[An excerpt from the chapter ‘The Pattern of Abuse: Rural Violence in Bihar and the State’s Response’ from the report ‘Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s Untouchables’ published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 1999.]
The extent of political patronage extended to the Ranvir Sena can be gauged by the fact that while a large number of Naxalites are killed in “encounters” [with police] not a single Ranvir Sena man has been subjected to this fate. The administration awakes a little later when it comes to tackl[ing] these armies. The outfit [Ranvir Sena] had declared a few days before the Jehanabad [Bathe] carnage that it would soon make a national and international headline.
— The Pioneer, December 12, 1997.106
In the districts of central Bihar, over 300 people were killed between 1995 and October 1997 in large-scale massacres committed by the Ranvir Sena. Three massacres since October 1997 have increased number of deaths to over 400. Human rights activists add that many have also been killed in smaller confrontations. Extrajudicial executions of Naxalites, coupled with evidence of police collusion with the Ranvir Sena, as documented below, have led to charges that the sena is being backed by the state administration and non-left political parties to check the growing Naxalite movement. Soon after a January 1999 sena massacre in Shankarbigha village, Jehanabad district, a senior police official was quoted as saying, “The administration would be happy if they kill the real extremists among the Naxalites, but they are killing soft targets like women and children and attacking villages of Dalits and weaker sections, which are unprotected.”
Like other senas before it, the Ranvir Sena enjoys considerable political patronage. The sena is said to be dominated by politicians from various parties, including Congress, the Janata Dal, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in 1998 led India’s coalition central government. In turn, the BJP has enjoyed Bhumihar support in local elections, as described below. Notorious Ranvir Senaleader Bharmeshwar Singh is also a known BJP activist. While Bihar’s former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, a member of a powerful backward caste, has accused the BJP of backing the sena, he himself has been blamed for only going after Naxalites, despite vows to disarm caste armies. Moreover, state agents at the village and district level are dominated by upper-caste members who often operate as “functionaries of mainstream political parties [and] are either active with or sympathize with the Ranbir Sena.”
According to press reports, in districts across central Bihar, and particularly in Bhojpur district, the police force has traditionally been dominated by Bhumihars and Rajputs. Since the implementation of the Mandal reservations, the OBCs too have been represented, but these are primarily Yadavs and Kurmis who also happen to be the new landowners in the districts. Caste as a factor in the police and administration is relevant in Bhojpur more than anywhere else in Bihar.
The reported nexus between sena members and official paramilitary forces has also come under scrutiny:
According to the officials, the Sena goons received arms training from some former CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel. Bhojpur [district]… has a tradition of sending its young to the Army and paramilitary forces. While on leave, the paramilitary personnel equip the Sena goons with the latest tactics, keeping them constantly ahead of the Naxalites.
The licensing of guns for sena members came under attack in a report by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights:
According to Home Ministry reports, the Ranbir Sena possesses 4,000 guns, both with and without licences. Until they actually fire their weapons, a group of Ranbir Sena members could be merely a group of landlords carrying legal arms. On the other hand, guns carried by labourers and poor peasants are likely to be unlicenced… The SSP [senior superintendent of police] gave an interesting explanation for not trying to withdraw licences from weapon-wielding members of the Ranbir Sena—that in the present state of agrarian conflict, the state could not protect all the bhumihars. Hence they had to be allowed to have guns for their own security and to safeguard their properties. When asked whether likewise the state was in a position to defend all dalits who did not possess weapons, he maintained a telling silence.
Bihar is also notorious for instances of “booth-capturing” at election time; the practice of forcibly entering voting booths and stealing or rigging ballots. Political candidates ensure their majority vote with the help of senas, whose members kill if necessary. This phenomenon has been covered widely by the pressand by human rights groups. The Ranvir Sena was responsible for killing more than fifty people during Bihar’s 1995 state election campaign. A 1998 article noted the use of senas in Ara district, Bihar, during the February 1998 national parliamentary elections: “It is a measure of the chicanery and double-standards of most Ara politicians that when the opportunity arises, they do not hesitate in using the sena, though their public posture against the private army is holier than thou.”
The impunity with which Ranvir Sena leaders carry out their attacks—at election time and other times—provides further evidence of government support. The police record speaks for itself. None of the Ranvir Sena leaders have been prosecuted for the murder of nineteen Dalits and Muslims in Bathani Tola in 1996 and the murder of eleven in Haibaspur in 1997. In Ekwari village in April 1997, police pried open the doors of lower-caste homes and watched as sena members killed eight residents. No sena member was prosecuted. The officers were subsequently suspended, then transferred, but they, too, escaped prosecution. A December 1997 massacre in Laxmanpur-Bathe left at least sixty-one Dalits dead. According to survivors in the village, the attackers identified by eyewitnesses were never arrested. Villagers also received threats of a future attack and felt unprotected despite the presence of a police camp in the village. In January and February 1999, the Ranvir Sena killed over thirty people within seventeen days in Shankarbigha and Narayanpur villages. Sena members had announced the attack in local papers two weeks ahead of time. The state did nothing to stop them. According to an article in The Statesman, a Delhi-based daily, sena members were aided by the police in entering Narayanpur village.
