The organized killing of poor peasants and landless labourers by middle and upper caste landed armies and [the ensuing] retaliation by Marxist-Leninist organizations [Naxalites] have been flashpoints in the agrarian scene in Bihar over the last fifteen years. This is not a new phenomenon. What is relatively new however is the entry on the rural scene... of a new upper caste landed organization called the Ranbir Sena. It has, over the last three years, been responsible for a series of massacres of the rural poor, such that the names of obscure villages have become known to a wider public through the national press...
In a region where tragic massacres repeat themselves with monotonous regularity, the states response is predictable and misdirectedsetting up more police camps and increasing the financial allocation for anti-Naxalite operations... The issues remain the same; the landlord army is different each time. We are condemned to reiterate the same demands each time and like some ritual drama whose script is familiar to all, the same events are re-enacted each time, drawing the same reactions from the state... One has to remember that the dreadful reality of bloody massacres are the outcome of [the states] refusal to address basic questions of agrarian struggle.
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, Agrarian Conflict in Bihar and the Ranbir Sena, October 199761
The eastern state of Bihar, with a population of eighty-six million people, is notorious for its poverty and lawlessness and for an ongoing conflict between Naxalites and private upper-caste militias set against the backdrop of acute social disparities. Since independence, Bihar has consistently ranked among the worst of Indias larger states in urbanization, production, and income; it has the highest number of very large landholders and one of the largest landless populationsamong all Indian states.62 Agrarian issues have long dominated the states political life as the feudal nature of landholding has remained largely unchanged despite legislation establishing ceiling
s on the maximum amount of land one individual can own. Political leaders who depend on landed elites for support have had little interest in pursuing reforms. Wages for agricultural laborers are also among the lowest in the country. In many districts workers are not paid in money but instead often work a full day for as little as two kilograms of rice.
Since the 1960s, social activists advocating on behalf of low-caste groups have attempted, through various forms of peaceful protest, to pressure the government to institute land reforms; at the same time, Naxalite groups have advocated armed resistance and have carried out targeted assassinations of landlords. In turn, higher-caste landholders have retaliated by forming private militias, known as senas (armies), to fight the Naxalites and terrorize and kill low-caste villagers whom they believe to have provided support to the Naxalites, or who have organized to demand better wages and other reforms. Hundreds of Dalits have been killed in sena attacks since the early 1990s. The attacks frequently take place at night; in many cases, the victims, including women and children, have been shot in their beds while they were sleeping. Members of the senas have also raped women and girls during the attacks. They have often claimed responsibility for the attacks and have even announced beforehand which villages they planned to target. However, because the senas enjoy the patronage of powerful elites, they operate with impunity.
Rather than addressing the security needs of landless laborers most affected by the violence or provide protection to villagers at risk, a series of inefficient and corrupt state governments since the early 1970s has only exacerbated the problem. In many instances, government officialsmany of whom are alleged to have caste ties or other affiliations with the senashave acted as agents of the private armies and have turned a blind eye to the killings. State security forces have helped train the senas, and in some cases, police have accompanied the militias during their attacks on Dalit villages. Police have also conducted their own raids on Dalit villages in the aftermath of massacres carried out by upper-caste militias. The ostensible reason for police raids has been to capture suspected Naxalites, but the raids are frequently used to punish villagers suspected of sympathizing with the militant groups. Like the attacks by private militias, police raids have been characterized by violence, looting, and assaults on women. The states response to militant activity by Naxalite groups and by the senas is conspicuously uneven. Sena members have rarely been prosecuted for acts of violence. Police routinely detain and charge suspected Naxalite militants, however, and many are killed in so-called encounters with the police.63
This chapter traces the conflict in Bihar since the birth of the Ranvir Sena, an upper-caste militia formed in 1994. Human Rights Watch investigated three massacres carried out by the Ranvir Sena and two raids conducted by the police in 1997 and 1998; documentation of those incidents, and additional information on other incidents, is provided below. The chapter also describes a pattern of state collusion and police complicity in sena attacks.
The Context of the Conflict
Scheduled castes constitute close to 14 percent of the population in Bihar; most of the agricultural laborers belong to these castes. The four main upper castes in the region are the Brahmins, the Bhumihars, the Rajputs, and the Kayasthas. There are more than one hundred backward castes, the dominant of which are the Yadavs and the Kurmis. In 1996 and 1997 the state government was led by Laloo Prasad Yadav, president of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party and member of the Yadav backward caste; although his administration was dominated by upper castes. Laloo Prasad Yadav resigned in 1998; he was replaced as chief minister by his wife Rabri Devi.
