35 MASSACRED IN BIHAR
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35 MASSACRED IN BIHAR
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT AND AGENCIES
Patna, March 18:
At least 35 people were killed and five injured seriously when People�s War Group (PWG) activists attacked Senari village in Bihar�s Jehanabad district late tonight, police said. Unofficial reports put the toll at 42.
Inspector-general of police Nilmani said about 100 Naxalites, armed with sophisticated weapons, raided the village and fired indiscriminately at the people after storming their houses. Most victims belonged to the upper caste, he said.
The massacre came a day after chief minister Rabri Devi, sacked after a spate of killings and later reinstated, won the vote of confidence.
According to preliminary information received here, the victims included women and children. Official sources said many people were killed in their sleep, while a few were dragged out of their houses before being gunned down.
The police said many of the victims are believed to be linked to the Ranbir Sena, private militia of the landlords.
The police said that after the killing, the attackers distributed leaflets saying the carnage was to avenge the Laxmanpur Bathe and Shankarbigha massacres in the district earlier. As many as 33 Dalits were killed in the two attacks 45 days ago.
Tonight�s is the second revenge strike by Naxalites this month. On Holi, when President�s rule was still in place, Naxalites had struck in Jehanabad, gunning down four persons.
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BY INDRANI CHATTERJEE
SPECTRE OF VIOLENCE: THE 1857 KANPUR MASACRES By Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Viking, Rs 295
Events in Kanpur have exercised a significant influence on the imagination of both contemporaries and of later generations. Satichaura Ghat and Bibighar are associated both with the fury of the rebels and the fearful vengeance of the English. Thirty years after 1857, the antagonisms born of those weeks were reenacted in the assassination of an English officer whose father had revelled in the bloody retribution. Passions still ran high on August 15, 1947 when crowds of Indians desecrated the shrine built by the British at Bibighar, and a reversal of icons followed with a bronze statue of Tantia Topi replacing the angel of the well.
Without the violence, Kanpur would probably not have merited the remembrance, not having the grand Mughal lineage that Agra, Lucknow or Delhi possessed. It began in May 1770 as a joint encampment of the troops the nawab of Awadh and the East India Company gathered to stave off a threatened attack by the Marathas. By 1801, the cantonment was known as Cawnpore; the following year it acquired an English revenue collector with police and judicial responsibilities.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee suggests that from this moment a kind of bureaucratic resistance began from among the older revenue knowing and collecting functionaries who misrepresented to the British the boundaries of villages and parganas, the exact figures and rates of collection. The suffering that resulted from wrongful assessments was evident by the 1840s, as �outsider" Brahmin and mercantile Khattri groups acquired title to lands earlier held by Rajput Thakurs. Yet older groups were not dislodged wholesale, merely antagonized.
Mukherjee is clearly on one side of the great historiographical divide in India about the establishment and maintenance of English rule in India; he believes that English control of India was established by the sword and maintained by the deployment of terror. This enables him to depict the use of violence by rebels in 1857 as a transgression of the boundaries between power and powerlessness. Unlike the English descriptions of the rebel soldiers as fierce and unpremeditated in their violence, the author finds �discrimination" in their targets of attack. Instead of the �straggling disorder" that Englishmen saw in the rebel lines, the author represents this as �deliberate throwing away of regimental" uniforms.
Hence against the covert rituals of the rebels which have entered folklore-- like the appearance of chapattis at various places-- were posed the overt rituals of destruction conducted by the powerful: the blowing up of rebels from the mouths of cannons and the burning of villages. These atrocities of the British were all committed, says the author, before the rebels had carried out the massacre in Kanpur. After the rebels had attacked and killed numbers of British soldiers, officers and their families, the ferocity of the rulers acquired a new and terrible edge.
But how do historians conceptualize violence? Is violence only a matter of the physical, blood and gore, wounds and scars? Isn�t violence also spiritual, pervasive and subtle in that it leaves no outward traces of its occurrence and, indeed in many cases, no traces of its victims either? The erasure of the histories of many groups can be a form of violence, often perpetrated by those who control ideas, language, performance, the skills and instruments of transmission.
Hence, it would be in the erasure of the songs and mythic verse-- the �soul"-- of the rebels, that the manifestation of a subtler violence may lie. The English records are partial, and the author, while acknowledging this, has done a truly commendable job in unravelling texts which have hitherto been treated as "eyewitness" accounts, showing the wavering nature of the narratives, tracing the routes by which one narrative merges into another English language narrative in an intertextual weaving of the "myths" of 1857.
It is possible that there were songs, legends and poetry which in fact celebrated the rebels as moral victors. The author�s explanation of the absence of Kanpur from later oral traditions is that since the Indian nationalist movement was largely non-violent, the violence of the rebels at Kanpur in 1857 was an embarrassment which could not be celebrated in song or poem. Yet the poem about the Rani of Jhansi (with the refrain "khub larhi mardani woh to Jhansi wali rani thi"), which every schoolgoing child in north India knows, is in fact a nationalist creation. How is it that the violence of the rani was depicted as bravery, and that perpetrated by the soldiers of Kanpur was not? Is there something of a hidden agenda in celebrating the deeds of royalty and ignoring the resistance of lesser mortals?
