Bihar: Yet Another Cycle of Carnage

by Dr. Raj Mishra

According to press reports, the Ranvir Sena, a private landlord army carried out a brutal massacre of a group of ten landless peasants in Haibaspur village in the outskirts of Patna on March 23. This happened within days of the murder of four other landless labourers in neighbouring Bhojpur and Garhwa districts. Since then, four Ranvir Sena members have been killed in retaliation. Latest news reports say that subsequently, nine "Naxalites" have been murdered in encounters with the Bihar Police. This cycle of carnage has come less than a year after the killing of 21 landless peasants in Bathani Tola in Bhojpur last July.

Over the years, the villages and towns of Bihar such as Belchi, Baraihya, Pipri and Parasbigha have witnessed similar tragedies with regular frequency. In all these cases the vast majority of the victims have been landless labourers, while the perpetrators have been landlords and their agents. The Ranvir Sena and other such private landlord gangs are heavily armed and have freely terrorised Bihar's most downtrodden people for years. After fifty years of independence, this equation remains the same.

The state of Bihar continues to be one of the least developed states in India with the lowest per capita income, the highest illiteracy rates and highest percentage of people living in extreme poverty. What is ironic is that the government of Bihar is identified as "pro-poor". Its Chief Minister, Lalloo Prasad Yadav, has come to power on the basis of vote banks from the most dispossessed sections of the state. Just days before the Haibaspur massacre, Yadav organised a massive Gharib Maharailla (rally of the poor) in Patna to shore up his pro-poor credentials. Given the level of poverty in the state, even in comparison to its neighbours, one wonders if there is a perverse connection between the ongoing terror inflicted on the poor and the continuation of a government that claims to identify with the poor.

After last summer's grisly massacre at Bathani Tola, Home Minister Indrajit Gupta lamented the poor condition of the state police. "It is simply not in a position to tackle such events" said Gupta, who elaborated that the Bihar police lacked training, discipline, and courage, besides arms and ammunition. The existence of private landlord armies like the Ranvir Sena is indeed somewhat unique to the political and economic landscape of Bihar. In other states such as Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, the police are considered better trained and armed - but this only means that they are deemed capable of preserving the status-quo without the assistance of such ragtag private groups as the Ranvir Sena.

In any event, neither the victims of the Ranvir Sena in Bihar nor the victims of more "courageous" and "better-armed" police forces in other parts of India were amused at this kind of prognosis by the leader of the Communist Party of India.

It may not be a coincidence that "pro-poor" leaders such as Lalloo Prasad Yadav and Indrajit Gupta never fail to remind the poor to keep them in power to keep the terror of the Ranvir Sena in check. Ironically, in the eight months of Indrajit Gupta's tenure between Bathani Tola and Haibaspur, the only discernible change in the role of the "better- trained" police force this time was the encounter killings of Naxalites. Could it be that the latest attack by the Ranvir Sena was synchronised with the Gharib Maharailla to send a message to the gharibs that they have no choice but to rally around the "pro-poor" parties of the ruling establishment?

Like other parts of India, the people of Bihar continue to remain seriously marginalised from political power. For historical reasons and for the manner in which the natural resources of the state are currently exploited by the big business houses of India, both the Ranvir Sena of the landlords and the police force of the state work closely together to preserve the status-quo. Successive governments in Bihar have ensured that the status-quo is not destabilised and as a result no perpetrator of any of the previous massacres (be it police or Ranvir Sena) has been punished. In fact, a number of notorious perpetrators have come to occupy the seats of power through elections. It is time for people to reject the choices offered to them.