State intervention often comes to a halt after the distribution of paltry compensation packages and the posting of police camps in massacre-affected villages. Human Rights Watch investigations, and the investigations of a nationalten-member civil rights team, found that in most villages police camps were located in the upper-caste areas, effectively inaccessible to Dalits and other lower-caste villagers.
Sena members who have been arrested have quickly been released on bail; none have been convicted. By contrast, some Naxalites who have been prosecuted have been awarded death sentences. Not only does the state treat the crimes of the two groups differently, but police and local officials openly tolerate the senas. On August 8, 1995, a little over two weeks after the killing of six Dalits in Sarathua village, the state government announced its decision to ban the Ranvir Sena. Sena members continued to hold meetings and conventions to openly outline their strategy and response to Naxalite attacks. Several leaders wanted by the police were present during one such meeting held on October 8, 1997, in Belaur village, Bhojpur district. The local administration was reportedly fully aware of the meeting and its participants but did nothing to disarm the group or arrest the wanted men. Six massacres, and police complicity in the attacks, are described in detail below.
Shankarbigha and Narayanpur
On the evening of January 25, 1999, at least twenty-two Dalit men, women and children were killed in the village of Shankarbigha, Jehanabad district, by members of the Ranvir Sena. The massacre was the fifth of its kind since July 1996 in which Dalit and lower-caste men, women and children were killed by the sena for their suspected allegiance to CPI(M-L) or MCC. According to pressreports, members of the Ranvir Sena entered eight thatched huts in the village during the night and fired indiscriminately on the occupants. Many of the victims, including several children, were shot in the head and stomach at point-blank range. Police suspected that the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of two sena activists the week before by MCC members. According to Jehanabad District Magistrate P. Amrit, the killers shouted Ranvir Sena slogans throughout the attacks. The village is only ten kilometers away from Laxmanpur-Bathe, the site of the December 1997 sena massacre. Ranvir Sena supporters told Times of India that the sena had planned to kill almost all the Dalits in the village, close to seventy people, but were unable to complete their task.
The police ignored early warnings that a massacre was likely. On January 8, 1999, a little over two weeks before the attack, Ranvir Sena leader Bharmeshwar Singh admitted in an interview to a local daily that the sena was planning an attack in Jehanabad district, “with renewed vigour [and] in a very calculat[ed] manner.” Singh also admitted that the sena had already chosen its target and was simply waiting for the “right time” to strike. According the CPI(M-L) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, his group made a written submission to the local administration providing a list of villages deemed vulnerable to sena attacks. A list of “already-accused sena members” was also included.
The National Human Rights Commission, a statutory body set up pursuant to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, has asked the state government to investigate the massacre and prevent a recurrence of such incidents. Twenty-four people were arrested in late January 1999 in connection to the massacre, all of whom belong to the Bhumihar caste. Activists are pessimistic, however, that any will be prosecuted.
A little over two weeks after the Shankarbigha massacre, on the night of February 10, 1999, the sena attacked neighboring Narayanpur village. Sena members killed twelve and injured seven. According to press reports, over onehundred heavily armed sena members descended on the village during the night and forced their way into homes, shooting at will. The attack, which began at 9:00 p.m., lasted for one hour. The police did not arrive until 8:00 a.m. the following morning. Bihar Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari stated that a “lack of vigil and alertness [had] led to a repeat of yet another strike by the Ranvir Sena.”
In a press release issued soon after the incident, the Ranvir Sena claimed responsibility for both massacres. Shamsher Bahadur Singh, leader and spokesman for the sena, stated that sena members were forced to “take up arms to save the honour, dignity, and life and property of the innocent farmers.” The killings were meant as retaliation for the deaths of farmers at the hands of Naxalites over the past thirty years. The press release added:
Our fight will continue till the extremists as well as the government lift the illegal economic blockade and release confiscated land, other properties, arms and ammunition, etc. of innocent farmers… Our main targets of future attacks will be Khakaria village in Jehanabad district, Akbarpur village under the Paliganj police station in Patna district and those villages where Naxal activists have let loose a reign of terror and become centres of extremists.