Issues of politics and culture have always been critical in reframing the rewriting of the past, whether in the 19th century or in the late 20th. Perhaps this is equally true of historians who do not wish to differentiate between the different strata and ranks within the "rebels", seeing them as united in their actions and intentions, and also ignore the multilayered character of even "rulers" themselves. It may of course have been that violence served to erase the heterogeneity of both, but we still need to rethink the issue of how definitions of "violence", "rebellion" and of "rulership" have also been created, and bequeathed to historians.
Mukherjee has swept aside the question of collaboration entirely. Not only did specific individual rulers send troops and ammunition to the English, the records give us glimpses of a petty Indian official improving upon his chances of a promotion by torturing the men he had captured (page 36), a loyal sepoy (p. 49), a commissariat contractor (pp. 55-58), to whom the colonial regime appeared legitimate and orderly. They too constituted the "people of India", not the least of whom were large numbers in Bengal (as we know it today), who, once the sepoys in Barrackpur had been disarmed, were largely inactive in 1857. Perhaps the author can look beyond violence and examine how far it would be possible to rewrite the history of 1857 from the point of view of the quiescent.
BOOKREVIEW/SOUND OF DISTANT DRUMS
BY BHASKAR CHAKRABARTI
CHRISTIANITY: SUBALTERN RELIGION AND LIBERATION THEOLOGY IN INDIA By Sathianathan Clarke, Oxford, Rs 425
Readers of the now famous series of historical essays called Subaltern Studies might well wonder if the collective has spawned a new religion. Detractors of Ranajit Guha, the original mastermind of the series, equate his erudition with papal infallibility. They will be disappointed by the subtitle of Sathianathan Clarke�s book.
Clarke has done a very interesting study of the Paraiyars of South India as a specific community of Dalits with special reference to their Indo-Christian outlook. He explores their communal identity through a single icon: the drum. This artefact has been creatively constructed by the author as a text of resistance and emancipatory theology. Clarke�s objective seems to be, in part, to uncover the system that underlies the use of the drum. Abstraction from the surface concreteness of a simple musical instrument is done by relating it to a diversity of social processes.
The drum is projected as an agent of the divine power both to strive against the cooptive inclinations of dominant caste Hinduism and to empower the shared sentiments of the Paraiyar community. Symbolism is construed through the book as the product of a special "mode of thought" (marginalization and social disarticulation of the Paraiyars) with particular functional properties (using the drum as a protective coating).
This book begins with a comprehensive discussion on theology as deeprooted in the Indian soil. Introducing the reader to Indo-Christian ideas, the book gradually unfolds the religious life of the Paraiyars: first from a historical perspective and then with an integrated study of their culture.
Clarke shows the way the drum acts as a cohesive agent and brings together the Dalit communities of south India. On the question of Christian liberation theology, the emphasis is on the power of symbols as cultural products, and on the organizing principles for unstructured feelings and thoughts. In exploring the complex ways meanings within a social discourse are conveyed, the author even tries to translate the drum as Christ.
Whenever professional theologists have tried to systematize beliefs, their ideas seemed curiously distant from the everyday religion of people. Clarke, a priest of the Church of South India, has escaped this considerably in his writing. The distinction between folk religion and an official theological religion is made thin in the book. This shows that what seems to matter above all in religion is human action.
Religions do try to explain the inexplicable, but they more often render perfectly explainable things arcane. Religions make everyday matters and objects sacred, creating out of the whole cloth beings and forces that are beyond common sense understanding; religions invent mysteries. The book repeatedly takes into account these culturally constructed aspects of the life of the Paraiyars and relates them to a world of invented symbolism, shifting images and transient feelings.
The author overlooks the relation between Dalit Christianity and political systems. The fashionable term "subaltern" has made him gloss over the difference between subaltern religion and religion of the subalterns. Not all subalterns march in the name of the pope.
BOOKREVIEW/STRIKE AT THE MOVING TARGET
BY MURARI MOHAN MUKHERJEE
INDIA�S FINANCIAL POLICY ADAPTING TO NEW REALITIES By S.S. Tarapore, UBS, Rs 375
India�s Financial Policy analyzes issues relating to the money market, financial sector regulation, exchange rate policy and the debate on capital account convertibility. It also focusses on monetary policy developments under R.N. Malhotra and C. Rangarajan. Divided into 11 parts and 50 chapters, it comprises articles published in 1997 in Business Standard.
In the first part, S.S. Tarapore argues that a rising inflation rate imposes substantial economic costs on society while a stable price environment enhances the capacity of monetary policy to fight cyclical weaknesses: it is the best contribution monetary policy can make to growth.
Tarapore counters the accusation that the Reserve Bank of India was "monetarist". He distinguishes tight monetary policy from monetarism and argues that the RBI�s performance would never fit the label "monetarist". "There is much merit in a gradual but determined approach towards inflation control. Once a system is put in place on a trial run in 1997-98, a formal parliamentary mandate on inflation for, say, a three year period (1998-99 to 2001-02) could be obtained. The inflation mandate could be an average of 3-6 per cent with a centre point of 4.5 per cent. A medium term inflation target is desirable as monetary policy is effective only with a lag."
