A Report on the Ghastly Beating up of Two Youth of Extremely Backward Castes by Kurmi Landlords in Nauva Village of Kochas Block of Rohtas District in Bihar
On the 29th of January an incident happened in Nauva village of Kochas block of Rohtas district in south Bihar which reportedly involved two youth of extremely backward castes and the Kurmi landlords (belonging to the dominant among ‘Other Backward Castes’). Janhastakshep came to know of the incident through a short video of the incident that was brought to our attention by some activists of All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS) who have proactively taken up this issue in Rohtas.
In the video we could see two youth who had been stripped necked, with their hands tied behind their back being beaten up mercilessly. It was also reported to us that these youth were stamped on various parts of their bodies with hot iron rods. The video looked scary and on first impression made the video of beating up of Dalit youth in Una town of Gujarat for having committed the crime of skinning a dead cow; appear much milder in comparison. Judging the seriousness of the issue Janhastakshep decided to send a team for investigation of the case. A two member team comprising of Prof Ish Mishra of Hindu College, Delhi University and Dr Vikas Bajpai of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, left for Sasaram (district headquarter of Rohtas) on the 16th of February, 2017.
This report seeks to go into the details and analysis of the case with a hope that the larger issues involved there in shall ultimately see the light of the day and would be deliberated upon in the society.
The report is structured in four different sections – ‘Objectives of the investigation’, ‘Findings regarding different objectives’, ‘Discussion’ and ‘Conclusion and demands’.
Objectives of the investigation
The team set before itself three fold objectives for this investigation. These were:
- To correctly establish all the details of the incident in a chronological order as they happened on the fateful day.
- To document the response of the law enforcement agencies, the civil administration and different political parties to the entire incident.
- To elicit the socioeconomic factors which not only make such ghastly incidents possible but also facilitate only a muted response to a situation that actually calls for a militant rebuttal of the forces behind such incidents?
The findings of the report shall likewise be divided into three sub-sections pertaining to each one of the objectives.
Investigation team’s itinerary
Team reached Sasaram, district headquarters of Rohtas district on early morning of 17th February. On 17th we visited Nauva village in the Kochas block of the district. We spent about four hours in the village talking to a cross section of the villagers and the family of one of the victims and later the victim himself. In the village we also had an opportunity to speak with the activists of AIKMS (All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha) who were responsible for bringing the whole incident to our knowledge. From Nauva we proceeded to Dinara town which is about 12 kilometers from the village to see the SHO at Dinara police station, as village Nauva falls under the jurisdiction of this police station. Post lunch the team also visited the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) at Bikramganj town. However, since the DSP was reported to have gone for a meeting at Sasaram, we came back to Sasaram and went straight to the District Magistrate’s office at around 5.30 pm.
The second day’s schedule involved a meeting with the DIG Shahabad range, Sh Muhammad Rahman at 10 am at Dehri town which is around ten kilometers from Sasaram, and later in the afternoon the team addressed a press conference at public library in Sasaram.
Details of the incident in a chronological order:
29th January 2017 was a Sunday, and it had been almost a year since Vijay Sharma, the eldest of the three sons of a household belonging to ‘lohar’ caste (iron smith) of Nauva village in Kochas block of Rohtas district, had been working as a labor involved in filling mud in the basement of a new house being constructed by Ramashankar Chaudhari, a Kurmi landlord of the same village. Till this date an overwhelming part of Vijay Shama’s wage for the entire year had been due, he having got only about Rs 4000 as wages till then. The balance amount can be calculated at the rate of Rs 250 a day, minus ten days on which Vijay himself admitted to have been on leave. The number of days of work actually done; the wages received till 26th January, 2017 and the remaining wage that is due to Vijay could not be confirmed independently as there was no record of same with Vijay and no authoritative person was available in the house of the said landlord to provide these details. Hence the relevant details are as per the claim made by Vijay himself and corroborated by other villagers around him, all of whom belonged to the poorer sections of the village.
Incidentally, Vijay’s daughter had not been feeling well for some time; hence, in need for money for her treatment, he went to Ramashankar’s house at eight in the morning to ask for his pending wages. The other victim of the case, Suresh Chauhan, son of a household belonging to ‘Nunia’ caste had also come to the landlord’s house to demand his wages. Since Suresh and his family members, except his little daughter, were in Benaras in connection with the Suresh’s treatment, his particular circumstances could not be confirmed. That notwithstanding, to ask for wages due to him is any worker’s right.
As reported by Vijay and his mother Kaushalya Devi the demand for wages seems to have angered Ramashankar Chaudhari and his sons, who demanded from Suresh and Vijay as to how much wages were due. In reply they said that the landlords ought to know better since it is they who would have been maintaining a record of the work done. It need be remembered that both Suresh and Vijay are illiterate and hence would have found it difficult to maintain a written record.
The landlords refused payment on the plea that they did not have the money. When Vijay countered that you have the money to buy construction material but not to pay our wages, their retort was that ‘tu bahut bole lagal ba’ (you speak too much). Vijay replied back – ‘jab kaam karla han, to paisa na mangai’ (when I have worked for you, won’t I demand my wages?’ Both Vijay and his mother reported that a heated exchange of words took place between the two youth, including exchange of expletives, but the root cause for this was the unwillingness of the landlords to pay up the wages.
It took little time before Ramashankar and his sons started slapping Vijay and Suresh. Both of them were dragged inside the house, all clothes on their body were taken off, their hands tied behind their backs and the beating with sticks and iron rods went on. More people gathered at Ramashankar’s house as the talk of the ongoing beating spread around the village. The crowd that had gathered and joined the bashing constituted mostly of other Kurmis of the village. All the individuals of the oppressed and poorer castes/sections of the village who gathered at the spot were attacked and driven away by the landlords.
