22 years on, justice eludes Dalit victims of Bathani Tola massacre
Bihar: On 11 July 1996, Bathani Tola was painted red with the blood of Dalits and poor farmers which included women, children, and aged people. Swords and axes were used to chop the heads of Dalits, their wives and daughters were raped and their breasts were chopped and children were killed in cold blood. The assailants did not even spare a pregnant lady who was raped and her womb slit open and killed. A total of 21 Dalits died in what came to be known as the Bathani Tola massacre. The attackers were members of an upper-caste armed group called Ranvir Sena.
Established in 1993 and gaining momentum in 1994, Ranvir Sena is the most feared in the long list of upper caste armed groups who had established a de facto monopoly over the rural areas of Bihar from the 1990s up till 2012. The rise of Ranvir Sena can be seen as a reaction to the growth of self-respect and freedom against feudal mindset in the Dalit population through the awareness programs of CPI(ML) Liberation, especially Dipankar Bhattacharya, the youngest general secretary of the party.
Ranvir Sena has openly claimed responsibility for numerous massacres and killings, which include Nadhi (Bhojpur) killing in 1996, Lakshmanpur-Bathe massacre of 1997, Shankarbigha (Jehanabad) massacre in 1999. Presently, though large scale massacres do not occur, daily exploitation and skirmishes continue. Local from Bathani Tolda talk about the murder of a Dalit at the hands of an upper-caste landlord, which caused tension between Dalits and Ranvir Sena in the area.
An old veteran of Ranvir Sena spoke to TwoCircles.net about the need to maintain fear. He said, “If we do not keep the labourers in check, they will rise against us which will only cause violence and anarchy. It is necessary to use violence in order to protect dharma and societal norms.” When asked about the Bathani Tola massacre, he said, “We cannot see the events in singularity. Dalits were the first to attack us. We just responded to protect ourselves and the dharma.”
Decades have passed but the hegemony of Ranvir Sena still holds centre stage in power relations, especially in Bhojpur, and adjacent districts. The locals told TwoCircles.net that each year on the anniversary of the Bathani Tola massacre, the members of Ranvir Sena staged a show to display their power and invoke the Dalits who marked 11 July as a day of mourning. The day becomes so intense that Police have to create a barricade between the upper caste dominated Barki Khadawon and the Dalit majority area of Bathani Tola to prevent violence and bloodshed.
Locals said that though the private militia of Ranvir Sena does not have a direct affiliation with any particular party, they do share close connections with members of BJP and RSS.
“The links with politicians help them gain immunity from the police and maintain their power in the area. Politicians do not intervene since nobody wants to lose upper caste support,” locals said. This symbiotic relation helps to maintain the structure of feudalism in the state with Dalits as the oppressed.
After the election of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Dalits found visibility but even then Ranvir Sena was able to maintain their hegemony since they hold the money and influence. The current Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar, who earlier found it difficult to build a strong base in Bhojpur district by being a lower caste, now has strong support among the Bhumihar and Rajput community after his coalition with BJP, who are supported by Ranvir Sena in Bihar.
Krishna (name changed), a lower caste resident of Bhojpur district said that the charm of violence and the feudal tendency still occupy the mind of Bhumihars and Rajputs in Bhojpur. After the death of Brahmeshwar Singh, and the decline of CPI (ML) Liberation in the politics of Bihar, the atrocities from both sides in terms of massacres have seen a decline but the tension still exists, revitalized by the continuous struggle against suppression by the Dalits.
A Delhi University student Aditya said that, “Sena says they are protecting us from the violence of CPI (ML) Liberation who still occupy many Sarkari (government) lands and want to turn the labourers against us.”
Aditya added that anyone, even from the upper caste who speaks ill of the Sena is treated as a communist and socially isolated. “That’s why no one ever speaks about their atrocities. Everyone has accepted their actions as necessary,” he said.
In 2012, the Patna High Court acquitted all the 23 accused in the massacre, citing lack of evidence. Following the verdict, CPI (ML) Liberation called for a ‘Bihar Band’ and staged protests for the state government to take the case to Supreme Court.
Nitish Kumar subsequently filed a petition in the Supreme Court where the case still awaits notice of hearing. The victims still have not received any substantial compensation and the area continues to be neglected in terms of development. The poverty among the Dalits and illiteracy bars them from outgrowing their traditional livelihood and they depend on the fields of the upper caste landlords which breed the cycle of suppression and domination along caste lines.
Even after more than two decades, Ranvir Sena still roams with pride and maintains the hegemony on the land. The Dalits still fear their suppression and the victims of Bathani Tola still await justice.
Courtesy: Two Circle.net