On February 12, 1999, the Indian president dismissed the state government and imposed federal rule in Bihar, citing as the reason a breakdown of law and order and constitutional machinery. The following day, paramilitary forces numbering in the thousands were dispatched to the state. Two days later, on February 14, CPI(M-L) Liberation members reportedly gunned down seven people, including four upper-caste Bhumihars who were said to be Ranvir Sena supporters, at Usri Bazaar, Jehanabad district. The police alleged that the attack was in retaliation for the killings in Shankarbigha and Narayanpur. In early March 1999, the central government reversed its decision to impose president’s rule. As of this writing, Bihar’s state government, with Rabri Devi as the chief minister, had been reinstated. Sena leaders Bharmeshwar Singh and Shamsher Bahadur Singh had yet to be arrested.
On the evening of December 1, 1997, armed sena activists crossed the Sone river into the village of Laxmanpur-Bathe where 180 families lived. They raided fourteen Dalit homes and killed a total of sixty-one people: sixteen children, twenty-seven women, and eighteen men. In some families, three generations were killed. Twenty people were also seriously injured. As most of the men fled the village when the attack began, women and children numbered high among the fatalities. During the attack, at least five girls around fifteen years of age were raped and mutilated before being shot in the chest by members of the Ranvir Sena. Most of the victims allegedly belonged to families of Party Unity supporters; the group had been demanding more equitable land distribution in the area.
The village of Laxmanpur-Bathe has no electricity and is virtually inaccessible by road. In crossing the Sone river to reach the village, sena members reportedly also killed five members of the Mallah (fisherman) community and murdered the three Mallah boatmen who had ferried them across the river on their way back. According to newspaper reports, the main reason for the attack was that the Bhumihars wanted to seize fifty acres of land that had been earmarked for distribution among the landless laborers of the village. A group of peasants, reportedly affiliated with Naxalite activity, was ready to take up arms against them. Authorities apparently knew of the tensions but “had not cared to intervene in the land dispute and nip the trouble in the bud and instead allowed things to come to a head.” Following widespread publicity about the massacre, Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi suspended the Jehanabad district superintendent of police and replaced several senior officers.
Human Rights Watch visited the village on February 25, 1998. According to villagers who survived the attack, close to one hundred members of the Ranvir Sena arrived en masse and entered the front houses of the village: “Their strategy was to do everything simultaneously so that no one could be forewarned.” Human Rights Watch visited a house in which seven family members were killed. Only the father and one son survived. Vinod Paswan, the son, described the attack:
Fifteen men surrounded the house, and five came in. My sister hid me behind the grain storage. They broke the door down. My sisters, brothers, and mother were killed… The men didn’t say anything. They just started shooting. They yelled, “Long live Ranvir Sena,” as they were leaving.
At the time of the attack, the father, Ramchela Paswan, was away in the fields. When he returned, he found seven of his family members shot in his house: “I started beating my chest and screaming that no one is left. No one has been saved from my family. Then my son came out saying he that he had not been killed.”
Human Rights Watch also interviewed seven female residents of the village, many of whom witnessed the rape, mutilation and murder of five girls. Thirty-two-year-old Surajmani Devi recounted what she saw:
Everyone was shot in the chest. I also saw that the panties were torn. One girl was Prabha. She was fifteen years old. She was supposed to go to her husband’s house two to three days later. They also cut her breast and shot her in the chest. Another was Manmatiya, also fifteen. They raped her and cut off her breast. The girls were all naked, and their panties were ripped. They also shot them in the vagina. There were five girls in all. All five were raped. All were fifteen or younger. All their breasts were cut off.
Twenty-five-year-old Mahurti Devi was shot in the stomach but survived her injuries after extensive surgery. She had returned home after a dispute with her husband and was living in her mother’s house. She recalled:
They broke in and tried to open our box of valuables. They couldn’t so they took my chain and earrings off my body. There were ten to twelve of them in the house. They didn’t wear any masks. I said I had nothing. They said open everything. My mother was shot, and she fell down. They flashed a torch on my face. Then they shot me, and I fell down.The police took me to the hospital. After a three-day operation I came to, and the police took a report from me. Some people have been arrested, others are still free. They looted all the houses.
At the time of the massacre, Jasudevi was at her husband’s home in another village. She arrived in Bathe the morning after the attack to find her two sisters-in-law and her fifteen-year-old niece shot to death. “My niece was supposed to go to her husband’s house the same day. She was expecting a child. When I found her it looked like she was trying to run away when she was shot.” Seven-year-old Mahesh Kumar was being held by his mother when she was shot. She fell forward and protected his body with her own. She then died.
Local police had been aware of the possibility of violence long before the Bathe massacre. On November 25, 1997, sena leaders openly held a strategy meeting seven kilometers away from Bathe. Sena leader Shamsher Bahadur Singh had also been touring the area in the months before the massacre openly seeking donations from supporters. Police officers claimed to be aware of these meetings but dismissed them as routine—missing yet another opportunity to intervene and preempt a sena attack. One officer was quoted as saying, “It’s like crying wolf. The Communist Party of India (M-L) keeps sending us complaint letters every week, we can’t take action every time.”