Tarapore says that in the emerging monetary scenario an active interest rate policy is imperative. Monetary authorities should not hesitate to move interest rates both ways. Since April 1997, the RBI has made a conscious effort to link a number of interest rates to the bank rate. In June 1997 it used the bank rate to signal a lowering of the structure of interest rates.
Part three examines how a stable money market can be developed. Part four focusses on regulation/supervision of weak banks. Part five deals with non-bank finance companies. The author says there should be a common regulatory framework for banks and financial institutions; it should be considered a fundamental prerequisite for financial institutions to operate as universal banks.
Part six discusses macromanagement and the monetary impact of fiscal operations. Part seven highlights the policy adopted by the government in September 1992 to permit foreign institutional investors to invest in India. It also covers the issue of non-resident deposit schemes and examines how they can be revamped.
In the second half of 1995-96, there was considerable volatility in the Indian foreign exchange market and the RBI had actively intervened. In part eight of the book, the author discusses whether such intervention was desirable. He analyzes the literature on the subject and says that a policy of greater transparency with respect to intervention and the forward liability would by itself enable the authorities to evolve a better mix of policy measures. According to him, since the cost of intervention becomes known, it will become easier to adopt a mix of policy measures for devising an optimal exchange rate policy.
Part nine presents a package of measures for capital account convertibility by April 1, 2000. Part 10 sums up the monetary policy of two former RBI governors, R.N. Malhotra and C. Rangarajan, particularly their endeavours to bring about financial sector reform in the Indian economy.
The book is a valuable addition to the literature on financial sector reform. It will be useful for policymakers, economists, bankers, industrialists and students of India�s financial policy.
BOOKREVIEW/ANOTHER LOOK AT THE PROS AND ICONS
BY CHIROSREE BASU
THE FRAIL HERO AND VIRILE HISTORY: GENDER AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURE IN COLONIAL BENGAL By Indira Chowdhury, Oxford, Rs 395
This book once again proves 19th century Bengal remains a potent time warp for historians, its facets opening up to new and radical interpretations. Indira Chowdhury�s project is not very ambitious though. She seeks to delve into the "self-image of frailty" that the Bengali babu was afflicted with as an adjunct to the colonial stereotypes of the "manly Englishman" and "effeminate Bengali". The stereotype, she argues, produced multiple icons that helped the Bengali bhadralok reclaim his history, regain his manhood, propel nationalism and spawn a homogenized modern Indian identity whose oppressive weight the nation is still having to bear.
The problem with the delineation of the 19th century icons lies in the fact that most have been worked on exhaustively. Therefore for the most part, Chowdhury ends up sounding familiar. In an overview, the conclusion that the shikhshita bhadralok was creating a discourse of history through the narrative of legends, myths and fables, by identifying with the valour and Aryanness of Marathas and Rajputs, by alienating the Muslims as mlechhas, would not seem too insightful.
Crucial to the politics of the culture of the period were women. Chowdhury explains how women became central to the project of the rediscovery of manhood, but does not satisfactorily explain why. She believes the "recharacterization" of women was a response to official and missionary allegations of the shallow ethical qualities of Hindu women. But the painting of the picture of sati-Sabitri had to do more than that.
Western education turned the babus into servile clerks, British legislation took away their landed status and quite alarmingly, crept into the privacy of their antahpur. Confused and defeated, the Bengali bhadralok turned for solace to the confines of home that now became the domain of his undisputed sway. Women came to bodily represent this autonomous zone. Hence the emphasis on their purity, their chastity, their satitva.
Chowdhury concentrates on the icon that came to represent these qualities. Sati-Sabitri represented the chaste Hindu woman with her unqualified ability to sacrifice and to suffer. It was on Sabitri that the image of the shahadharmini was modelled who with her right mix of education and qualities would keep the man where he belonged.
Chowdhury�s project of frailty is probably best explored in the image of the Bharat Mata. The "magnetism of this new goddess", she argues, lay not in her chastity and moral strength, but in her "empowerment" through the icon of Queen Victoria. The latter�s resemblance with Indian womanhood through her femininity, affection, compassion, her motherhood might explain the queen�s curious invocation in the nationalist enterprise, even in peasant revolts.
This in a way reflected her assimilation into a benevolent mother figure that could be conveniently transposed with that of Durga or the Bharat Mata. But to argue such transposition necessarily "empowered" the image of the Bharat Mata is to stretch the point. For it is doubtful if the frail image of the mata ever actually got "replaced" by the self-reliant image of Queen Victoria.
The exploration of the perception of an alternative manliness in sanyas is probably the most redeeming part of the book. Chowdhury�s discussion of Swami Vivekananda, who iconized this manhood, is brilliant. The icon of the sanyasi in saffron, disciplining his procreative capacity for the service of the nation, Vivekananda consciously created informed Bengal�s history long after the fires of nationalism had died down.
Chowdhury ends by investigating how the political crisis of 1905 summoned the use of these multiple icons. The homogenization this entailed severely limited the role of women and alienated large sections of society. Chowdhury�s frail hero will be a must read for those indulging in gender studies of the period. For the uninitiated as well, the book might be an interesting read for its uncomplicated narrative.