Vijay’s mother, Kaushalya Devi was informed of Vijay being beaten up brutally at Ramashankar’s house by her younger son. Having come to know about the incident she rushed to Ramashankar’s house to rescue her son. She pleaded with the kurmi landlords to let go of her son, but ended up receiving blows herself on her arms. Kaushalya was made to wait by the landlords in a thatched shelter on the first floor of the house and both Vijay and Suresh were dragged further into the house, totally necked, on to the terrace on the second floor, in front of her eyes. Apart from further beating, the two youth were stamped with hot iron rods on various parts of their body on the terrace. Vijay confirmed to us that the tormentors had inserted hot iron rod into Suresh’s anus. He also told that Suresh had suffered a fracture in his forearm, though he wasn’t sure whether it was the right or the left forearm. Unable to bear the cries of her son, and even more, feeling completely helpless at her inability to stop their torture, Kaushalya came back to her house.
Figure 5a and 5b: The hot iron stamping marks on the right and the left thigh and leg of Vijay Sharma. Note that the marks left by the threads of the iron girdle are clearly visible over the left thigh (Figure 5b). Figure 5a clearly shows darkish discoloration of the skin over the right thigh, right leg and the feet due to deposition of blood in the sub-cutaneous tissues as a result of blunt strokes of a lathi or rods. It need be remembered that we were seeing Vijay three weeks after the incident by which time considerable healing of the burn scars had taken place. When fresh they would have been raw, deep red and immensely painful because as against deep burns, in superficial burns the nerve endings survive, are exposed and immensely sensitive, causing tremendous pain.
Vijay could not identify all the people who were gathered in Ramashankar’s house since he said that he was already semi-conscious due to the beating and when they started stamping him with hot iron he fell unconscious. Despite this he could identify some persons categorically before he fell unconscious. Some of the names he took were those of Patali Chaudhary, Asmani Chaudhari, Dabloo Chaudhari and Ayodhaya Chaudhari, all of whom belonged to the same family. Of these we could find the name of Patali and Asmani Chaudhary, both sons of Ramashankar Chaudhari, in the FIR filed by the police.
Vijay told us that he had been almost continuously tortured from around 9 am in the morning till about 2.30 pm in the afternoon. Kaushalya Devi told that the landlords had brought her son in an unconscious state with a loin cloth tied around him at around 6 pm in the evening in a tractor, and dropped him at her door step. The first thing that the family did was to take Vijay to Kochas town for treatment at a private nursing home. Only after his condition was stabilized that they went to the police station for lodging the FIR. Kaushalya Devi told that till now she had spent between fifty to sixty thousand rupees from her own savings on Vijay’s treatment.
The poor among the villagers at Nauva and some of the neighboring villages have raised money through voluntary donations for treatment of Suresh that was going on at a private nursing home in Benaras district of neighboring Uttar Pradesh. We were informed by the villagers that the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) had himself referred Suresh to be taken to the private hospital – Gangotri Heritage Hospital, at Sigra town in Benaras district. Since we did not meet anyone from Suresh’s family except his minor daughter, there seemed to be some confusion over whether the doctor at Dinara PHC
(Primary Health Center) referred Suresh to the private hospital or he referred Suresh to the CMO of district hospital at Benaras, who in turn referred him to this private hospital. Whichever way it was done, it appears highly suspicious because there is always a possibility that doctors at private hospitals could be more pliable with regard to manipulating the documentation of injuries suffered by the victim. In the instant case while the villagers and Vijay himself said that the landlords had inserted hot iron rod into Suresh’s anus, the investigating officer (IO) of the case told us at Dinara police station that the doctor at the treating hospital had told him that this was not true.
Some of the villagers who had gathered around us told that on coming to know of his brother being beaten up at Ramashankar’s house, Suresh’s elder brother Sona Chauhan immediately rushed to the police station at Dinara to lodge a police complaint. However, the Station House Officer of Dinara police station, Abhinandan Kumar Singh rang up the ‘mukhia’ (headman) of the village panchayat (village level self-governing body), Ramakant Shah, apparently to enquire about the incident. It was reported by the villagers that the ‘mukhia’ apparently told that nothing much has happened and that he let the two young men go after a few slaps. The villagers had known about the mukhia’s response from the ‘sarpanch’ (chief legal officer) of the panchayat, who was also present on the spot with the ‘mukhia.’
This narrative given by the villagers was confirmed in our telephonic interview with Imtiaz Ahmed, the ‘sarpanch’. The ‘mukhia’ could not be talked to as he was absconding in the case. On the morning of 29 January, 2017 both ‘mukhia’ and the ‘sarpanch’ had gone early morning to a neighboring village ‘Sarot’, which lies in ‘Nauva’ panchayat itself, to settle some dispute over there. Imtiaz Ahmed told that even as he and the ‘mukhia’ were still in Sarot, he received a call from the relatives of the victims informing him of the ongoing incident in the village and asking him and ‘mukhia’ to come to the village immediately to have the two men freed from the house of the landlords. Sarpanch himself did not receive any call from the landlords.
Both men, the ‘mukhia’ and the ‘sarpanch’, reached Ramakant’s house by around 11.30 am, and the ‘sarpanch’ told that by the time they reached – ‘sara ghatna ho chukka tha; ee log sab daag-doog diya tha’ (the entire event had already occurred and the landlords had already burnt the victims with hot iron). On seeing the situation the ‘sarpanch’ said that the things were beyond his control. He advised the people present to hand over the case to the police and leave the boys. Imtiaz also reported that the landlords pressurized him to sign a paper in which it was mentioned that the beaten youth had confessed to having stolen the tractor battery from Ramashankar’s tractor. However, since he is illiterate and was not sure of what was written in the paper, he refused to sign it.
It is important to note here that Vijay told us that the landlords came up with the charge of he and Suresh having stolen the tractor battery only after they had brutally beaten them up. This shows that it was at best devised as a cover up for their act.
Most importantly, the ‘sarpanch’ told that the landlords took the ‘mukhia’ inside the house and hosted him well, while he was sitting outside where Suresh and Vijay were lying. He also reported that the ‘mukhia’ had signed on the paper in which the victims’ thumb impression had been taken on a forced confessional statement to the effect that they had stolen the battery. He also reported that he overheard the conversation when the SHO of Dinara thana rung up the ‘mukhia’ to inquire as to what was going on in the village. Rather than telling the truth the ‘mukhia’ had told that nothing significant had happened and that he had facilitated the release of the two men after just a few slaps, which must have resulted in the SHO not giving due attention to the whole incident. It is for this reason that he advised the relatives to take the two men to the thana because the police shall not move unless they see their condition.