According to members of Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti, a grassroots organization, the events that unfolded in Bathe were more complex than a random attack on a Dalit hamlet:
CPI was organizing in Bathe because the residents were so poor and exploited, they couldn’t even feed themselves after a full day’s work. When they asked for more wages, they were beaten down even more. Some CPI(M-L) and Party Unity people had a split. A few people leftthem and gave information about party activities to landlords. The landlords contacted Ranvir Sena in Bhojpur, saying that they needed help controlling them. The Ranvir Sena came out at 4:00 p.m. They ate and drank liquor with the landlords and attacked at 9:00 p.m. They had a list of whom to attack but got drunk and killed anyone and everyone.
The activists also claimed that the purpose of Bathe was “to teach others not to rebel or raise a voice. In so doing women became vulnerable and were sexually assaulted… They raped women and cut off their breasts. A woman whose pregnancy was nearly complete was shot in the stomach. They said that otherwise the child will grow up to be a rebel.”
Life for most in the village has been disrupted. At the time of the Human Rights Watch visit, children were unable to go to school because a makeshift police camp had been located on school grounds. None of the adults were working. Villagers complained, “There is no work, all has stopped. Since they [Bhumihars] are the landed families, our people don’t get to work in their fields.”
Since the massacre, police protection in Bathe has remained grossly inadequate. The Bihar government announced soon after the Bathe killings that police would be deployed in the area to set up camp and maintain law and order. However, when parliamentary elections were later announced, the police force was directed to control election-related violence. Despite their dual assignment of controlling the Ranvir Sena and watching the polls, the police seemed more intent on conducting raids on Dalit villages in the name of controlling “extremism” and seeking out Naxalite cadres than on protecting Dalit villagers. According to a member of BDVS, “Bathe protection is near the poor but it only benefits the rich. Police always go to the landlords’ houses… All their needs are taken care of byupper castes. If someone calls a meeting they won’t come. They say we don’t have time. They just do flag marches.”
At the time Human Rights Watch visited the village, the Dalit residents of Bathe feared another attack:
Fifteen to twenty days ago we received a message that they will sprinkle petrol on the houses of villages and set them on fire—the houses of those that didn’t get killed the first time around. We told the police. They said we are here so nothing will happen, but the police are protecting them. They are stationed in the Ranvir Sena tola [hamlet]. Police are helping the Ranvir Sena. The accused are moving around freely. So we feel that the culprits are being protected.
Human Rights Watch also spoke to police officers stationed in the village school. Officer In-Charge Amay Kumar Singh informed us that a total of twenty-six police officers were present in the village. He claimed that the police arrived soon after the massacre. According to Singh, twenty-five of the twenty-six perpetrators identified by villagers had been arrested but at the time of the interview (two months after the events) had not been formally charged. He claimed that the police were providing security for all villagers and that new threats had not been reported to them.
Like many officers, Singh claimed that police response to attacks is hindered by insufficient funding, infrastructure, and equipment for village-based police camps. These arguments fail, however, when one notes the frequency of police search and raid operations on remote Dalit villages. Though Singh believed that his officers had enough guns to provide security, and were able to communicate quickly with the area police station, he claimed that more men and more facilities were needed and that the roads to the village were in very poor condition. Road construction had begun soon after the massacre but came to a halt when “VIPs” stopped visiting the area. “We have no car. Look at our conditions. We are sleeping on the ground,” Singh complained. Deputy General of Police Saxenaalso reported that the local police station was poorly equipped and there was not enough personnel. “That’s why we couldn’t prevent this,” he said.
On January 9, 1998, nine people suspected to be supporters of the Ranvir Sena were killed by CPI(M-L) activists in Chouram village, forty-five kilometers from Jehanabad. The killings were reportedly in retaliation for the Bathe massacre. The attackers opened fire indiscriminately on the victims as they were returning home from a funeral. Several Dalits in the Bathe area were subsequently taken into custody by the police. Bathe villagers claim that the sena members were actually killed by Marxist-Leninist party members who were not from their village: “Police have been harassing Dalits for fifteen kilometers around this village. No one cares about the sixty-one people who died here. Everyone cares about those nine. The Ranvir Sena says that they will take ninety for those nine killed.”
Despite the arrests immediately after the massacre, as of February 1999 none of the sena members responsible for the Bathe attack had been prosecuted.
On the morning of April 10, 1997, members of the Ranvir Sena gunned down eight residents of Ekwari village in Bhojpur district in an operation that lasted two hours. Police officers stationed nearby forced open the villagers’ houses and then stood by and watched as the massacre took place. Seven of the eight killed belonged to the lower-caste Lohars, Chamars, Dhobis and Kahars. The village is known to many as the birthplace of CPI(M-L) in the 1970s. The head of the lower-caste hamlet in the village described the incident to Human Rights Watch:
They were killed by the Ranvir Sena. We recognize them. The police were with them. They weren’t shooting. They searched the houses. Then they left and Ranvir Sena came in and shot everyone. The police were still there. They were from the new police camp, not from outside. They sent more after the massacre. The sena killed to get more notoriety.
