Fresh Relevance and Urgency of the Struggle for Justice for Bathani Tola
16 years after the Bathani Tola massacre, the struggle for justice for Bathani Tola, far from being forgotten, has reemerged with fresh relevance and urgency in a new phase. Bathani Tola has once again emerged as a rallying cry against injustice, not only in Bihar, but all over the country. In the dalit movement too, Bathani Tola is, this time around, triggering a questioning about the role and silence of the 'official' dalit and social justice parties, and a renewed alertness about the politics involved in feudal massacres.
On 11 July, the 16th anniversary of the Bathani Tola massacre, the CPI(ML) held a formidable 'Nyay Rally' at Ara. The massive gathering challenged the rampant double standards and injustice, and bias towards communal and feudal forces, being witnessed in Nitish Kumar's rule. Soon after, concerned citizens from across the country organized a Convention in Delhi on 15 July demanding justice for Bathani Tola. Eminent figures from across the world petitioned the Supreme Court to ensure justice for Bathani Tola.
The growing campaign for justice for Bathani Tola victims in Bihar and across the country forced the Bihar government to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Patna HC verdict acquitting all the 23 persons who had earlier been pronounced guilty by the Ara court. It is worth recalling that initially, Ministers and BJP-JD(U) leaders as well as Brahmeshwar Singh himself had warned against appealing the HC verdict. Backed by the CPI(ML) and the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola, the victims had also appealed to the Supreme Court. On 16 July the Supreme Court admitted the appeals filed by the Bihar Government and the Bathani massacre survivors, and ordered that the hearing be expedited. This welcome development is the result of ongoing struggle for justice in Bihar and the democratic voices from across the world that came out in support of Bathani Tola's survivors.
Contrary to the claims of the Nitish Government and its apologists, feudal and casteist violence is in no way a thing of the past in Bihar. This is underlined by the way supporters of Brahmeshwar Singh vented their fury on the day of his killing (June 1) by arson and attacks on dalit hostels in Ara, with the collusion and inaction of the police and administration. More than a month and a half later, while the Bihar Government has not lifted a finger towards punishing the culprits and ensuring justice, compensation, and security for the students of these hostels, the Bihar SC/ST Commission Chairperson accompanied by media-persons, made a much-belated visit to the hostel on 12 July. Infuriated students smeared his face with black and garlanded him with their footwear that was burnt in the arson of June 1, demanding an answer for the Bihar Government's inaction and injustice. A string of cases have promptly been slapped on the students.
Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau recently, also indicate that crimes against dalits have risen in Nitish's rule while justice has gone further out of reach. NCRB's data shows that Bihar witnessed the highest number of caste-based crimes in the country in 2011. With 3,024 cases under SC/ST Act, Bihar accounted for 26.7% of total such crimes in the country, leaving behind even states like UP, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh, which are notorious for crimes against dalits.
Not only are atrocities against dalits on the rise in Bihar, Bihar's rate of charge-sheeting cases and conviction are also the worst in the country. Bihar's rate of charge-sheeting cases under the Atrocities Act stands at 82.2%, below the national average of 90.7%. All other states known for caste violence have scored better than Bihar with MP and Rajasthan scoring over 99%. Bihar also has the lowest rate of conviction under the Atrocities Act: a mere 10.6% (far below the national average of 31.9%).It is impossible to deny the correlation between the rising strength of the BJP in Bihar, and the pro-feudal character of the JD(U)-BJP Government, and the rise in crimes against dalits in Bihar.
The JD(U)-BJP Government has proved its fondness for feudal forces on many occasions. The disbanding of the Amir Das commission; refusal to implement recommendations for land reform of the Bandyopadhyaya commission; allowing bail for Brahmeshwar Singh; allowing Ranveer Sena supporters to rampage freely and attack dalit students after Brahmeshwar Singh's killing; acquittal of all accused in the Bathani Tola case – all these incidents have emboldened the feudal forces in Nitish Kumar's rule. The anti-Muslim communal bias of the Bihar government has also been exposed glaringly in a series of recent developments, especially in the 3 June, 2011 Forbesganj firing and the ongoing anti-Muslim witch-hunt in Darbhanga.