BOOKWISE/MERGER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
BY RAVI VYAS
Two basic facts on the economics of book publishing and the impact of multinationals on the third world, especially ourselves.
First, the book publisher is an investor in books. The publisher pays out money to the author, artist, editor, printer and paper merchant, and several others for producing the books. He also pays money to the sales representatives and advertisers who help in marketing and takes in money from booksellers and others who buy books. The publisher hopes he will get more money than he spends. As in any business, the publisher tries to reduce costs to increase income but he knows that "you have to spend" money to make money.
Second, the multinational corporations (mostly media giants) have transformed the nature of publishing industries in the last decade. Till the early Eighties or so, book publishing industries were small, nationally based and mostly personally owned. By the mid-Nineties, almost all the major companies were largely publicly owned and international. This transformation is now irreversible if only for the reason that it makes financial sense.
Besides, this restructuring was engineered by two outside forces that have come to stay: the proliferation of information beyond the capacity that the printed book could handle. Alongside came the new technology of which the computer, the satellite and the visual display terminal were the three main pillars.
Put these two simple facts together and you will understand why the large electronic corporations like TIT, Xerox, CBS and others acquired book publishers. But in the process of acquisitions and mergers and the shakeout that followed, the nature of book publishing changed. The sheer size of the new houses necessitated going for the mass market (crime, sex, glitz, celebrity gossip) which could also spin off into films and television serials and which, in turn, meant cutting back on scholarly books.
In real terms this meant that more and more books became a sub-division of the entertainment industry or catered to as wide a cross-section of readership as possible, relegating scholarly books for the specialized reader as non-priority items. Even Oxford University Press with all its massive air of impersonality has become more and more commercial in its operations, scrapping its poetry list altogether and cutting back heavily on politics, philosophy and economics for the advanced reader.
Almost every other publisher had long since discarded any attempt to improve public taste by raising standards; it was too antiquated a notion, besides being too patronizing to be voiced in public. Success is what mattered and success equalled money.
Given the size of the new conglomerates, the surest way to increase income was to sell more copies of each book. More income would increase profit, which is based on a fundamental principle of book publishing: manufacturing costs per copy go down not just a little but quite substantially.
Lower unit costs meant that the same old high prices would generate much higher profits; or lower prices could be offered with higher volume sales. Either way, what it meant was that books that could not sell a sufficiently large number (usually in tens of thousands) would be out of the reckoning.
As the juggernaut of acquisitions, mergers and consolidations steamrollers along, the only recourse for serious scholars is to move over to small independent publishers to have their works published. These are niche publishers who know the small segment of the market in which they operate intimately: they know not merely the individuals and institutions who would buy but also have the capacity to buy.
Most of these publishers are former CEOs of the large houses who were either eased out when the takeover took place or left because the heat was too much to bear. They know the ins and outs of publishing, production and marketing far better than the management accountants who have taken over the world of books.
Print runs may be small but they will be sold, the right people will come to know that a book of their interest has been published, and at the end of the day royalties will be paid. That�s all that matters.
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It does not matter who comes to sit in Patna. The killings in Bihar�s strife-torn districts continue at their own pace. The combatants, ultra-left extremists and landlords� private armies, especially the outlawed Ranbir Sena, have proved they cannot be cowed by any form of state power. Two massacres in Jehanabad led to the dismissal of Rabri Devi�s Rashtriya Janata Dal government. The massacre that followed showed that president�s rule had made no difference. The most recent killings, carried out by activists of the Maoist Communist Centre, are the latest step in the continuing series of mutual reprisals. The dramatic events in the state assembly-- the reinstatement of the RJD government and the split in the Samata Party-- have caused no interruption in this chain of events. What has to be acknowledged is the complete disjunction of the Naxalite-Ranbir Sena battle with the ups and downs of state politics. It is true that a combination of callousness and complicity on the part of the state government has allowed the revival of bloodthirsty violence over the last few years. It is also true that the ultra-left groups profess a certain political ideology as the basis of their programme to lead poor peasants against exploitative landlords. But within the predominantly feudal setup of agricultural Bihar, the battle has taken on the characteristics of a caste war. Just as the Ranbir Sena tends to go for poor Dalits in their killing sprees, the extremists gun for Bhumihars, not always rich, in theirs. The poor and powerless become, in both cases, victims of exemplary killings, fodder in a show of strength between two murderous forces. In this situation, there can be no question of development of resources, of education, of healthcare or anything close to normal life.
According to the RJD, the Centre has been indifferent to its requests for more paramilitary forces-- 78 companies in total -- and has withdrawn 17 of the 28 companies which were already deployed. Although the RJD government cannot be lauded for its inability to curb the killings, its argument on this count is a valid one. The point, though, lies elsewhere.The beginnings of a resolution of the terrible situation in Bihar will be possible when at least one political party, whether the RJD or the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party, genuinely desires to put a stop to the killings. The BJP needs to be reminded that there is more to governance than "I told you so" exercises. The Congress needs to think whether it can do a little more than scramble for cover behind projected calls for Rabri Devi�s removal and threats of withdrawal of support to the RJD state government. The RJD, of course, has the major share of responsibility. And the last thing it should do is to play on the caste angle of the battle.