An article in The Telegraph, a Calcutta-based daily, reported that the attackers raped two women before killing them: a fifteen-year-old girl and a woman who was eight months pregnant. A ten-year-old boy was shot in the head.
The partisan role of the police could not have been clearer. While policemen pried open doors of houses, the Ranbir Sena activists followed them in and mowed the people down. Sunaina Devi, an eyewitness to the murder of her father-in-law and sister-in-law, said that when they refused to open their doors, the policemen broke them open and let the killers in… Sagar Mahato said he saw the police running away and watching from a distance.
The article also reported that the CPI(M-L) Politburo member and member of legislative assembly, Ram Naresh Ram, claimed that the murders were premeditated and that police were bribed by the landlords. A probable cause of the conflict, a villager added, was that many acres of land were lying fallow in the village due to a blockade imposed by the CPI(M-L).
The Bombay-based Times of India reported that the fifteen-year-old was raped in the presence of her father. The pregnant woman was said to be the relative of Jai Kahar, a veteran CPI(M-L) activist and a suspect in the murder of a landlord in the area the previous year. An eyewitness recounted, “Fifty people belonging to upper caste cordoned off the entire small tola and started searching for firearms. I know them by their names. They are the landlords of this region. Indrajeet Singh, Binod Singh, Pankaj Singh, Ajay Singh are the main culprits who killed eight people in this tola.”
Human Rights Watch visited the village of Ekwari in February 1998. A police camp had been established in upper-caste territory, an area inaccessible to Dalits who were afraid to cross the road dividing the two parts of the village. When Human Rights Watch asked the villagers to take us to the police camp they responded, “We can’t take you there. They are on Bhumihar land. No one is protecting us.”
An Ekwari village sub-inspector told Human Rights Watch that in his camp there were two sub-inspectors, one sub-inspector BMP (Bihar Military Police), and seventeen constables, making a total of twenty officers. A second camp located near the village fields had nineteen officers. The sub-inspector claimed that the police presence was sufficient to maintain law and order in the village. At the time of the massacre, he was on assignment at the police station eight kilometers away.
There was a fight between CPI(M-L) and the Ranvir Sena. One Ranvir Sena member was killed. Eight CPI(M-L) were killed some days later. They were not members of CPI(M-L) but were killed based on caste. They have been fighting for years. People are killed on both sides. All have been arrested and charged. Thirty-six were named; approximately thirty were from the Ranvir Sena. All are in jail. There is only one absconder. He escaped from jail. When a CPI(M-L) dies, it’s always the Ranvir Sena; when a Ranvir Sena dies it is always a CPI(M-L) who kills. We also caught the CPI(M-L) who killed the Ranvir Sena. We are here for now and most likely will stay for a while.
In the aftermath of the killings, seven police officers were suspended. Another police camp officer claimed that the suspensions were a political move. “Both sides are political, so whenever there are problems there is a lot of pressure on the state, the superintendent of police, the district magistrate. So in order to remove the pressure they suspend officers. The same officers come back on duty in a different police station.” When asked to describe the current situation, the sub-inspector responded that it was “peaceful and normal. There’s been so much violence here that even one murder every few months is considered peaceful. Labor is an ongoing problem. It’s a very old problem. Whenever killings take place, there is a strike. But now work is ongoing.”
Residents of the Dalit and backward-caste hamlet agreed. They explained that work had started again, but “there was a lot of fear” and little protection. Although CPI(M-L) is active in the village, the lower-caste villagers claim that the “Ranvir Sena is more powerful. They have rifles, semi-automatics, and guns. Weonly have sticks.” The head of the lower-caste section of the village was also apprehensive about the police and had little faith in the protection they provided.
Police are here for law and order. They see what’s going on, but they are allied with the Ranvir Sena. They get money and food from the forward castes so they favor the forward castes. The police don’t care about the poor. We don’t go to the police, nor any other state agencies. We asked for help from the Bhumihars to keep the killings low. They said they cannot control them even though the Bhumihar population belongs to the Ranvir Sena. We have no protection.
According to the former deputy superintendent of police (DSP) for Bhojpur district, Bihar, the April 1997 attack was due to “police negligence”:
The police completely failed in giving protection. They went in one house, and the Ranvir Sena went into another. The guards did nothing to protect them. The Ranvir Sena killed everyone in the police’s presence. By the time the station police came, the Ranvir Sena had run away.
The former DSP went on to describe the situation of women and children.