The implementation of reservations in favor of the backward castes has improved their status throughout the state; the same has not held true of scheduled castes whose status continues to deteriorate. Central Bihar in particular has seen a consistent rise in abuses against scheduled castes since the early 1990s at the hands of upper castes and backward castes who employ them as laborers on their lands. Rapes and murders of Dalit women in particular have reportedly increased during this period.64 As one long-time observer of violence in the state has noted, Disparities in socioeconomic hierarchy run alongside the caste hierarchythroughout Bihar although the degree of relationship may differ in some districts... Scheduled Castes invariably fall in the lowest category both socially and economically.65 A 1995 analysis of available statistics by The Pioneer, a Delhi-based daily, concluded:
[T]he distribution pattern of land and other resources is based on caste hierarchy. One-third of the upper castes have land worth more than Rs. 55,000 [US$1,375] whereas two-thirds of the scheduled caste households are landless and approximately one-fifth hold land with a total value of less than Rs. 5,000 [US$125].66
There is little organized official effort to bridge the class gap. Administrations that have governed the state since independence have not even succeeded in completing any land surveys.67 In the districts of central Bihar, money-lending, bonded labor, sexual assaults on rural women, and abuse of the landless class by landowners have all contributed to violent clashes between various castes.68 Successive Bihari governments have failed to implement land reforms and guaranties of minimum wages for agricultural laborers; as a result, disparities in wealth between landless Dalit laborers and their landed upper-caste and middle-caste counterparts have increased.69 The disparity and increasing economic exploitation have given rise to numerous militant leftist groups who have increased their membership, their political clout, and their weaponry since the 1970s. The central Bhojpur district of Bihar has long been a stronghold of these so-called Naxalite groups that operate under various political banners. The increase in Naxalite activities has also ushered in a rise in the number of private upper-caste militias, including the Ranvir Sena, that have been responsible for killing hundreds of Dalit laborers between 1995 and 1998. In these areas of Bihar, a class struggle has escalated into an armed caste conflict.
Following the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal in 1968 (see Chapter III), various Marxist-Leninist factions began calling for a militant peasant struggle against upper-caste domination in Bihar. An armed struggle in the countryside against semi-feudal interests, combined with area-wide seizures of land, were the groups primary tactics. Throughout their history, Naxalite groups have engaged in attacks on civilians and abuses that directly violate international humanitarian law. Critical of the parliamentary tendencies of the Indian Communist movement, especially the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Naxalites actively recruited Dalit and lower-caste peasants into their militant struggle. By 1998, Naxalite groups were operational in thirty-six out of fifty-four districts in Bihar.
The Naxalite groups are dominated by the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI(M-L)) Liberation.70 In 1977 CPI (M-L) Liberation moved away from an emphasis on annihilation of individual class enemies to an attempt at organizing mass peasant movements through Kisan Sabha (peasants organizations). In 1982 the group decided to enter parliamentary politics under the banner of the Indian Peoples Front (IPF). Though IPF won one parliamentary seat in 1989, and sent seven members in 1989 and six members in 1995 to the Bihar state assembly, its overall electoral success has since declined.71
While CPI(M-L) Liberation has pursued a parliamentary path, Party Unity and the Maoist Communist Centre have spearheaded a militant grassroots movement, that, in turn, has been targeted by Ranvir Sena attacks. Both the MCC and Party Unity are banned underground movements.72 The MCC was responsible for the killing of at least fifty-four upper-caste Rajput community members in Dalelchak Baghaura in May 1987. The incident was the worst massacre in the state until the Ranvir Sena killing of sixty-one Dalits in Laxmanpur-Bathe on December 1, 1997.73 MCC was also responsible for slitting the throats of forty-four upper-caste farmers in Bara village on February 12, 1992. Thirty-six died on the spot, and one died in the hospital. The killings were reportedly in retaliation for themurders of ten MCC supporters by the Savarna Liberation Front, an upper-caste Bhumihar militia, two months earlier.74 MCC has also targeted police officers, who find themselves ill-equipped to respond.75 According to press reports, 295 people were killed in Naxalite violence in 1995, 436 in 1996, and 424 in 1997. Not all clashes involve police: many of these deaths were attributed to interfactional fighting between Party Unity and MCC.76
On August 11, 1998, CPI(M-L) Party Unity merged with CPI (M-L) Peoples War, popularly known as the Peoples War Group (PWG). The merger was the culmination of five years of negotiations between the two underground movements. The unified party retained the name CPI(M-L) Peoples War. Ever since its founding in 1980, PWG has attempted to unify all Marxist-Leninist groups under its umbrella. Strongest in the southern and central states, its merger with Party Unity gave it a foothold in the north. Like MCC and Party Unity, PWG has advocated the use of violence against the upper castes in organizing Dalits to achieve land reform.77 Firearms used by Naxalites are often looted or bought from corrupt police.78 As is typical of guerrilla organizations, Naxalites recruit membersfrom villages where they operate and draw on the support of the local population. It does not follow, however, that all villagers in a Naxalite stronghold are members of the organization, though they may have relatives or neighbors who do belong.