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FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, March 22
The war of words between the BJP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) over Bihar is escalating. After calling each other names, they are now wrangling over their respective onus in ensuring Bihar�s development.
The RJD thinks it is the Centre�s fault that Bihar is in the doldrums. The Centre feels it is a comment on the RJD government�s inefficiency. Retaliating to the BJP�s remarks on the Rabri Devi government, the RJD today accused the Centre of sabotaging the interests of the Bihar government.
At a press conference in Delhi, RJD MP from Darbhanga, M.A.A. Fatmi, heaped abuse on the Centre for failures ranging from dearth of paramilitary forces to absence of development in Bihar. "Jab tak development nahin hoga tab tak maar-kaat chalega (This war will continue as long as there is no development in Bihar)" he said.
Two days ago, Laloo Prasad Yadav�s party blamed the Centre for ignoring repeated requests for additional paramilitary forces. Attention today was focused on lack of development. The RJD demanded quick implementation of Indira Awas Yojana and the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana in backward districts like Jehanabad.
The BJP charged the Rabri Devi government with abetting massacres to deflect attention from lack of development. Party spokesperson K.L. Sharma demanded a comprehensive security-development package for sensitive districts like Jehanabad and Arrah. The BJP felt packages would include security forces, telecom network, electricity and water facilities. Neither party stressed on land reforms as a solution.
Fatmi said pending cases make re-distribution of land difficult. Sharma bypassed the issue that the Left feels holds the key to a peace settlement in central Bihar.
In fact, Fatmi shrugged off the state government�s role in re-distributing land and held the Centre responsible for dereliction of duty. "The Centre should decide what to do," he said.
The Congress, too, is caught in the crossfire between the BJP and the RJD. The BJP has blamed the Congress for the killings on the grounds that the party played a key role in resurrecting the Rabri Devi government. p The recent Senari carnage has somewhat fractured Opposition unity and landed the Congress and the Left in a spot. Left leaders are demanding that the Rabri Devi government convene an all-party meeting in Bihar to initiate land reforms. "Rabri Devi�s government cannot sidestep the issue any more," CPI leader Atul Anjaan said.
Senior Congress leaders Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma have not minced words after the Senari killings. The Congress wants Rabri Devi to step down, but the RJD is refusing to yield. As far as Laloo Yadav is concerned, there is no room for considering a change of leadership.
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RABRI IN PHANTOM LAND GIFT BID Tg23Mr99 FROM FAIZAN AHMAD
Patna, March 22
Like putting the cart before the horse, chief minister Rabri Devi has readied the plough before the land.
The carnage, which bloodied Senari barely days after Rabri Devi was reinstated, has made the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government renew its decision to distribute 400 acres among the landless on April 4 in Jehanabad. Rabri Devi will plough the land herself before distributing it.
But no one knows where the land is coming from. At least the government is not saying. An official document says 1,183 acres were acquired in Jehanabad, of which 895 acres was distributed till March 1998.
With a sizeable chunk of land caught in litigation, the government now has merely 16 acres at its disposal.
�Where is the land? Which land is the chief minister talking about?" a senior official asked.
The public relations department flooded local dailies with front-page advertisements. In the form of an appeal by the chief minister, the advertisement says Rabri Devi will distribute 400 acres of land.
�Our government is committed to land reforms. Officials have been asked to identify land affected by economic blockade (by the Naxalites).
�If the land is not disputed and not beyond the limit of the ceiling, the owner will be accorded possession within two months. If the land is in excess of the ceiling or gair mazrua (illegally concealed), it will be distributed among the landless within two months," the advertisement said.
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Patna, March 23
The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and Ranbir Sena in Bihar have accused each other of killing innocent bystanders, but no letup in violence is expected as both have vowed to fight to the end.
The ultra-Left MCC, claiming responsibility for Thursday�s massacre of 35 Bhumihars at Senari, said in a statement the victims patronised the Sena and had taken part in its terror campaigns.
The statement, signed by MCC central zone committee secretary Badal, said: "We are committed to wiping out the landlords� private army. The Senari exercise was executed to check the killing of innocent, poor people."
Denying the perception that the Senari victims were innocent, Badal said: "They were reactionaries and staunch supporters of the Ranbir Sena. They have been giving shelter to Sena killers and helping it financially." Badal warned upper-caste Bhumihars to break away from the Sena or face a fate similar to Senari.
He said the MCC could not remain silent on the killing of poor people by "upper-caste goons". "Eight hundred comrades executed this peoples� action," he claimed. His statement contained no reference to the MCC�s attack on the Saharsha police picket as alleged by the authorities. Police said the picket was attacked to prevent deployment of forces to Senari.
Threatening more massacres, the statement said: "If the Ranbir Sena continues its anti-people operations, we will be forced to enact more Senaris."
However, refusing to be cowed down by the MCC threat, Ranbir Sena spokesman Shamsher Bahadur Singh said the landlords� army was firm on "eliminating extremism. "We are firm on liquidating all ultra-Left extremist groups even though we have no animosity against the poor or Dalit farm labourers," he said in a statement issued from the Sena�s �new police lines� office.
