On Jehanabad killings This Battle must be Won

[From Liberation, January 1998.]

The history of Bihar, for more than two decades, is replete with massacres. Massacres of rural poor of dalit castes by various landlord armies. In their desperate bid to suppress the ever growing rural poor uprising and to hold onto their caste-class privileges, the new classes of landlords and kulaks have frequently taken recourse to this terror tactics as a means to terrorise the whole mass of people. Yet the massacre at Laxmanpur-Bathe of Jehanabad on the night of 1 December is a case apart and it rightly shook the conscience of the nation in the 50th year of Indian independence.

In all 61 persons — two thirds of whom were children, women and old persons — were butchered to death in a cold-blooded operation at dead of night. All the victims belonged to the class of agrarian labourers and were dalits in the social hierarchy. In their struggle for socio-economic emancipation they had taken up the revolutionary banner of the CPI(ML).

The killers were men of the Ranvir Sena — an upper caste landlord army which enjoys the political backing of the BJP as well as support from a section of the RJD.

This time the target chosen was a village in Jehanabad that lies close to the districts of Bhojpur, Patna and Aurangabad. The essential purpose was to send the message across the whole of central Bihar. The time chosen was significant as the political crisis at the centre had matured and a caretaker government was in office. Thus, by effecting an upper caste mobilisation of both Bhumihars and Rajputs, it also symbolised the beginning of the political offensive by arch-reactionary forces. As reports suggest, this was the first of the trilogy of massacres before the elections. The other two are planned for the districts of Rohtas and Buxar.

The whole operation was meticulously planned. Professional killers were assembled from all neighbouring districts apart from Jehanabad. To create a record and grab the international news headlines, the number of persons to be killed was predetermined with the specific targeting of women and children. For a smooth operation, a soft target was selected where people were most unsuspecting, most unprepared and thus chances of resistance were zero.

A record was indeed created not only in terms of numbers but also in the measure of brutality and cowardice. Side by side, another record was created by the media, particularly in Bihar, which excelled in hypocrisy. From the very first day, Sangh Parivar propaganda machinery swung into action and the media began playing to its tune. A prominent journalist from Patna wrote in a national daily that it was the same old story of clash between Ranvir Sena and Naxalites, the only difference being that this time Naxalites were unarmed. How cleverly the cold-blooded massacre of women and children was rationalised as a routine kind of confrontation! The same journalist in subsequent write-ups tried to rationalise Ranvir Sena as an expression of peasant’s anguish against indiscriminate Naxalite violence. This attitude was common to the entire upper caste journalist fraternity barring a few exceptions. The long list of upper caste villages supposedly under the threat of Naxalite revenge were boldly displayed in newspapers and cock-and-bull stories of PWG squads entering into Jehanabad were dished out. The news analysis that began with Laxmanpur-Bathe invariably ended up with concern over general deterioration of law and order and demands for action against Naxalite extremists who dare to run parallel governments and even attack the police. The news of protests were underplayed whereas the fast by BJP leaders and Vajpayee’s visit were overplayed. All this was a well-orchestrated move to divert public attention from the Ranvir Sena, from its organic links with the BJP and to pressurise the state administration to divert its operations against the victims themselves.

It was the age-old story of pen against people with the only difference that this time the pen was directly attached to the bayonet! It goes without saying that the state machinery was too eager to oblige the ‘pen-killers’ and after a token operation against the Ranvir Sena — more on paper than on the field — the entire thrust has been diverted against people’s forces on the pretext of preventing any revenge.

Still the machinations of the whole range of mercenaries is not the last word in the rural poor’s march to liberty. The protest is growing fast and assuming larger dimensions.

On 5 December, the left and democratic alliance of 17 parties called for a Bihar Bandh. Incidentally the bandh was the first one after the Supreme Court’s infamous verdict imposing a blanket ban on all bandhs. The bandh was supported by a host of other democratic forces and it was an astounding success. The massacre was condemned by progressive public opinion all across the country and even abroad. Many prominent intellectuals joined the protest.

The massacre has generated immense class hatred among the rural poor, strengthened their determination to close their ranks, and led to the growing realisation that going over to offensive actions is the best way of defence. The Party’s rally in Arwal proved to be a grand success. Battle cries against Ranvir Sena rent the air. Thousands of young people were seething with anger and went back with the resolve to take the battle to the enemy’s own ground.

With the advent of the Ranvir Sena, the class war is no longer confined to this or that region of Central Bihar. It is engulfing the entire central Bihar. This has also created conditions for forging a broader class unity, a unity cemented by blood. The class war is also making irrelevant the false god of social justice, Laloo Yadav, who in his earlier incarnation had encouraged the growth of Ranvir Sena as a Machiavellian plot to wipe out our Party. In fact, it has turned into a Frankenstein for him and is threatening his own social base in the changed political environment of BJP’s growing political offensive. This has indeed created a favourable condition to effect a new social equation on our Party’s own initiative. The Party has intensified its offensive in various forms and in Bhojpur in particular certain actions, prior to and after the Party Congress, have helped unleash the initiative at the grassroots.

The challenge of Ranvir Sena, the perpetrators of ‘national shame’, has to be met. In the concrete context of Bihar, the interests of the revolutionary peasant movement as well as the national responsibility of halting the onslaught of the saffron army has merged into one and the same task — wiping out Ranvir Sena.

The rural proletariat has been shedding blood for its socio-economic emancipation and political liberty. It is our duty to organise people to avenge the death of their class brethren and for that we shall have to undertake the widest exposure campaign, particularly in view of media hostility; do away with all sectarian attitudes, unite all positive social sections and political forces and raise our preparations to a higher level to deal a crushing blow to this army of butchers, of cowards.

This battle can surely be won and must be won. This is the call of human progress, democracy and true nationalism. This is the call of the modern times.