Patna’s Rural Poor –
In the Shadow of Laloo’s Lathis
Laloo held his Lathi Rally in Patna on 31 April, ostensibly to showcase the supposed empowerment of the poor in his ‘social justice’ regime. But recent events in Patna suggest that feudal and criminal violence are not confined to rural Bihar – even the urban poor in Bihar’s state capital continue to be at the receiving end of the stick.
Take for instance the way in which feudal elements have evicted dalit Mushahars from their ancestral land right in the heart of Patna. There had been attempts 3 years back, to oust Mushahars from their land in Mahmudi Chak, next door to Rajendra Nagar Railway Station. Those attempts were scotched by CPI(ML)’s vigilance, but now the feudal goons are at it again.
This time, the target is a pocket of 23 decimal land (0.23 acre) which is worth several lakhs due to its prime location in the center of Patna city. Records show that this land is registered in the name of several Mushahars. Even Patna’s land revenue officer was forced to concede that all surveys from 1906 to 1976 show this land to be rightfully in the hands of Mushahars. The Land Revenue Officer during an enquiry on 13 May asked those who had grabbed the land for proof of ownership – they had none, except a recent, biased court directive. On being asked how come the feudals claimed to own the land when records show Mushahars ownership, they had no answer.
Ironically, these Mushahar families comprising 277 people living in 75 hutments, are the very same ones, among whom Laloo Yadav made a big show of distributing gifts and promising progress.
At midday on 11 April, police along with a posse of feudal goons, chased away the Mushahars, and erected a pucca structure on the land, leaving its rightful owners homeless. Subsequently the Mushahars along with CPI(ML) launched a series of protests. When no response came, some of the Mushahars sat on an indefinite fast, which they refused to withdraw despite severe pressure. Finally, Laloo Yadav was forced to order authorities to examine the site, and the fast was broken. Since then, only the Mushahars have furnished the papers demanded by the authorities. Despite this, they continue to remain homeless. They are demanding the return of their own land, rehabilitation for the displaced, compensation for the damage done during demolition of their homes, and arrest of the land grabbers.
Another revealing incident took place in a slum cluster in Patna. It was CPI(ML) which helped to establish this cluster of hutments in the Digha locality in 1990. Named ‘Stalin Nagar’, this slum houses working class people of dalit, Muslim and backward backgrounds, most of whom are supporters of CPI(ML).
On 8 May, barely a week after Laloo’s Lathi Rally, criminal goons entered Sumitra Devi’s hut and began beating her with lathis. She fought back, and other people came to her rescue and forced the goons to run away. The same night, goons tried the same thing in the home of Shahida Khatoon and her daughters; they bravely beat up their assaulters and forced them to flee.
Next day, at Digha Thana, the police outright refused to let the women lodge FIRs. Slum women with AIPWA leaders reached the Thana, and their protests forced the police to lodge the FIRs.
But the goons, secure in the knowledge of police protection, hit back, attacking Sumitra Devi’s house on the night of 9 May, and setting it on fire. In the resulting fire, a ration shop too burnt down, and goons destroyed and looted several homes.
On 10 May, women as well as men and children gheraoed authorities to demand the arrest of the guilty and guarantee of their security. Meanwhile, two other incidents rocked Patna – the rape of an Adivasi girl, and the abduction and forced marriage of another girl.
On all these issues pertaining to the safety and security of poor people, especially women, AIPWA held a dharna at Income Tax Circle on 14 May. – Anita