The state-backed feudal-communal offensive must be resisted and democracy in Bihar must be saved from being trampled underfoot as in other BJP-ruled states like Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. The reassuring ray of hope against this dark feudal-communal design lies in the response evoked by the CPI(ML)-led Nyay Andolan (movement for justice) in Bihar and the growing support and solidarity for Bathani Tola victims across the country. Let us stand by Bathani Tola and the fighting people of Bihar with all our might.
Citizens' Convention for Bathani Tola
The Citizens for Bathani Tola held a Convention at Speaker's Hall, Constitution Club in the national capital on 15 July, demanding 'Justice for Bathani Tola 1996 – Punish the Guilty'.
The Convention began with a short documentary on the Bathani Tola survivor's struggle for justice by young filmmakers Kundan and Suman was screened, which transported the viewers to Bathani Tola and brought them face to face with the survivors' anguish and determination to fight. This was followed by a moving rendering of a Bhojpuri song – 'Kahe goliya chalavle' (Why do you shoot us, oppressive soldier?) by Chintu Kumari.
The Convention was addressed by Bathani Tola massacre survivors Sri Kishun Choudhury and Naeemuddin Ansari, who also bore witness during the trial. Nayeemuddin Ansari said Bathani Tola was targeted for daring to fight feudal forces and support revolutionary forces. He asked why it was that a CBI enquiry was ordered promptly into Brahmeshwar's killing – yet the same Brahmeshwar who led the Bathani massacre was never brought to trial. 'My 3-month-old daughter was flung in the air like a ball and cut with a sword – yet the High Court let the killers go,' he said. 'The Court says we couldn't have hidden and witnessed the killings. But that's what happened – we men went and hid, thinking it was us the mob wanted to kill. We never dreamt they would kill the women and children.'
Shivprakash Ranjan, and Shabbir, residents of Ambedkar Kalyan Hostel at Katira, which is near Ara's Veer Kunwar Singh University, recounted the attack on their hostel by Brahmeshwar's supporters following his killing. The hostel and belongings like cycles were set on fire, students were beaten, slogans like 'AK-47 Zindabad', 'AK-56 Zindabad,' 'A 100 lives to avenge the death of one' and 'Ranveer Sena Zindabad' raised. They spoke of their ongoing struggle for justice and compensation, that they were conducting with AISA's help.
They described how dalit students continue to face intimidation. On 12 July some drunken youths came and uttered threats at the hostel. The same evening, when the head of the State SC/ST Commission came to visit the hostel, accompanied by the same JD(U) youth and student wing leaders involved in the attacks, he faced the rage of the students. The students vented their anger at the Government's inaction, protection of perpetrators, and hypocrisy by blackening the face of the SC/ST Commission chief, and garlanding him with the same burnt chappals and shoes that continue to lie strewn around the hostel. The students have a string of cases against them, while the assailants are yet to face any charges!
Prof. Tulsi Ram spoke of the casteist tenets of criminal justice in the Manusmriti, and said that the same approach continues to persist even in modern times.
Prof. Kamal Chenoy of JNU reminded that Bathani Tola was not just a caste massacre – it was a massacre that sought to punish supporters of the CPI(ML) Liberation.
Prof. Nandini Sundar pointed out that Ranveer Sena and Salwa Judum are examples of a "public private partnership", wherein governments and private militias conveniently collude with each other. The "public" governments wash their hands off responsibility, claiming that "private" bodies do the massacres, while the private militias continue killing people in the confidence that governments will never take any action on them. She also pointed out that the Bathani Tola massacre is essentially political elimination of those who pose a political and ideological opposition to feudal forces.
Justice Rajinder Sachar recalled his visits to Bihar to investigate the Arwal massacre and massacres by feudal armies, and promised PUCL's help in the legal struggle for justice from the Supreme Court.