The ‘sarpanch’ volunteered that the landlords are rich and powerful; that he had no position in front of them despite being the ‘sarpanch’, and that he was scared when they tried to pressurize him.
The version of the kurmi landlord, Ramshankar Chaudhari’s family
Ramshankar Chaudhari, his three sons, the ‘mukhia’ and other Kurmis involved in the incident were all absconding to avoid arrest in the case. However, when we went to see Ramashankar’s house, where the whole incident was enacted, his daughter Saraswati Devi, on seeing our movement outside the house came out to inquire on us. What is presented here are her statements which at the moment are the best approximation of the version that would have been forwarded by the absconders.
Saraswati Devi does not live in the village and had arrived barely three days back from her house in Patna, to take charge of her parental household in the absence of her father and brothers. On her coming out of the house we introduced ourselves to allay her anxieties and assured her that our intention was only to know the truth rather than present a biased opinion on behalf of one or the other side. We wouldn’t though place our bet on whether we succeeded or failed in assuaging her fear.
Saraswati Devi nevertheless appeared unfazed and vociferously asserted that a false case had been foisted against her father and brothers by Kaushalya Devi, her sons and other members of the ‘rayan’ (the poor folk) as part of a conspiracy they had conjured up to cover up the fact that Kaushalya, her son and Suresh were involved in stealing the tractor battery from her house. Her counter narrative was that Kaushalya, her son Vijay and Suresh had an argument among themselves over sharing the spoils of the stolen battery after selling it right in front of Ramashankar’s house. Her brother Patali Chaudhary saw them fighting and tried to intervene in the dispute for the purpose of settling it. This angered the trio and they started to hit her brother. The tussle got aggravated and ended in Suresh and Vijay getting brutally beaten up.
Saraswati asserted that even though the two were beaten up in her house, but her father and brothers were not involved in the incident which was given effect to by other villagers belonging to the kurmi caste. On our asking if anyone in her family had seen the two accused men of stealing the tractor battery, she accepted that nobody had seen it; however, they had earlier said that they will teach her father a lesson; so when the battery went missing they suspected Suresh and Vijay to have stolen it.
We put our next question – ‘even if one were to presume that their suspicion regarding the two men was true, then also shouldn’t the matter have been reported to the police instead of taking direct action?’ She replied that her elder brother had gone to report the theft of the battery either to the police station or to the court and was told by the munshi that since the ‘bada babu’ (the big boss) is not there the complaint cannot be registered. He was also told by the munshi that the case shall not start before three months and so her brother came back. Her statement obviously didn’t make much sense to us. She then asserted that – ‘Sir, sarkar to ryan he ka baat na suntan hai; aur aap bhi Sir ryan he ka baat sunte hain’ (the government only listens to the voice of the poor; and even you Sir, you also listen to the voice of the poor).
On being asked specifically as to what she felt regarding the beating up of the two men, she said that she did not approve of it, but that it was all done by other men and not by her brothers or father. She told that other people who had gathered at her house also started alleging that these men had been involved in theft in their houses as well and that it was only proper to give them a good thrashing.
In nutshell the case put forth by Saraswati Devi in defense of her family was potholed, incoherent and devoid of any sense, except to somehow rescue her family members.
Response of law enforcement agencies, civil administration and political parties
Before coming to the specific findings, it may be stated that the response of the civil and police administration has been one of utmost callousness and disinterest at its mildest and that of active connivance with the perpetrators of the crime at its worst.
Role of the police administration
The police came into action only after 8 pm on the day of the incident once the villagers took unconscious Suresh in a tractor to Dinara police station. Vijay was brought by his family to the police station at around 1.30 am in the morning after his condition had stabilized through initial treatment received at Kochas town. Until then the police was sitting pretty under the comfort of the assumption that nothing serious has happened. It is not inadvertent that the complaint of Suresh’s elder brother Sona Chauhan was simply dismissed once the ‘mukhia’ told the SHO that nothing significant had happened. This tells volumes regarding how much the police administration cares for the plight of the poor who do not enjoy any political or official patronage. In this sense the behavior of the SHO of Dinara police station does not represent an inadvertent negligence, but only reflects how systematic and systemic their lack of concern for the poor is, besides showing an institutionalized connivance with the dominant sections of the society.
Our doubts are only reconfirmed by the information provided by the ‘sarpanch’ Imtiaz Ahmed who himself is from a poor household. Imtiaz told that many a times when he had gone to SHO with regard to one or the other complaint of the villagers, the SHO had literally driven him away despite his having gone there in his capacity as a ‘sarpanch.’ If a sarpanch can be treated like this, we can only well imagine what must be attitude towards the ordinary poor.
It is worth pondering if the behavior of the SHO would have been the same were the complainant and the victim to be from the dominant caste and the aggressors from an oppressed caste. The available experience from across the country till now only shows that those belonging to the oppressed castes and tribes are often attacked even if they have done nothing to earn the wrath of the system, let alone if they challenge the status quo in any meaningful way.
A timely action by the SHO would have at least helped in apprehending the culprits on time and investigate the case thoroughly towards meeting the ends of justice. To our mind the attitude of the SHO cannot be said to be guided only by information provided by the ‘mukhia’, but also by a pre-mediated inclination to see the things from the point of view of the dominant sections of the village.
We had gone to Dinara police station to see the SHO, who did not happen to be present while we were there. However, we could meet the Deputy SHO, Satyendra Satyarthi and the IO of the case, Raj Kumar Chaudhari. It is important to note that to our suggestion that the SHO’s attitude amounted to active connivance with the landlords, both the police officers not only did not refute the charge, but were at a loss to explain the conduct of the SHO. Their only refrain was that ‘we are acting on the case and as to other questions only senior officers could answer best.’