The Ranbir Sena, for the first time, attacked state BJP chief Sushil Kumar Modi for saying his party would extend support to the government to eliminate the private landlords� army.
Singh said the Senari carnage was executed by the MCC at the behest of a particular political party, meaning the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal. "The Sena will soon avenge the Senari carnage," he warned.
Jehanabad, scene of much bloodshed recently, got a new district magistrate. R.K. Shrivastava, IAS and managing director of the Bihar marketing board, was sent to replace Arunish Chawla, sent on deputation abroad.
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Jehanabad, March 25
Dalits are fleeing their homes across Jehanabad district after the private landlord army, Ranbir Sena, and Naxalites matched genocide with genocide in spiralling violence that has claimed 81 lives since January.
Fear stalks the streets of the Dalit tolas � hamlets of the poor and backward castes usually located at the southern end of largish villages � from where most of the men have fled. Every outsider is viewed with suspicion.
In Azadbigha village, a group of eight men sitting under a banyan tree disperses quickly as a car moves into sight. Is it the Ranbir Sena? Is it the police? "We are afraid," says Ramayan Ram, 70, after being cajoled to speak. "We are panicky."
Ram and the other men of Azadbigha, a hamlet of 200 Dalit households, have gathered in the afternoon to exchange notes after having spent the night elsewhere. Their women and children were left behind.
The men hope and pray fervently that if the killers attack, they would take pity on the children and their mothers and spare them. There is little possibility of that, given the track record of the Ranbir Sena which believes in "butchering Naxalites in their mothers� wombs".
The Azadbigha picture mirrors that of scores of villages in the district. Official sources have identified 292 villages as "sensitive", of which 73 are "super- sensitive".
Within shouting distance of Azadbigha is Ganiari, where the chasm between the Dalits and the upper-caste Bhumihars � the main support base of the Ranbir Sena � has widened so much that no work is done in the fields as the harvesting season peaks. The Bhumihars are landholders; the Dalits sharecroppers or agricultural labourers.
Out in the fields, standing crop has ripened to a golden yellow but no one dares to cut stalk with sickle. The sharecroppers and labourers will not work for the Bhumihars. They will also not allow Bhumihars to harvest the crop, risking their own livelihood.
"If we do not harvest, we will not get our share," says Basmatia Devi of a sharecropping family. But the men, who do the bulk of the work in the fields, have fled the village.
At Khatangi, a village close to Senari where the cadre of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) slit the throats of 34 Bhumihars last week, it is the same story. Khatangi is also high on the list of villages that the administration suspects as Naxalite bases.
Police have raided Dalit-dominated Khatangi several times since the Senari carnage. "Naxalites take shelter in Khatangi," says Nageshwar Sharma, a Bhumihar of Senari. In their search and arrest raids, the police have picked up Khatangi�s Dalits at random.
"All the men fled after what happened at Senari," says an elderly woman. "Those who did not were arrested." Most Khatangi huts are locked. "We are as good as dead," lamented another woman. "With the men away there is nobody to feed us."
The police deny that they are persecuting Dalits. "Though it is true that Dalits have fled from some villages for fear of retaliation, the situation is not as serious as is being portrayed by the media," says Arvind Gupta, sub-divisional police officer of Karpi.
The exodus of Dalits from Jehanabad�s terror-stricken villages is accepted by the administration as a corollary to the violence that continues to rage. It matters little that lives and livelihoods are lost. Indeed it would seem in all structures that represent administration -- like police station houses -- to be such a routine affair that it does not merit mention in official reports, let alone in media briefings. In Kurtha police station at the epicentre of the Jehanabad violence, the police feign ignorance.
But in Pan Bigha, some distance away, the residents are packing up to leave. Despite the presence of a Bihar Military Police picket, more than 25 Harijan families have left. The rest are stuffing their meagre belongings into bundles for the road. Hari Ravidas places some bottles and small wicker baskets into a bucket while his brother Shankar Ravidas ties a blanket and sheet with a rope. They are leaving shortly.
"Only last night we saw men of the Ranbir Sena moving across the village," says Hari, a farm labourer. "May be they were on a reconnaissance mission. Who can tell when they will turn on us?"
The movement of Sena volunteers has not gone unnoticed by the policemen. They are afraid too. "We have been made to set up camp in one corner of the village. We are afraid of what could happen if there is an attack," says a constable. Asked what they would do if indeed there was an attack, he said "We will rush to our defences."
The policemen wanted their picket in the middle of the village. That would make it safer for them and, they argue, safer for the villagers as well. "In a far corner, they could easily attack and snatch our arms."
The story repeats itself in Jagdishpur and Vaidbigha; in Ramnagar, Sohsa, Kamata, Akpopur and Murgibigha; in Gokupur and Dharna. The police are wary; the Dalits afraid of both the Ranbir Sena and the police.
"Dalits are soft targets," says Karo Manjhi, a Dalit of Senari who left after the MCC attack. "Dalits are killed and arrested. The Sena men come and kill us and the police come and torture us."