Activist Vineet Tiwary presented a fact-finding report on the Amausi massacre of Bihar; pointing out that in the Amausi case, 10 mahadalits had been sentenced to death on very flimsy grounds. Very different standards of justice prevail depending on whether the accused belong to the upper caste Ranveer Sena or to the poorest mahadalit community. Comrade Simpson, an activist from Tamil Nadu's Odukapattor Viduthalai Munnani, spoke about the Paramakudi massacre of dalits in police firing last year. His own brother Panneerselvan (age 45) was killed in the firing. He spoke of the caste bias of the Jayalalithaa government towards dalits, and the difficulties in ensuring punishment for the police personnel who indulged in the massacre of dalits who had gathered to commemorate the martyrdom of dalit icon Immanuel Sekaran.
Tarique Anwar from Darbhanga, whose brother Nadeem Akhtar is being victimized on false charges of terrorism also addressed the Convention. He voiced his protest against the injustice meted out by Central agencies, Central Government, as well as the Bihar Government's refusal to protect the rights of migrant Muslim youth.
Vikas from Ramgarh in UP recounted the struggle against grab of dalit land and assault on dalits in his village.
Comrade Rameshwar Prasad, CC member of CPI(ML), spoke of the context in which the Bathani massacre took place – soon after he and Comrade Ram Naresh Ram were elected as MLAs from Sandesh and Sahar in 1995. pointed out how at every stage the poorest and socially oppressed sections had to fight. the bathani killings were retribution by a private militia unable to take in the electoral assertion of the poorest people who were engaged in the struggle for land and dignity.
Summing up the discussion, historian Uma Chakravarti who chaired the first session, recalled the demand for a 'uniform civil code' – and observed that the country was yet to have even a uniform criminal code, since different norms for different classes and castes of people. She contrasted the 'AK-47s' that figured in the feudal slogans with the cycles that were burnt by them: saying that cycles were the symbols of the quest for mobility and education of poor dalit youth. She stressed the need to confront the State – including the judiciary – on the question of justice. Commenting on Nitish Kumar's claims of opposing Narendra Modi, she said he would do better to address the question of his own alliance with Bihar's Modi (Sushil Modi, deputy CM from the BJP), and leave the job of fighting Narendra Modi to the committed anti-communal voices.
The second session began with a poem by people's poet Vidrohi. Speakers in this session included senior journalist Anil Chamaria and Chittaranjan Singh of PUCL, as well as leaders of AILC; this session was chaired by Prof. Manager Pandey.
Addressing the Convention, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) Secretary Bhimrao Bansode from Maharashtra spoke of about the Khairlanji massacre and other similar massacres across the country, in which the struggle for justice continued in spite of the fact that courts, as a rule, meted out injustice.
Mangat Ram Pasla, Secretary, CPM Punjab, expressed solidarity with the struggle of Bathani survivors for justice. Castigating the Nitish Government for promoting injustice and patronizing feudal forces, he called for a struggle to ensure that perpetrators of all the Ranveer Sena massacres were brought to book.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML) Liberation, said that the Bathani Tola massacre was perpetrated by the Ranveer Sena and patronized by the Laloo regime as well as the BJP, in order to wipe out the CPI(ML). Instead, the result has been quite different. The Ranveer Sena did not survive, and Bathani-I (the massacre in 1996) spelt the beginning of the end of the Laloo regime, and now, in 2012, the judicial massacre (Bathani-II) is spelling the beginning of the end of Nitish's rule.
The Convention was also attended by Satya Sivaraman, columnist Praful Bidwai, and journalist Rahul Pandita, poet Manglesh Dabral, writer Rajni Tilak, academicians Nivedita Menon, G Ajay, Tripta Wahi, Anuradha Chenoy, Sanghmitra Mishra, Ashok Chowdhury and Roma of National Forest Workers' Union, and several other concerned citizens, as well as students and teachers from various universities in Delhi. A poster and a badge dedicated to justice for Bathani Tola were designed by artist Ashok Bhowmick for the campaign.
