24 years ago at 2 PM on 11 July, 1996 in broad daylight 50-60 armed Ranveer Sena terrorists surrounded and attacked Bathani Tola ( a village 30 km from Ara , Bhojpur , Bihar ) by setting fire to the homes of dalits, farmers and workers and killed 21 people, particularly targeting women and children. Not even girl children as young as 3 or women as old as 70 were spared.The abdomen of a pregnant woman was slit open. A little infant’s tongue was cut off before the tiny tot’s head was chopped off with a sword, another little baby’s fingers were severed from his hand. A new born baby cringing in its mother’s lap was butchered with a sword and their hut set ablaze. A girl in the prime of her youth was raped and her breasts chopped off before she was put to death. Among those injured, two little children lost their fight for life. In many ways, the Bathani Tola massacre provided the template, in its barbarity and ferocity, for the Gujarat genocide of 2002.
Ranvir Sena( the dreaded private army of upper-caste Bhumihar and Rajput landlords ) mob killed women and children in particular as per the design so as to demolish any future resistance which they foresaw. Sixty members of the Ranvir Sena had descended on the village and set 12 houses on fire. Dalits were killed because Dalit labourers were demanding the statutory daily minimum wage of Rs. 30.75 but landowners were willing to pay only Rs. 20. CPI(ML) members convinced the laborers to refuse employment at that wage and called for an economic blockade against landowners. The attack on Bathani Tola, was an effort to weaken the resolve of CPI (ML) cadres organizing in the village and to prevent a labor boycott on hundreds of acres of land.
Bathani Tola is a typical case of open class war which, though rising at grassroots, is defined by the parameters of political struggle at the top, a typical case where caste as well as communal antagonisms.The two major social parameters of contemporary Indian society are blended within the framework of class struggle. It is no accident that the revolutionary Left and the communal fascist forces of the extreme Right stand face-to-face in a headlong battle in this class war which has engulfed the entire district of Bhojpur and is fast spreading to other parts of Bihar. Bathani Tola, and other similar massacres were orchestrated with the clear aim to punish those who ‘dared’ to raise their voices against oppression and exploitation – most of those killed were supporters and sympathizers of CPI(ML) Liberation, and were actively involved in struggles to break the stranglehold of feudal forces in Bihar.
This class war, which subsumes within itself the issues of caste and communal discriminations , is at the same time the negation of the post-modernist agenda for which the priority is the other way round.
The Ranvir Sena was formed in the early 1990s with the declared objective of protecting the crumbling edifice of feudalism from the fury of the revolutionary movement of poor peasants of Bhojpur. They challenged with all their might: “We will not allow Bhojpur to be turned into Russia or China; with our guns we will remove all signs of red flag not only from Bhojpur but from the entire country, we will re-establish the social system of our ancestors and revive the old customs and laws“.
The massacres perpetrated by the Ranveer Sena in Bihar were not isolated events, they were episodes of a bloody war that the Sena waged with complete impunity on the oppressed rural poor in Bihar to crush their fight for freedom, dignity and democracy. The Sena had openly and arrogantly declared that the communist movement had no right to exist in Bihar and that the people must not look beyond the feudal order. Yet the self-styled champions of ‘social justice’ or ‘development with justice’ always made common cause with the Sena. Despite the anti-BJP bravado of the RJD and JDU, the policy of appeasement of Ranveer Sena pursued by both the parties made sure that the BJP kept growing in Bihar. And if one ever needed a proof about the organic relationship between the Ranveer Sena and the RSS-BJP, one only needs to remember how BJP leader “Giriraj Singh described the Sena supremo after his assassination: he called him the Gandhi of Bihar”.
The Bathani Tola massacre and the government response is a living example of how Bihar is being converted into the graveyard of democracy. In this game, all the forces of darkness and retrogression have united.The forces that constitute the mafia and feudal vested interests.
In the words of comrade Vinod Mishra “If the 25 years of the history of Bhojpur is any guide, the struggle has never stopped half-way here. The rural poor, compared to their position 25 years ago, have snatched socio-economic gains and have advanced politically to a considerable extent. No Bathani Tola is going to make them surrender even a small bit of their gains. The battle, therefore, goes on and shall continue till the last vestige of feudalism is ultimately razed to the ground”.
Priyank Mani is a student activist, studying at Banaras Hindu University. He tweets at @i_priyankk. Views expressed here are personal only.