There are 106 widows in Ekwari. At least fifty women have also been killed in the past several years. The Dalit men go to jail and get sentenced, while the Ranvir Sena has enough money to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Dalit women are made homeless, and the children cannot go to school because the family needs the money to fight the cases against the men. The Ranvir Sena cares only about high numbers. They also rape the women. The police send innocent people to jail. No one can surrender for fear of so-called police encounters. They do not get justice from the police. That is the main factor.
Even the landlords of the village (members of the Ranvir Sena) complained that the police, under pressure to maintain “law and order” in their jurisdiction, have arrested indiscriminately on both sides.
First the police were with us, now they have left us. Since 1995 the police have really bothered us. In April, people were killed here. They killed one farmer and destroyed all crops. Seven CPI(M-L) were killed by Ranvir Sena for retaliation. The police just take care of the dead bodies. They don’t really help. In response to the April massacre, the police destroyed a landowner’s house after arresting him. They also arrested thirty-nine people. All landowners were innocent. They were not part of the Ranvir Sena. The police were also involved in the Ranvir Sena massacre. Seven people were suspended. The police are not with anybody they are trying to scare people. They always capture the innocent, even when CPI(M-L) strike.
As of February 1999, none of the sena members or police officers responsible for the killings in Ekwari had been prosecuted.
On March 23, 1997, ten landless laborers were killed in Haibaspur village in Patna district, Bihar, apparently for aligning themselves with the CPI(M-L) Party Unity. Before leaving the village, the Ranvir Sena inscribed its organization’s name in blood on the rim of a dry well. Party Unity forces retaliated within a month by killing six Ranvir Sena supporters on April 21, 1997. According to BDVS activists, alcohol and the rape of Dalit women by the Bhumihar men played a role in the attack on the village:
The Dalits made alcohol, and Bhumihars drank it. When Bhumihars fought among themselves, they went to the Mushahars [Dalits], gave them drinks, and got them to take revenge on their enemies by taking their field crops and so on. But the Dalits were working for both sides so the Bhumihars killed them. They were double-crossing them. Theyonly gave them liquor to get them to do the work. Bhumihars give them money to make the liquor, then give some liquor to the Dalits to get them to do the work. Whoever makes alcohol also pays a commission to the police. When the Bhumihars came and drank, they also raped the Mushahar women. Mushahar men did not like it so they protested and were killed. The people killed were mostly innocent, but these are the two reasons it happened.
According to an article in The Hindu, a Madras-based daily, although the police were informed immediately of the Haibaspur killings, they did not arrive on the scene until the following morning, after hearing that the chief minister was due to visit the site. When Human Rights Watch spoke to villagers in February 1998, they said they were still afraid of another massacre and had received threats from neighboring upper-caste landholders. Apart from the promise of small compensation packages, the state had done little to protect them.
In response to the Ranvir Sena attack on the Dalit hamlet of Bathani Tola in July 1996 (see above), then-Home Minister Indrajit Gupta expressed dissatisfaction with police protection in the affected region. Even though four police camps had been posted in the area, Gupta charged that they were, “paralysed, impotent and did nothing.” Residents of the village claimed that most of the main perpetrators were still roaming freely in their village, though the police claimed to have arrested all sixty men involved. A new police camp was soon set up near the site but was considered largely ineffective in checking threats from upper-caste landlords. “They are at the beck and call of the landlords. Their food comes from the landlords’ houses. How can they render us justice?” one villager asked.
Despite signs of rising tensions in the area, police neglected to shift their picket (booth) to Bathani Tola. On July 26, 1996, the Bombay-based daily Indian Express reported that officials had received written notification of the possibility of an attack. In a letter dated July 4, 1996, to the district magistrate, the Bhojpur district committee of CPI(M-L) complained that the Ranvir Sena had “renewed its campaign of terror in the villages” and charged that the night before, “a gang of the Ranbir Sena [had] been engaged in indiscriminate firing.” The committee added that there was much tension and fear and urged the district magistrate to “take strong action immediately.” CPI(M-L) had also sent requests for protection on June 26, June 29, and July 2. According to press reports, Superintendent of Police S. N. Pradhan dismissed the letters as “routine.” The killings took place on July 11. During the attack itself, the police reportedly made no attempts to intervene despite being on duty a “stone’s throw” away from the scene. Soon after the incident the chief minister suspended police officers stationed in camps near the tola, but failed to prosecute them.