The Convention was a timely one: the very next day, the Supreme Court was to hear the appeals filed against the HC verdict. The hearing the next day was attended by Justice Sachar of the PUCL. The Bathani survivors were represented by senior advocate P S Narasimha. The Supreme Court Bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Chalameswar admitted the appeal, asked for notices of the same to be served to the acquitted accused "as quickly as possible," and for "original (Trial Court) records (to) be requisitioned and steps should be taken to obtain the same, as early as possible, in view of the facts of the case."
Resolutions passed by Convention for Justice for Bathani Tola
The Convention demands:
1. Justice for the victims of Bathani Tola and other massacres committed by Ranveer Sena between 1996-2002, and punishment for all the guilty. This Convention holds that it is the judiciary that must prove its impartiality before the people. If it deems necessary, the Supreme Court should order reinvestigation of the Bathani Tola and other massacre cases. If not, it should give credence to eyewitness accounts and punish the guilty.
2. Prosecute the police for sabotaging evidence, failure to collect evidence against the accused, and for deposing in favour of the accused in the Bathani Tola case.
3. Provide full protection including the means for self-defence to the witnesses in the Bathani Tola, Bathe and other massacre cases of Bihar.
4. Prosecute those responsible for the attack on dalit hostels at Ara; ensure compensation for the students; and take back the cases slapped on the students of the dalit hostels.
5. Reinvestigate the Amausi massacre case and punish the real culprits.
6. Set up a national tribunal to investigate and monitor cases of arrests of Muslim youth in terror-related cases, to ensure that unjust arrests, custodial torture, indefinite incarceration, etc are firmly stopped and punished. Stop the witch-hunt of minority youth.
7. Ensure prosecution of those police personnel guilty of the Paramakudi firing and the attack on dalits at Ramgarh in Greater Noida. Ensure the demolition of the illegal wall surrounding dalits' homestead land in Ramgarh.
8. Supreme Court must uphold the conviction of the guilty in the Khairlanji case and ensure that the perpetrators are also prosecuted under the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
9. This Convention supports the campaign for justice in Bihar and demands CBI enquiry into the Forbesganj firing, murders of Bhaiyyaram Yadav, and Chhotu Kushwaha.
10. This convention demands release of Seema Azad and Vishwavijay, the PUCL activists unjustly sentenced for life in Allahabad recently, and supports the struggle for justice for them.
Rally for Justice in Ara
A massive 'Nyay Rally' was held at Ramna Maidan, Ara (Bihar) on 11 July 2012, the anniversary of Bathani Tola massacre. This was attended by thousands of people from all over Bihar. The rally was a culmination of month-long Nyay Yatra organised throughout the state to demand justice for Bathani Tola. Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of CPI(ML) said, while addressing the rally that when 21 people were brutally massacred sixteen years ago in Bathani Tola to silence the rising voices of asserting poor and toiling people of Bihar, the determination to fight for the democracy and justice became stronger and more resolute.
He said that while the Laloo regime was responsible for the massacre, now it is Nitish Govt. which has perpetrated a judicial massacre with those victims. The government which attained power with promises for dalits, minorities, backwards, first bailed out Ranvir Sena Chief who was responsible for dozens of mass massacres and then maneuvered the acquittal of all the accused of Bathani Tola massacre. The CPI(ML) cannot rely on such a government and hence has approached the Supreme Court for justice, and now under the pressure of the movement the Bihar Govt. too has been forced to go to the SC. Party has full confidence in the struggles of the people of Bihar for democracy and justice.
Comrade Dipankar further added that people of Bihar are aware of Laloo Yadav's nexus with the feudal forces at the when a series of massacres were organised, and today people are witness to Nitish regime's maneuverings with the same forces. The ruling party MLAs are said to be involved in Bhayyaram Yadav and Chhotu Kushwaha's murders. When people were protesting Chhotu Kushwaha's killing on 2 May, police brutally targeted them, did not spare women and children. The Superintendent of Police beat up popular CPI(ML) leader and former MLA Rajaram Singh with his own hands, but the same government remained silent when arson and vandalism was going on in Patna on 2 June at the funeral procession of Ranvir Sena chief. He said it will never be possible to make another Gujarat in Bihar, thanks to the resolute determination and spirit of the people of Bihar. Be it the freedom struggle or the anti-feudal peasant struggle, Bhojpur was the land of heroes like Vir Kunwar Singh, Jagdish Mahto and Ram Naresh Ram. And it was that fighting spirit that would prevail.