The IO of the case showed us the FIR lodged by the police in which the accused have been charged under sections 341, 342, 323, 324, 377, 307, 504, 386 and section 34. Of all these sections section 307 is the most serious which amounts to ‘attempt to murder’; section 323 is for causing injury and 504 for criminal intimidation. It is noteworthy that section 320 which is applied for causing grievous injury has not been applied even though Suresh clearly suffered a fracture. The FIR mentions six accused by name, which include the three sons of Ramashankar Caudhari, and around 14 unnamed persons. The IO also told that two persons – Jawahar Chaudhari and his son Raju Chaudhari have been apprehended in the case till now. However, the villagers were of the opinion that these two were innocent and had not played any role in the incident.
The IO impressed upon us that the police have been raiding different places to arrest the absconding culprits and that if they do not surrender soon an order for ‘kudhki’ would be obtained from the court to attach their property including their house. The IO narrated of his having gone to Sigra in Benaras district to see the other victim Suresh. He further volunteered that the doctor at the nursing home told him that hot iron rod had not been inserted in his anus. Most notably, he stated that he came back from Benaras only after he could assure himself that Suresh was ‘swasth’ (healthy) without realizing that if he was ‘healthy’ then where was the need for his continued admission in the hospital, especially as the expenses for the same were being borne by the victim’s family and their sympathizers. The biases of ruling bureaucratic coercive machinery to overstate the case of the dominant sections and understate the case of the oppressed are never admitted directly; these most often come through only in such subtle manners. Importantly enough, the IO himself belongs to kurmi caste, as do the offending landlords in this case.
No relief has been provided to the victims by the police till now as to the logistics of treatment of the victims is concerned. The senior most police official to have visited the village till the time of our visit was the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) who sits at Bikramganj town. He was not available in his office when we went calling on him and could be talked to only on phone. The DSP was not even aware that the matter had been brought to the notice of the police as early as 12 noon on the 29th January and that the SHO chose not to go to the village believing the word of the ‘mukhia’, while we could get to know this fact within first few minutes of our interaction with the villagers. The DSP asserted that he got to know of the case only when the local thana intimated him about it at around 8 pm in the evening. This speaks volumes regarding the nature and the seriousness of police’s engagement in the case.
Among all the government officials whom we could talk to, either in person or telephonically, we elicited the most positive response from DIG (Deputy Inspector General of Police), Shahabad range, Muhammad Rahman. He assured us that he was well aware of the facts of the case and was monitoring the progress in the matter. In our presence he instructed the superintendent of police (SP) of the district over phone to expedite the process of obtaining relevant orders from the court for attaching the property of the accused. However, even his comment regarding the plight of the brutalized youth was – ‘Yeh to kuch zaida hi kar diya.’ Though he may not have meant so at all, but the comment suggests that a lesser level of brutalization could have been considered acceptable.
As per our last information the police had gone to the village on 22 February to put up a notice for ‘kudhki’ (attaching) the house of the accused on the door of Ramashankar’s house. We also requested the DIG to lend the weight of his office with the civil authorities regarding any financial relief that could be rendered to the affected families.
Role of the civil administration
To say the least, the role of civil administration in the whole affair till now has been the most deplorable. We had reached the District Magistrate’s (DM) office at Sasaram at about 5.30 in the evening. Before sending in our request to see the DM, we had a word with his OSD (officer on special duty) regarding the incident. The OSD responded as though we were talking of an incident in some other district of another state; he himself having no clue of the incident at Nauva village. Having sent in our request for an audience with him, we were kept waiting outside the DM’s office for about forty five minutes at the end of which the DM simply got up to leave office for the day. We were obliged to intercept him in the corridor.
Regarding the issue itself he asserted that the administration had taken the matter very seriously and that today itself he had spoken with the SP. He replied in negative to our query if he had seen the video of the incident that took place at Nauva village, since the video being available on net was common knowledge by now. We pressed ahead to ask if his lack of knowledge of the extent of brutalization of the victims; the fact that no one from civil administration had even had the time to go and see the victims or assess the ground situation in Nauva even three weeks after the incident; the fact that no help from the administration had been forthcoming regarding even the treatment of the victims let alone providing any financial relief, were all indicators of the seriousness that the administration had accorded to the matter? Though not overtly offended, the DM asked us whether we were questioning him or wanted to have his opinion on the issue. It needed our telling him that administrations are not beyond reproach and that his administration needed to stand to account on issues directly concerning the welfare of the people in the district. Regarding providing relief, the DM only submitted that the administration had to go by the rules.
Our own impression of the DM’s response is that the district administration’s response is but a part of the political response to this incident decided at the highest levels in the state government rather than being a result of the ignorance of the administration regarding facts of the case. It may be noted that delegations of all political parties have visited Nauva village, as also the tourism minister in the state government, Anita Chauhan, who is RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) MLA (member of legislative assembly) from Nokha constituency within Sasaram parliamentary constituency. This only implies that when even the state government has been apprised of the case, the district administration cannot but be having full knowledge of the matter.
Response of the political parties
Delegations of local level leaders of almost all major ruling class political parties having a stake in the politics of the region have visited Nauva village, but the villagers did not report these leaders having met the victim’s families. It could also be that since there were no high profile leaders, the villagers may not have recognized those who visited as belonging to these political parties. The only exceptions were Vashisht Singh, the JDU (Janata Dal United) MLA from Karahgar legislative assembly constituency and Anita Chauhan, the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) MLA from Nokha assembly constituency. Vashist Singh and Anita Chauhan belong to ‘kurmi’ and ‘nunia’ castes respectively and so have a direct stake in the whole incident. Even though the latter two visited the victims and their families, but nothing of consequence has materialized as a result of their visit. Anita Chauhan is reported to have promised Suresh’s family that she shall have him brought to Patna for medical treatment at government’s expense, but there was not a second mention of the promise. In this context these political visits seem to have been an exercise in dousing the possibilities of this incident snowballing into a major issue.
The most glaring have been the absence of any response whatsoever from CPI, CPM and the CPI (ML)-Liberation. Neither have the leaders of these parties gone to the village, nor have they issued a statement on the incident, let alone take up an agitation program to force the government and local administration to act.