106 Dhirendra K. Jha, “The running feud,” The Pioneer, December 12, 1997. 107 Faizan Ahmad, “Blood for blood, cries Ranbir Sena,” The Telegraph, October 9, 1997. 108 Upadhay, “Brothers in arms,” The Pioneer, quoting Vinod Mishra, general secretary, CPI(M-L) Liberation; “Ranvir Sena is the only private army still active,” Times of India, January 28, 1999. 109 “Ranvir Sena is the only…,” Times of India. 110 Inder Swahney, “Plans to smash Ranvir Sena network on anvil,” Times of India, February 16, 1999; Bhelari, “Waking up…,” The Week. 111 An article in Indian Express reported that the landed gentry of Belaur (the village where the Ranvir Sena was founded in 1994) had decided to vote en bloc for the Bharatiya Janata Party during the February 1998 national parliamentary elections. In an adjoining hamlet,a stronghold of the CPI(M-L), the residents were decidedly anti-BJP. “Birthplace of CPIML, Ranvir Sena standby their ‘saviours’,” Indian Express, February 17, 1998. 112 People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar…, p. 27. 113 Ranjit Bhushan, “Caste bullets ricochet, rural violence spirals as caste ‘armies’ run amok,” Outlook, April 9, 1997, quoting Laloo Prasad Yadav in an interview. 114 People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar…, p. 33. 115 See Chapter III, footnote 52. 116 Raj Kamal Jha, “Officials ignored pleas for protection against Ranabir Sena,” Indian Express, July 22, 1996. 117 Created in 1939, the Central Reserve Police Force is the largest of the paramilitary forces in India. 118 Srivastava, “Caught in a caste spiral,” Indian Express. 119 People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar…, p. 31. 120 The problem of booth-capturing in Indian elections is decades old. Following allegations of booth capturing, booth rigging, and intimidation of voters during the first phase of February 1998 national parliamentary elections in Bihar, the Election Commission ordered repolling in over 700 polling stations. “Repoll in 700 booths in Bihar ordered,” Indian Express, February 19, 1998. According to the state home secretary, more than 1,100 people were arrested for booth-capturing and the tearing up of ballot papers. Moreover, fifteen people were killed, and dozens were injured in the thirty-four constituencies that went to the polls during the first phase. Police and paramilitary forces were also deployed in several pockets of Patna city. “EC cracks whip, scraps Patna polls,” INDOlink New from India, February 21, 1998. www.indolink.com/INDNews/DNUmain/mn022198.html. During the second phase of elections, seven deaths were reported, including that of a CPI(M-L) leader. Exchange of fire, snatching of ballots and ballot boxes, and intimidation of voters was also reported in several constituencies. “Second phase: 55% voting, nine deaths,” Indian Express, February 23, 1998. Later in the year, during the state legislative assembly elections, police were given shoot-at-sight orders for those tampering with ballot boxes. “Maharashtra by-polls peaceful; firing, rigging in Bihar,” Indian Express, June 4, 1998. 121 See, for example, Jha, “The running feud,” The Pioneer. According to a 1996 Associated Press report: Armies formed by local politicians have intimidated villages during every election in the underdeveloped farmland of northern India… On election day, hired thugs prevent many voters from reaching polling stations. Other voters arrive to find their ballots have already been cast. Sometimes, gunmen literally walk off with the ballot box, a tactic called booth capturing. Police, either overwhelmed or paid off, do little to interfere. Arthur Max, “Private Armies,” Associated Press, April 22, 1996. 122 Ibid. See also People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar…, p. 23. 123 Tara Shankar Sahay, “Only we are fighting the Ranvir Sena as it should be fought,” Rediff on the Net, February 13, 1998, www.rediff.com/news/1998/feb/13bihar1.htm. 124 “11 mowed down by Ranvir gunmen,” The Statesman (Delhi), February 11, 1999. 125 According to a People’s Union for Democratic Rights report, when sena members are arrested they are “given the option of presenting themselves in court at a later date rather than being arrested in the village. In jail, they receive much better treatment and food from their houses. One the other hand, when the poor are arrested, no such option is given to them. They are severely beaten, and often illegally detained in police custody.” People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar…, p. 30. 126 Eight suspected Naxalites were sentenced to death, and sixty-six Naxalites were sentenced to life imprisonment, for the Dalelchak Baghaura massacre of May 1987 which left at least fifty-four upper-caste Rajputs dead. “Death sentences awarded to eight accused,” Times of India, December 10, 1995. 127 “Ranbir Sena yet to be outlawed,” The Telegraph, August 21, 1995. The six villagers killed were all said to be CPI(M-L) supporters. Raj Kumar, “Landlords gun down six Harijans in Bihar village,” Times of India, July 27, 1995. The victims’ family members received a relief and rehabilitation package amounting to Rs. 2,500,000 (US$62,500). “Relief for Bhojpur victims announced,” Times of India, August 1, 1995. 128 Ahmad, “Blood for blood…,” The Telegraph. 129 John Chalmers, “Massacre, religious woes mar India Republic Day,” Reuters, January 26, 1999. 130 P. Chaudary, “Fear stalks Jehanabad village,” Times of India, January 28, 1999. 