The district secretary of AIALA, Com. Siddhanath Ram, presided over the rally, which was conducted by AIALA General Secretary Dhirendra Jha. A message from Comrade Rajaram Singh, incarcerated in Aurangabad jail, was read out. RJD supporter Laldev Yadav, also incarcerated with Comrade Rajaram during the agitation against Chhotu Kushwaha's murder, sent a message to the rally, saying that he had been arrested when he attended the mass meeting under CPI(ML)'s banner when his own party's supporters had deserted the agitation. He said that the fighting spirit of the jailed comrades was very high, and aspired for the warmth and support of the rallyists at Ara.
The rally was addressed by Comrade Sudama Prasad, Chhotu Mukhiya's father-in-law Umesh Kushwaha, Bhaiyyaram Yadav's wife Usha Yadav, Bathani massacre survivor Nayeemuddin Ansari, Nayyar Fatmi who spoke of the Forbesganj firing, and Kanchan Bala who is associated with the 1974 movement and citizens' struggles, Saroj Choubey of AIPWA, CPI(ML) CCMs Rameshwar Prasad and KD Yadav.
CPI(ML) PBMs Swadesh Bhattacharya, Ramjatan Sharma, Amar, Ramji Rai, CCMs Brij Bihari Pandey, Kavita Krishnan, Rajaram, and Bihar State Secretary Kunal were also present at the rally.
A set of political resolutions were adopted by the Rally.
Victory for Contract Workers of PGI Chandigarh
Same work and same pay has been a long pending demand of the contract workers of India. Though the CLARA 1970 clearly mentions it as a legal right of the workmen but the managements of not only the private but also the govt. departments have always shown a tendency of posing the private entrepreneur's question- "then what is the use of contracting out or outsourcing if we are still to pay the same wages as those to a regular employee?"
The PGI contract workers are in a little better position because due the nature of their job and the pressure of the union, the workmen are not changed at every change of contractor. So we may easily find workers who have been working in PGI for more than 15 years. Due to this advantage, the workers got a chance to fight a legal battle and win a formal order by the deputy CL C (C) under the section 25 c 2 of CLARA 1970, in their favor on 11-1-2010. Till then the workers union of the PGI had a vision of getting the things done by depending only upon the legal channels. This is the reason why this legal victory could not deliver anything tangible to the workers.
Interestingly the CLARA 1970 states that there is no appellate authority for challenging the decision. Is this a pro-worker measure? Not for workers who lose the legal battle! This was more clearly shown in case of the PGI contract workers as despite the absence of appellate authority the management commissioned Pb.& Hr. High court. They sought stay on the implementation of the order on a pretext that the contractor must bear the burden of the increased wages. No stay was granted on the implementation but the PGI management got a reason to call the matter "subjudice". Why should a govt./ publicly funded body think on these lines despite the clear cut orders? It only means that our public Institutions are being managed by the people who have corporate brains, who take care that they should not set any precedence which is difficult for the corporate world to follow.
Ever since the PGI contract workers' union got the affiliation with AICCTU, we have worked to educate the workers and leadership about the loopholes in the legal apparatus and emphasized on the need for building a struggle to mount pressure on the management. During this we ensured that the union be democratized and new workers be incorporated to the leadership. Formal elections by the secret ballot were held last year. The new elected leadership took up a campaign to build agitation for getting demands met. Many low intensity struggles were fought over various day to day issues like firing of workmen, closing of changing rooms, late payment of salaries etc. during this it was sensed that workers are in a mood to struggle instead of waiting for the courts to deliver.