At his quarters in Jehanabad town, district magistrate Arunish Chawla is readying to leave. He has been served marching orders after the Senari killings. "The chasm between the castes is widening. It is dangerous for society," he concludes.
Chawla was posted in Jehanabad shortly after Sundar Singh Bhandari took over the administration for a 25-day spell of President�s Rule. His stint here has been for barely a month. The youthful Chawla said he had initiated a process to form peace committees in each village. The committee would comprise representatives of all castes. In several villages, the committees have already been formed.
But this is not the first time such a step has been taken. In the past, the administration had raised village protection forces in 321 villages. But they were mostly stillborn because the conflict within the villages did not leave them with scope to function.
There were also instances of the upper castes cornering weapon licences issued to some members of these forces as have there been instances of the upper castes and the Dalits raising rival outfits in the same village.
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Patna, March 25
Art often imitates life. But in tragedy-torn Bihar, realpolitik imitates the comic.
Replaying to a fault a recent cartoon which showed Sonia Gandhi�s "fact-finders" trying to persuade each other to visit seething Senari first, the Congress� Delhi duo -- Shivraj Patil and Meira Kumar -- took the morning flight to the Capital without visiting the massacre site.
"The administration strongly advised them not to visit the place at this time, for it is in the process of normalising the situation. This was the opinion expressed by some mediapersons and others also. So, the Congress representatives decided to postpone the visit," said a handout released by the team last evening. It was signed by Bihar Congress chief Sadanand Singh.
By listening to the "administration, the media and others", the high command has shut out the pleas of the local Congress unit and has lent credibility to charges that the party is literally on the run in Bihar. The state unit of the party had been keen that the team make the trip to Senari. Local leaders tried their best to convince Patil and Kumar of the need for the visit. They wanted the Central representatives to see for themselves how the people felt about the Congress after it bailed out the Rabri Devi government.
Patil, who stepped out of his hotel room only once in the two days he was here, was in constant touch with Sonia Gandhi and was updating her on the situation. Even the handout was sent to Delhi for her approval.
Patil discussed the situation in detail with two leaders � Jagdish Sharma and Ram Jatan Sinha -- who hail from the region. Sharma was attacked by irate villagers when he visited Senari last Friday. Sinha had returned without entering the village. Two days later, he went back only to be booed away. The villagers are furious with the Congress for helping reinstall the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) regime. Earlier, too, when seven Bhumihars were killed in Usri Bazar and four in Bhimpura, no Congress leader had dared to visit.
Even a week after the carnage, neither chief minister Rabri Devi nor RJD chief Laloo Yadav has dared to step into Senari. "We want to visit, but they (Bhumihars) don�t want us to go there," Laloo said.
Today, the Rabri Devi government announced plans for a Rs 110-crore financial package for development projects in Jehanabad.
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Bihar massacre puts Congress in a tight spot
The Times of India News Service
NEW DELHI: The Jehanabad massacre has suddenly turned the tables on the Congress, which was till the other day patting itself on the back for blocking the imposition of President's rule on Bihar and adding another item to the growing list of rollbacks the BJP- led Union government has effected to date.
The killings have clearly put the Congress on the backfoot, which demanded on Friday strong measures in Bihar, while maintaining there is no change in the party's stand - that Rabri Devi does not have the moral right to rule. Other than that, the Congress reacted meekly asking for strong measures in Bihar.
Scenting an opportunity to get back at the Congress, the BJP came out all guns blazing on Friday. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the parties which had opposed the imposition of President's rule in Bihar should reflect upon their action. ``The politics of opportunism can neither keep the people secure not meet their welfare needs,'' he added.
If that's mild, BJP Kushabhau Thakre cannot be found wanting. He said in Hyderabad: ``It is not Rabri Devi's fault.'' It was the Congress and the Left parties, who had opposed President's rule, were responsible for the latest outrage.''
The BJP let its mind be known in the morning itself when its MPs in the Rajya Sabha disrupted proceedings demanding a discussion on the massacre, while the Congress opposed and harped on the Bhagwat issue.
Defence minister George Fernandes, whose Samata Party has been demanding the dismissal of the Rabri government, also blamed the Congress. The massacre, he said, was the inevitable consequence of the return of the Rabri government.
Caught, as it were on the wrong foot, the Congress does not quite know how to react. Its spokesman Ajit Jogi started by holding both the state and Central governments accountable, saying both were duty bound to protect the lives of the people. But when asked if the party still thought Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi had no moral right to rule, he said: ``There is no change in our stand.''
But the BJP was not about to let the Congress off the hook. Its vice-president, J.P. Mathur, held both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM leader Jyoti Basu responsible for the killings. ``They were responsible for bringing the discredited Rabri government back and, therefore, must take the blame for what has happened,'' he said.
The Left parties condemned the massacre and demanded that an all-party meeting be immediately convened by the Bihar government to discuss measures for putting an end to the killings in the state.
CPM and CPI general secretaries, Harkishan Singh Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan, in a joint statement, said Jehanabad district should be sealed off for combing operations carried out for unearthing and confiscating all arms in possession of the Ranvir Sena and other outfits.
They suggested additional paramilitary forces be deployed to intensify the anti-militancy operations.