There is a need to understand this political dynamics. Over the last few years there has been an increased anxiety among different political parties of the ruling classes on issues concerning dalits; not as much from the perspective of socioeconomic and political uplift of dalits, as much it is from the perspective of electoral arithmetic. Add to this the possibility of leveraging an issue related to dalits for the benefit of one or the other section of the ruling classes and the ground is laid for blowing such an issue into a major contention (and rightly so), but only to the extent it serves the purpose of the ruling class politics rather than the interests of the oppressed themselves. Hence, the public beating of dalits in Una in Gujarat became a major issue that was taken up by the national media with gusto. Of course this could not have been possible without the struggle that was put up by the dalits themselves under the leadership of a young leader Jignesh Mewani and the efforts of the progressive sections of the society which stood in support of their struggle. The point however is that when the dalits raised the demand for distribution of land to the dalits, all support from the ruling classes and their media to their struggle vanished in no time. The Una incident had a political utility for non NDA ruling class parties from the perspective of showing BJP in bad odor.
In the instant case of Nauva village, the oppressor kurmi landlords themselves belong to OBC category and constitute the major social and political base of JDU and its leader Nitish Kumar, who is also the chief minister of the state. The oppressed victims though belong to extremely backward OBC castes, but the actual social, economic and political condition of these castes is not better than that of dalits. Not being dalits makes their cause less attractive for other parties in opposition such as the BSP of Mayawati, LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) of Ram Bilas Paswan or for that matter even the BJP. As regards the parliamentary Left the presently ruling alliance in Bihar is their best bet against the communal BJP and hence overriding every other nothing must be done to undermine the ruling coalition. Even otherwise, in terms of their politics and policy paradigm there is little left to distinguish them from other ruling class parties except of course the Left phrase mongering and posturing.
The villagers informed that they had read in the newspapers that activists of CPI (ML) New Democracy had taken up some programs in Sasaram on this issue. The AIKMS activists who helped us reach the village informed that this party had burned an effigy of the chief minister Nitish Kumar in front of the collectorate in Sasaram on 3 February, 2017; and also staged a dharna in front of the DIG office in Dehri on Sone on 8 February 2017. on this issue.
The villagers informed that some activists of this party came to their village and have been concertedly working to organize the oppressed poor villagers and build a movement on this issue. We were also handed a pamphlet brought out by CPI (ML) – New Democracy that mentioned about a massive meeting to be held at the Kochas block on this issue on 22 February.
As was telephonically informed to us by a contact in Nauva village, upon our return to Delhi, that on 22 February a massive rally was taken out from Nauva to the block headquarter Kochas where a big mass meeting was held in protest against administration’s nihilism in which more than three thousand people participated.
The socioeconomic realities bedeviling the whole incident
Sine-qua-none of Indian society is its caste structure; this is all the more the case with rural India, and in the context of Bihar, where feudal and semi-feudal relations of production predominate, caste by far outweighs any other parameter for social, political and economic understanding of the society. Hence, we shall begin by the surveying the caste composition of Nauva village. The information regarding caste composition and land holdings, being presented here, as provided by the villagers themselves, could vary slightly from the exact figure. We did not have the time to triangulate the figures from any of the formal sources, but there is no reason for us to believe that it varies widely from reality.
Total population of the village is between five to six thousand. It has twenty two hundred registered voters. The dominant castes of the village are Rajputs, Brahmins and Kurmis with around ten, fifteen and seventy households respectively. However, land, the principal productive resource in a rural economy, is largely concentrated with the Kurmis with each household having between forty to fifty bighas of land. The Rajput households have between eighty to ninety bighas of land each, while the Brahmins have just about four to five bighas of land per household.
Nunias (using the sir name of Chauhan) and the Lohars (using the sir name of Sharma) are the two among the category of most backward castes having eighty and ten households respectively. The Lohar households are all landless; among the Nunias as well the majority of households are landless. Those having land possess two or four or a maximum of five bighas of land. It has already been stated that even though they are formally categorized as backward castes, but their actual social and economic status is no better than that of the dalits.
The Rams (Jatavs, who skin dead animals and do leather work) and the Paswans are the two scheduled castes in the village having sixty and five or six households respectively. Both of these castes are landless. Apart from these Hindu castes there are about fifty households of Muslims, all of whom are Ansaris (were traditionally weavers) and who converted from lower caste Hindus to Islam. Majority of the Muslim families are also landless with only a few households having up to two to five bighas of land. In fact a large number of extremely backward, scheduled caste and Muslim families do not even possess homestead land of their own and have occupied government land to build their houses.
None of the upper caste households do farming by themselves. The bigger Kurmi and Rajput landlords either engage labor from the lower castes or from Muslims to cultivate their lands or may also give a portion of their land for rent cropping. Some may further lease in land from smaller land owners to add to their operational landholding. However, leasing in land is more often resorted to by the small, marginal or landless farmers. The Brahmins do not cultivate their land either. While their land is given out on rent, most of the Brahmin men themselves are in formal public or private sector employment.
Among rest of the castes and the Muslims, those possessing small piece of land cultivate it themselves and may additionally take land on rent. Along with this they may work on the fields of the big landowners during the agricultural season and for the rest work as daily wage laborers in the nearby block headquarter town of Kochas. The landless households mainly work either as daily wage agricultural labor for the landlords or may migrate outside for work. It was reported that a large number of males of the village belonging to lower castes and from among the Muslims go to towns and villages in Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh or places like Delhi for working either as agricultural labor or as industrial labor. These are typically seasonal migrations for a few months at a time.
It was reported that the marketable surplus is produced mainly by the large land owners, while the small and marginal farmers and those among them taking land on rent produce mainly for self-consumption. Given the time at hand, it was not possible for us to collect any data on total agricultural produce; what proportion of same is sold for the market and how much exactly is for self-consumption. Among the cash crops that are produced in the village are oil seed crops and sugarcane. Again, given the scope of inquiry, respective acreage for different crops could not be known either.