As soon as the PGI management announced the lavish celebrations for the golden jubilee of PGI, it came as salt on the burns received by the workmen of PGI. It was also learnt that Montek Singh Ahlouwalia, the deputy chairman of planning commission, Union Minister Ambika Soni, Pawan Bansal, Union Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad may attend the big event being planned by the PGI Management. AICCTU and the union leadership sensed the mood of the workmen. After detailed thought it was decided that from 1st july the workers will start wearing black badges as a mark of protest as well as a warning to the management, and from 5th july, the union will go on an indefinite strike. It was also decided that on this big opportunity, the management must not be given any safe passage of many big and small demands, rather only two demands be placed: 1. Regularize all contract workers who have worked for more than 5 years. 2. Implement the orders of CLC awarding Same Pay for Same work.
We knew that the management would like to accept many long pending but simpler demands but the workers were ready to fight tough and bear the heat. The simpler demands were like allowing the cafeteria facility to the contractual staff, allowing of free cycle stand, implementation of DC rates on the sanitary attendants as implemented earlier on other categories of workmen.
On 3rd july the management conveyed through the labor welfare officer that the demand of DC rate to SA, cafeteria and cycle stand have been implemented by the management with immediate effect.
There was a danger that this declaration may divide the workmen of SA and HA categories, as DC rate was a major long pending demand of SA category. But the workers were more aware of this than we expected. Still, in order to maintain the initiative in our hands, we responded through a leaflet guiding the workmen about the shady designs of the management. At the same time, we welcomed the decision and declared that a gesture in response to a gesture is that we will limit our strike to evening of 7th july. By this we also corrected a probable mistake in our earlier declaration. The Union leadership had written the strike as 'indefinite' in the strike notice, whereas the AICCTU leadership realized this mistake though the notice of strike was already given by then. So now, when the management had initiated a move to break our unity and seize initiative from our hands, we got a chance to set things in our favor.
The strike started at 6am on 5th july. It was complete. The total contract employees were off the duty. The large gathering was addressed among others by Com. Swapan Mukherji, Com. Kanwaljeet, com. Sanjeev, com. Sukhdev (president and gen. sec. of PGI union), amidst heavy rains and police deployment. The administration wanted the workers to leave the PGI premises and sit in Rally Ground but we bluntly refused. On the same day a delegation of AICCTU National leadership under the leadership of Com Rajiv Dimri placed a written representation before the Chief labor commissioner and the union Health Minister. The union Health minister was also urged not to attend the Golden Jublee Celebration at Chandigarh as a protest against the anti worker attitude of the management.
On the evening of 5th july, the management applied the threat tactics by circulating a notice to the contractors ordering to remove the contractual employees and deploy new employees by 8pm. The workers paid no heed to this threat. On the other hand, at the intervention of CLC, a conciliation meeting was scheduled for 6th july.
On 6th July after two long rounds of negotiation the management finally bowed and reversed its earlier stand of treating the matter as 'subjudice' and made a written agreement committing to implement the orders regarding 'same pay for same work'. With this we took back the strike on a victorious note.
Though the actual implementation of this victory may be still a few months away and may have other complications. The standing finance committee has to make the budgetary clearances. The case will be put by PGI before the SFC in its meeting scheduled on 27th july 2012.
Protest Against Death of 7 Anganwadi Children in Odisha
CPI ML), AIPWA, AICCTU, and Rajdhani Rikshwa Cooli Sangha and Rajdhani Basti Basinda Mahasangha protested in front of Odisha assembly against the death of 7 children at Aganwadi center at Nayagarh district, demanding more compensation to the families of the children, construction of 50,000 aganwadi centres at the earliest, dismantling of all broken houses where centres are currently running. The protest rally was led by Mahendra Parida, Bhubaneswar city secretary of CPI(ML), Radhakant Sethi, Upendra Sahoo, Janaki Rao and Seema Sethi and AIPWA President Sanjukuta Panigrahi. The protestors demanded resignation of the Naveen Government, and submitted a memorandum to the Chief Secretary of Odisha.