Senior Janata Dal leader Ram Vilas Paswan demanded imposition of President's rule in Bihar followed by fresh assembly elections in the wake of the latest massacre in the state.
``The fresh killings amply prove that jungle raj is still prevailing in Bihar,'' Mr Paswan said.
In an apparent reference to the Congress and Left parties, he said, ``Those who opposed imposition of President's rule in the state had no moral right to criticise the RJD government for the fresh killings.''
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IT 20Mr99, p. 12
Circle of Unreason
Thirty-five more perish in the circle of violence viciously feeding off itself in Bihar. Instead of yesterday, it could have been the day before or the day after, instead of chief minister Rabri Devi, it could have been the governor administering the state. It doesn't matter any more. Sadly, the predictability of the killings has itself numbed the senses, making them a distraction too routine to settle long on the conscience. Indeed, even as we skip the headline and turn the page, we know for sure that this carnage will be followed by another, just as we also know that the state government and the Centre will once again clash on the issue. The tragedy of Bihar is not merely that it has become a hunting ground for caste armies, but much more that the partisan interests of the political parties will keep it so. For the Centre, the state government is more the problem than the violence, so it must first be removed; whereas the latter is only too happy to point out that the massacres carried on even in its brief absence, when the governor was in charge. The Congress brought back Mrs Rabri Devi for no reason other than to avoid voting with the BJP on President's Rule, but having done that it must now oppose her government or risk antagonising its state unit. The Samata Party's interest in President's Rule is not so much to save Bihar as to save its own ranks as, in fact, has been proved by the speed with which the party has split. In this cynical power game, there is naturally no space for anything like bipartisan action or collective political will.
The last time we mentioned Bihar in these columns, we had done so with the warning that perhaps Bihar stands condemned to sink deeper and deeper into the endless nightmare that caste conflicts have become in the state. And yet, it is easily seen that violence has largely been confined to a single district, Jehanabad. The district has been ravaged so often in the past and the pattern of killings so well established that by now it should have been possible to anticipate where the next strike will be. Under the Constitution, the Centre is obliged to protect every state from internal disturbance, which is a step preceding the imposition of President's Rule. In other words, rather than first dismiss the state government and then rush para-military forces, the Centre could do so in advance in consultation with the state. The state government for its part can identify vulnerable villages where these forces can be stationed. Civil rights groups working in the area say that the police is often posted not where the aggrieved live but where the aggressors live, making it that much easier for the latter to plan their attacks. Though caste clashes have seemingly affected both the landless Dalits and the landed Bhumihars, the former make for easier targets in view of their distressed economic and social condition. Indeed, should the Centre and the state only do some soulsearching about why the Dalits are being forced to seek the protection of extremist leftist groups, they would realise that the Daltis need economic independence as much as police protection. This, however, calls for the Centre and the state to act in tandem, which is where the problem really lies.
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Times of India. 22Mr99, p. 1 Cartoon
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Times of India. 26 March 1999.
Meeting to review Bihar situation
The Times of India News Service and Agencies
NEW DELHI: A high-level meeting has been convened here by the Union home ministry for an in- depth review of the law and order situation in Bihar following the recent massacre of 34 persons in Senari village in in Jehanabad district last week. Bihar's chief secretary and director-general of police have been summoned for this meeting.
Union home minister L K Advani told reporters here on Thursday that the two state officials would be meeting Union home secretary B P Singh on Saturday and chalk out ways to deal with the rising crime situation.
The home minister said the Centre was in constant touch with the state government. Even Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Laloo Prasad Yadav had spoken with him on the telephone a few days ago to apprise him of the situation in Bihar.
Asserting that the state had adequate paramilitary forces to deal with the rising incidence of violence, Mr Advani charged the Rabri Devi government with ``not utilising'' them properly.
Despite this, he said the Centre had decided to send 10 more companies of paramilitary forces to Bihar and would be willing to send more forces if required. The Centre, he said, was willing to extend all support to the Bihar government and assist it in every possible way. ``We have been asking them about what they would like us to do,'' he added.
When Mr Advani's attention was drawn to a reported statement by Ranvir Sena, a private army of lanndlords, that retaliatory action would follow, the home minister hoped the state government would take cognisance of such statements and ensure security for all, particularly the weaker sections.
Meanwhile, the Congress on Thursday charged the BJP with talking ``incoherently and making panicky moves'' against it on the Bihar issue.
On the BJP's accusation about the ``dubious silence'' on Bihar by by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party general secretary Pranab Mukherjee said there was no silence as the party's views on Bihar were well-articulated publicly. ``I am happy that the BJP is watching every move of the Congress and rightly so because we are the main opposition party.''
Party spokesman Ajit Jogi, however, declined to react about the Bihar situation by saying that the two-member committee, headed by former Lok Sabha Speaker Shivraj Patil, had returned to Delhi and the party was awaiting its report. ``Let it (committee) submit the report. You will come to know what transpired,'' he said, refusing to say if the committee had visited Senari village.
Asked about the demand for invoking the Disturbed Areas Act in Jehanabad to prevent any retaliation by rival groups, Mr Mukherjee said he was not sure if the legal requirement could be fulfilled for invoking the Act.
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