The foregoing description is very important from the point of view of understanding the power relations among different sections of society in Nauva, as also the relations of production between these sections of the village society. There exists an opinion that the relations of production in agriculture in India have transitioned predominantly to capitalist relations of production with of course there being some feudal remnants. Existence of such a transition would pre-suppose that major production happens for the market and secondly, the freedom to choose to whom to sell their labor at terms that the markets afford them is sacrosanct.
Production for the markets is not an absolute reality in Nauva. However, the landlords seem to be producing at least partly for the markets, but the marginal, small and landless farmers taking land on rent produce almost exclusively for self-consumption, which also is not sufficient, forcing them to purchase food from market at least for part of the year. Most of the landless households have to purchase food round the year since their wages are now mostly in cash. Labor free from coercion of any kind is still far from reality in Nauva. The pre-capitalist forms of coercion are not only widely prevalent but can go to extremes.
Lest we forget the context of the whole incident described above, it may be once again emphasized that both Sunil and Vijay got tortured the way were only because they had gone to ask for their back wages. The sheer brazenness of the incident shows the extent to which the local landlords are willing to go to cast a spell of terror on the oppressed castes and classes not only in the village but also in the entire area. In fact the villagers reported some other incidents that reflect the ruthlessness of the local landlords. Even though these incidents also reflect the extreme nature of brutalities inflicted on people, we are not elaborating them over here as there was no way for us to establish their veracity. Suffice it to say that terror serves the purpose of not only keeping the people subjugated but also becomes a medium of expropriating usurious labor from them. People in the village told of the numerous ways in which this is done.
The most common way is to always retain part of the wages of the workers in order to ensure that they keep coming to the landlords for work. Moreover, no written record of the number of days of work done and the wages due is maintained; or if it is maintained, it is maintained by the landlords since the workers themselves are large illiterate. Such an arrangement always serves as a mechanism to cheat the worker of a part of their wages. Any contention raised by the workers for same could prove costly as it did in case of Suresh and Vijay. The workers may however refuse to work for a landlord who resorts to such methods, but only to their own peril. Such defiance would be met with denial on part of the landlords to any further work, and the denial of access to the lower caste families to the landlords fields either for cutting fodder for the animals owned by them, or something even more fundamental – to relieve themselves every morning. Another way to penalize would be that the landlords may decide to debar a family from taking any land on rent for cultivation. These measures may sound ordinary but they can serve as very debilitating censures for the people belonging to the laboring and oppressed castes.
The other method of expropriating surplus that the landlords resort to is by way of obnoxious terms of land rent. We were told that the land rent is fixed and is punitive at the high rate of Rs 13,000 per bigha per year. Such arrangements also have an impact on agricultural productivity since the peasant taking land on rent does not retain much motivation to try and maximize his input on land when a large part of his produce shall simply be usurped. There is another practice that is prevalent in this area with respect to land rent, which is that the landlords often charge rent for more land than has actually been rented out. Say if the land rented out is only 18 biswan, they shall insist it to be one full bigha and charge accordingly. The small, marginal or landless peasants are often obliged to comply with such terms due to their social and economic condition being compromised in a number of ways. Lack of a stable source of employment round the year, or under-employment and lack of ownership of productive resources are just a few to recount.
The last two and a half years have seen increasing attacks on civil liberties in metropolitan India. This attack has been particularly sharp on the middle and upper middle class intelligentsia and institutions of higher learning because somehow the ruling dispensation perceives them to be an encumbrance and fountain head of ideological challenge for its designs to change and mold the society to suit their agenda. It is heartening to note that there has been a gutsy resistance, led primarily by the university students and teachers to defeat this attack on the democratic rights of the people. This battle is still unfolding and only time shall tell which way the bell shall toll finally. However, there is a need to take note of the fact that the democratic rights and privileges of intelligentsia that have come under concerted attack in metropolitan India today, have almost been absent in much of hinterland India for better part of its post 1947 history. Taking note of this fact may help to enrich the perspective of the struggle being put up against the divisive and nefarious designs of the rulers.
What is today perceived as an approaching fascist threat in metropolitan India has been much the norm for overwhelming number of toiling masses in rural India. Recognition of this reality is necessary to facilitate a meaningful engagement between the struggles being put up by the urban intelligentsia and the struggles of the oppressed rural masses for whom ‘democracy’ has but been a veneer at best. This report ought to be seen in this context.
The format of bourgeoisie parliamentary democracy notwithstanding, the social and economic structure of Indian society and Indian state structure remain highly undemocratic. This facilitates primeval forms of caste and feudal, semi-feudal oppression, as is evident in the instant case. Such forms of exploitation are a reflection of the power relations bedeviling societal and state structure.
The inhuman torture of the two youth of extremely backward castes by the landlords is not just a case of a ‘few bad elements’ in the society having been cruel to innocent men for their petty economic benefit. The whole incident is underlined by structural inequalities based on the ownership of productive resources, land being the most important in an agrarian society. The relations between the oppressed youth of lower castes and the Kurmi landlords are not akin to those between an owner and free wage labor in so far as the underlying desire actually is that of usurping the labor of the oppressed castes for free. Institution of caste and the state machinery only serve as facilitators of such exploitation.
It is also noteworthy that despite both the ‘mukhia’ and the ‘sarpanch’ of panchayat belonging to lower socioeconomic categories, they were found to be incapable of intervening to protect the two young men. While the ‘mukhia’ readily became a pawn in the hands of the landlords, the ‘sarpanch’ by his own admission was for one, very afraid of the kurmi landlords; and two, he admitted that he being a poor man could hardly assert the supposed power of his office over the rich and influential landlords. Hence, while the formal democratic processes may enable some sections of the poor to occupy positions of power, but this fails to undermine the power of the oppressors in any meaningful way except that they may feel obliged to co-opt the upper crust among the oppressed as junior partners in power sharing.
