these forces as martyrs because they were murdered for their allegiance to a new social order that nurtures the dreams of the toiling masses. Comrade Ram Naresh Ram, who has for many decades now has led the struggle against feudal forces and was instrumental in the shaping of a new Bhojpur, addressing the gathering at the inauguration of the memorial, said the dreams of these martyrs would be fulfilled only with the transformation of society from one based on inequality to one imbued with socialist and egalitarian values. Present on this occasion were the families of martyrs along with thousands of workers and peasants, and together they took the oath to fulfil the dreams of the martyrs of Bathani Tola. The gathering was addressed by AIPWA National Council member Comrade Sangeeta, Comrade Arun Singh, Comrade Rameshwar Prasad, Comrade Kamta Prasad Singh, Comrade Sudama Prasad, Comrade Qayamuddin, and Comrade Ramkishore Rai. The meeting was presided over by Kapil Sav.