131 “Clamour for Rabri’s sack after Dalits massacre,” Indian Express, January 28, 1999. 132 “A Tale of Two Senas,” Times of India, February 15, 1999. 133 “NHRC asks Bihar Govt to probe massacre,” Deccan Herald (Delhi), January 28, 1999. 134 P. K. Chaudary, S. Kumar, “Bihar to set up special court for Jehanabad trial,” Times of India, January 28, 1999. 135 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti members in New Delhi and Patna, February 1999. 136 Dipak Mishra and Satyendra Kumar, [no title], Times of India, February 12, 1999. 137 “Ranvir Sena kills 12 Dalits,” The Tribune (Delhi), February 12, 1999. 138 “Ranvir Sena to carry on killings,” Times of India, February [no date], 1999. 139 “7 killed in fresh Jehanabad violence,” Times of India, February 14, 1999; “Cong begins to react, blasts Centre for Bihar killings,” Economic Times (Delhi), February 16, 1999. 140 Kalyan Chaudari, “The Jehanabad carnage,” Frontline, December 26, 1997. 141 Surendra Kishore, “61 massacred in Bihar as Ranvir Sena goes on killing spree,” Indian Express, December 3, 1997; Chaudari, “The Jehanabad carnage,” Frontline. 142 “Murder and Mayhem,” The Hindu, December 14, 1997. 143 “Home Secy removed, SP suspended,” Hindustan Times, December 3, 1997. 144 Human Rights Watch interview with Bathe resident, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 145 Human Rights Watch interview with Vinod Paswan, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 146 Human Rights Watch interview with Ramchela Paswan, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 147 Human Rights Watch interview with Surajmani Devi, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 148 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahurti Devi, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 149 Human Rights Watch interview with Jasudevi, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 150 Human Rights Watch interview with Bathe resident, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 151 Yogesh Vajpayee, “Police was aware of Ranvir Sena attack,” Indian Express, December 5, 1997. 152 According to a press report, a year before the massacre the village was aligned with Party Unity but had since shifted to CPI(M-L) after the murder of Party Unity leader Chapit Ram. Party Unity members alleged that CPI(M-L) was behind the murder. “Bloodbath at night,”Rediff on the Net, December 3, 1997, www.rediff.com/news/dec/03kill2.htm. The same article also reported that villagers claimed that the killers shouted pro-sena slogans during the Bathe attack. 153 Human Rights Watch interview with BDVS members, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 26, 1998. 154 Human Rights Watch interview with BDVS member, New Delhi, February 21, 1998. 155 Human Rights Watch interview with Bathe resident, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 156 Human Rights Watch interview with BDVS member, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 26, 1998. 157 Human Rights Watch interview with Bathe resident, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 158 Human Rights Watch interview with Amay Kumar Singh, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 159 Kishore, “61 massacred in Bihar…,” Indian Express. 160 “CPI-ML kills nine Ranvir Sena activists,” Rediff on the Net, January 10, 1998. www.rediff.com/news/1998/jan/10kill.htm 161 Human Rights Watch interview with Bathe resident, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 25, 1998. 162 Human Rights Watch interview with head of lower-caste hamlet, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 163 Ahmad, “Pregnant woman raped…,” The Telegraph. 164 Ibid. 165 Pranava K. Chaudary, “Ekwari carnage was backed by police,” Times of India, April 13, 1997. 166 Human Rights Watch interview with Ekwari village residents, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 167 Human Rights Watch interview with Ekwari village sub-inspector, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 168 Human Rights Watch interview with Ekwari village police officer, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 169 Human Rights Watch interview with Ekwari village sub-inspector, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 170 Human Rights Watch interview with Ekwari village resident, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 171 Human Rights Watch interview with head of lower-caste hamlet, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 172 Human Rights Watch interview with former DSP Ramchandar Ram, Patna, March 1, 1998. 173 Ibid. 174 Human Rights Watch interview with Arvind Singh, Ranvir Sena member, Bhojpur district, Bihar, February 27, 1998. 175 Ranjit Bhushan, “Caste bullets ricochet, rural violence spirals as caste ‘armies’ run amok,” Outlook, April 9, 1997. 176 Verma, “The Lull, After…”. 177 Human Rights Watch interview with BDVS members, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 26, 1998. 178 “Police arrived late at carnage scene,” The Hindu, March 26, 1997. 179 Human Rights Watch interview, Jehanabad district, Bihar, February 26, 1998. 180 Sabrina Inderjit, “Bihar carnage is a socio-political problem,” Times of India, July 17, 1996. 181 Ramakrishnan, “Massacre in Bihar…,” Frontline. 182 Ibid. 183 Jha, “Officials ignored pleas…,” Indian Express. 184 Ibid. 185 Ibid. 186 Ibid. 187 “Laloo’s land or lawless land?” The Hindu. 188 “Danse macabre,” Sunday, July 21 – 27, 1996.
[Courtesy: Human Rights Watch, 1999]