The state machinery also lends its weight to only this much of a social change. In the instant case it is worthwhile to recall the statement of the ‘sarpanch’ Imtiaz Ahmed regarding the manner in which the SHO of Dinara police station would drive him away whenever he went to represent the case of the poor in front of the police. The very fact that SHO at Dinara did not take note of repeated pleas of Suresh’s brother for help clearly points as to where the sympathies of the police administration lie. The essence of the DM’s response in Sasaram wasn’t any different either.
Another aspect that need be understood here is that the oppressors in this case themselves belonged to an OBC caste and the two youth who were beaten up were also from the most backward among the OBC castes. To understand this we need to go a little bit into the history of the rise of the backward castes, which in the instant case is the Kurmis.
Traditionally the Kurmis belonged to non-elite cultivating and tilling caste in the hierarchical caste structure of the Hindu society who were subservient to the elite land owning classes on one end and merged indistinctly with the menial service castes at the other end (Susan B, 2001, pp 41; William C, 1986, pp 353-354). The Kurmis of north India came into their own as a caste group with the decline of Mughal empire in the area of Awadh where their industriousness and skills at tilling and cultivation were used by the elite land owning castes to clear the forest around the settled towns and villages to bring newer areas under cultivation. This land was afforded to the Kurmis at very concessional rents to begin with, but once stably brought under cultivation high land rents were resorted to (Bayly, 1988, pp 101). At some places due to their success as tillers the Kurmis also became land owners and with that came their assertion for a higher status in caste hierarchy (Bayly C A, 1988, pp 49). However, this ascendency of Kurmis suffered a setback with the defeat of the landed gentry in the first war of independence in 1857. The increased demands for revenue from British colonialists led the landed gentry in turn to place a greater demand for unpaid labor from the non-elite cultivators such as the kurmis and the Ahirs by asserting their rights accrued to them on account of their higher status in the caste hierarchy. The status of Kurmis and Ahirs came to be increasingly emphasized as that belonging to lowly and servant castes (Susan B, 2001, pp 205-206). The Kurmis resisted these demands ((Susan B, 2001, pp 207) to a large extent; however, their resistance was not by way of negating the discriminatory caste system but by way of asserting a higher status in caste hierarchy (Susan B, 2001, pp 205-206). The nature of this resistance can be judged by the fact that in early part of twentieth century there was indeed a movement by Kurmis to assert their status as Kshatriyas, which was led by educated Kurmis who had started making it to the lower and the middle rungs of government jobs (Pinch W R, 1996).
The latest round of assertion and emergence of the backward castes post-Mandal is only too well known and need not be gone into here. The question however still remains – why this historical narrative and what is its relevance to the present incident?
Caste contradictions and caste based exploitation are among the most contentious issues bedeviling Indian society. Ameliorating caste based exploitation is among the most important challenges before all progressive forces in our society. The question is – how can this be achieved?
The answer, in our opinion lies in figuring out whether caste oppression can be fought as a question in itself or we need to take the fight against caste exploitation as part of the larger process of democratization of Indian society. The former is emphasized primarily by adherents of caste identity politics for whom demolishing caste based exploitation is the topmost priority as if caste exploitation is a phenomenon that stands apart from other forms of economic, social and political oppression. On the other hand if we see caste as part and parcel of the overall exploitative structures of the society then its linkages with other forms of exploitation existent in the society become apparent. For example the structure of privileges and burdens associated with caste hierarchies and couched in the language of ‘Dharma’ (religious obligation) renders it as a sanctified mechanism for expropriating the surplus produced through the labor of lower castes. Likewise, seeing caste exploitation as an integral part of the overall exploitative structure of the society also makes us aware that the lower castes are constituted of people who have little or no control over the productive resources of the society; an understanding which gives caste oppression a solid materialist understanding as against metaphysical concepts of purity and pollution. The consequence therefore is that caste cannot be uprooted from society so long as we do not demolish the structural determinants of all forms of exploitation in the society in so far as caste facilitates all other forms of exploitation.
On the other hand reducing caste oppression to a standalone phenomenon essentially implies that the feeling of individual or community hurt and other socioeconomic repercussions on account of belonging to an oppressed caste take precedence over overall injustice prevalent in society. So long as caste based feeling of hurt and other socioeconomic consequences are assuaged all other forms of exploitation become immaterial; so much so that even the agony of other oppressed castes also becomes redundant for those who stand placated. The latter may as well proceed to enjoy the privilege of exploiting those below their socioeconomic status. Once the better off sections among the oppressed castes are co-opted in otherwise iniquitous and exploitative social, economic and political order, the question of equitable distribution of society’s productive resources need not even come on the agenda, at least in so far as the co-opted sections are concerned.
When the desire is for co-option in the present unjust socioeconomic and political order rather than replacing it with a just one then there is a readymade model available for the co-opted oppressed castes or co-opted sections of oppressed castes to follow – the model of Brahminical caste structure, in order to reclaim a higher pedestal for themselves.
The Kurmi landlords of Nauva village have already arrived in terms of their co-option. They are counted as among the elite of the village who are quite in league with the Rajputs and the Brahmins, the upper castes of the village. For these Kurmis, in this part of Bihar, the social and economic position of people belonging to ‘Nunia’ and the ‘Lohar’ castes along with other oppressed castes is quite the same as was their own position vis-à-vis the Brahmins and Rajputs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or even worse. As shown by their history, they fought the discrimination practiced against their caste by the upper castes by consciously seeking co-option in the extant Brahminical social order; and now that they are co-opted, they are loath to any manner of land reform. Along with those committed by the upper castes, there is a long history of caste feuds and massacres of landless dalits by the Kurmis and the other big backward caste, the Yadavs on the question of control over the principle productive resource in an agrarian economy – Land (EPW, 1986; PUDR, 1992; Indian Vanguard, 2007; Kumar A, 2012;).
Unlike Kurmis, the Nunias and the Lohars of the village, along with the Dalits and Muslims, are almost landless. More than anything else, it is their landlessness which undermines their social, economic and political position in rural society, along with their ability to resist this kind of brutal onslaught in which the local oppressors enjoy full support of the agencies of the State.
Conclusion and demands
A famous couplet by Mirza Galib goes something like:
“ishrat-e-qatra hai dariyā meñ fanā ho jaanā
Dard kā had se guzarnā hai davā ho jaanā”
(Glory it is for the drop to merge with the ocean,
Pain ceases to be once beyond redemption) (Khan A A, undated).
Ghalib said this as an ode to eternal love, but as a society we seem to have inverted it to absolve ourselves of the ills that have come to threaten even the bare essential civility required to qualify us as a human society, far less as a humane society. It is unfortunate, but nevertheless a fact that ghastly incidents reflecting myriad ways in which humanity is shamed in our society, almost on a daily basis, surprise or shock us no more, or do so only in the least. This seeming sense of resignation appears to have become the only solution to these problems for a large section of society.
This renders the situation rife for the machination of the ruling classes to gain maximal traction. For an issue, howsoever poignant, howsoever heart rending, to become an issue of any social consequence, its’ utility for the interests of different sections of the ruling classes has to be figured out first. The corporate media and the massive propaganda machinery at the command of the ruling classes take its cue likewise. The rest follows; an event either becomes an issue of societal importance or it dies a quite death. Somehow, even the sensibilities of publically oriented intellectuals and the progressive sections of the society, to different social issues seems to be swayed likewise.
Examples to substantiate this assertion could be a legion, but limiting ourselves to the findings of this report and their analysis one thing is amply clear that the whole incident cannot be seen as a result of misdeeds committed by some criminal elements. The salience of this incident lies in the fact that it reflects the play of deeply entrenched semi-feudal and caste based oppression that is so widely prevalent in vast parts of the country. It is more than surprising that the occurrence of such a ghastly incidence failed to attract the attention of the national media. Such voodoo tactics aimed at erazing these realities from public memory ought to be challenged with utmost tenacity and determination by those who remain committed to changing this reality for better.
We may add to this incidence various other incidents such as the rape of tribal women in Chhattisgarh; the withering away and destruction of lives of many a Muslim youth being effected by the security agencies by implicating them in false and trumped up terror cases; the lakhs of peasant suicides which no more evoke anyone’s interest; the honor killings and the unabated caste atrocities going on in the country’s hinterlands. At a time when the metropolitan intelligentsia is braving the most fierce assault on democratic rights seen in last few years, taking cognizance of all these crimes being committed against humanity ought to have a sobering effect on our sensibilities. In the least there is a need for us to reach out to our compatriots in India’s hinterland to take our combined struggles to their logical conclusion.
With respect to this carnage committed in Nauva village of Sasaram district of Bihar, we place the following demands:
- Janhastakshep demands that immediate arrangements be made from proper medical treatment of the victims of this carnage at government expense.
- Janhastakshep appeals to the people of Rohtas district, people of Bihar and all justice loving Indians to come forward in support of the demand for justice to be delivered to the victims and their families at the earliest. Such pre-medieval from of barbarity is a slur for all justice loving people of the state.
- Janhastakshep calls upon the government of Bihar to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice without further delay and strictest possible action be taken against the SHO of Dinara thana for active connivance in the commissioning of this crime.
- We want that the state government should immediately announce adequate compensation for the victim’s families.
- We shall also demand from the National Human Rights Commission to ensure that the state government should fulfill all of its obligations towards the victims and their families. A representation along with our report shall be handed over to NHRC in Delhi upon our return.
- Susan B (2001): ‘Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age’, Cambridge University Press, pp: 41.
- Susan B (2001): ‘Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age’, Cambridge University Press, pp: 205-206.
- Susan B (2001): ‘Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age’, Cambridge University Press, pp: 207.
- Bayly, C. A. (1988): Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. CUP Archive. p. 101.
- Bayly C. A. (1988): ‘Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870’. Columbia University Press Archive. pp: 49.
- EPW (1986): ‘Peasants, Landlords and Dacoits’, Economic and Political Weekly, August 30; Vol. 21 (35): 1531-1535.
- Indian Vanguard (2007): ‘Central Bihar and land lord sena’, Indian Vanguard, September 17. Available from: https://naxalresistance.wordpress.com/2007/09/17/central-bihar-and-land-lord-sena/ on 23 February, 2017.
- Khan A A (undated): ‘English Translation of Some Verses by Ghalib.’ Available from http://alt.language.urdu.poetry.narkive.com/nMSzEPuf/english-translation-of-some-verses-by-ghalib on 23 February, 2017.
- Kumar A (2012): ‘No gentlemen in this army’, The Hindu, June 6.
- Pinch W R (1996, pp 84): ‘Peasants and monks in British India.’ University of California Press. pp 84.
- PUDR (1992): ‘Bitter Harvests: The Roots of Massacres in Central Bihar’, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi, August 1992.
- William C (1896). The tribes and castes of the North-western Provinces and Oudh, Volume III. Office of the superintendent of government printing. pp. 353–354.
 Before the readers go ahead with the reading of the report, the authors would request them to first see the short video of the incident talked of in this report, which is attached along with.
 ‘Nunia’ is a caste whose traditional occupation was salt making. However, their traditional occupation being no more viable, they presently work as casual laborer who do mud digging and filling work, and also as agricultural laborer during agricultural season.
 Even though Nauva village falls in Kochas block of Rohtas district, but its police jurisdiction comes under Dinara police station in Dinara block.
 The ‘mukhia’ belongs to the trading gupta community which is a backward caste in Bihar. He too, otherwise belongs to a poor household.
 The process of attachment is such that the police takes away every movable item from the house including the doors and the windows; the idea being to force the absconder to surrender for fear of destruction to property and ensuing monetary loss.
 Traditionally five bighas of land constitute an acre; however, this conversion varies from place to place. Unfortunately, we did no inquire about the exact conversion ratio for this area of Bihar.
 One bigha of land is constituted of twenty biswan and generally speaking there are five bighas in one acre of land.
Dr Vikas Bajpai
Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi – 110067.
Contact: [email protected]; Ph: 9810275314.
Prof Ish Mishra
Department of Political Science
University of Delhi.
Janhastakshep: A campaign against fascist designs
Contact: 9810275314 (Dr Vikas Bajpai); E mail: [email protected]