Starting in the late 1960s, various upper-caste senas began to emerge in Bihar with the reported aim of containing Naxalite groups and protecting land belonging to upper castes. A look at their history reveals their political patronage. In 1969 the upper-caste Rajputs formed a militia named the Kuer Sena.79 In 1979 the Kunwar Sena of Rajputs was formed; it disintegrated in 1986. The Sunlight Sena, also dominated by Rajputs, came into being in 1988. One of its founders was a former governor of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Brahmarshi Sena, which represented Bhumihars before the creation of the Ranvir Sena, was launched at a conference in Patna, Bihars capital, in 1981. The Samajwadi Krantikari Sena, formed of Rajputs, was founded by a member of the state legislative assembly. The Bhumihar-dominated Savarna Liberation Front came into existence in 1990. Also known as the Diamond Sena, the militia was responsible for many massacres. On September 27, 1991, the sena beheaded seven Dalit and tribal laborers in Sawanbigha village in Jehanabad district. Soon thereafter, strongmen hired by landlords of Teendiha village in Gaya district beheaded nine laborers for their refusal to work as farm-hands for paltry wages.80
Like the upper castes, backward-caste landlords have cultivated private militias for protection. The Bhoomi Sena was formed by backward-caste Kurmis. Its founder was a former state minister and Janata Dal (Peoples Party) leader. The Lorik Sena was formed by the Yadav landlords of Jehanabad district,81 while the Kisan Sangh is a militia of middle-caste landlords.82
The Ranvir Sena was founded by upper-caste Bhumihars in Belaur village, Bhojpur district, in 1994.83 It first made international headlines in July 1996 with its attack on Bathani Tola in Bhojpur district, Bihar, which left nineteen Dalits and Muslims, mostly women and children, dead. Sixty members of the sena reportedly descended on the village and set twelve houses on fire. Using lathis,84 swords, and firearms, the attackers continued the onslaught for two and a half hours. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for the earlier killing of nine Bhumihars in Nadhi village, also in Bhojpur district, by the CPI(M-L).85 The conflict began when CPI(M-L) began organizing the agricultural laborers to demand the statutory daily minimum wage of Rs. 30.75 (US$0.77). Landowners were only willing to pay Rs. 20 (US$0.50). CPI(M-L) members convinced laborers to refuse employment at that wage and called for an economic blockade against landowners. The attack on Bathani Tola, press reports claim, was an effort to weaken the resolve of CPI(M-L) cadres organizing in the village and to prevent a labor boycott on hundreds of acres of land.86 None of the Ranvir Sena leaders were ever arrested for the Bathani Tola massacre.87
Since its inception, the Ranvir Sena has been implicated in killings, rapes and lootings in the villages of Belaur, Ekwari, Chandi, Nanaur, Narhi, Sarathau, Haibaspur, Laxmanpur-Bathe, Shankarbigha, and Narayanpur. On April 22, 1996, the sena gunned down five members of a marriage party in Nanaur village. The victims were believed to be CPI(M-L) supporters.88 In 1997 the sena killed three Dalits in Jehanabad district for raising their voice against the rape of a Dalit girl by upper-caste youths.89
Human Rights Watch spoke to members of the Ranvir Sena about the organizations structure and ideology. Landowner Madan Singh of Ekwari village in Bhojpur district explained that sena membership was divided by districts and that all districts had a commander and at least 500 landowners ready to take uparms. He confirmed that although Patna was the center, the sena was also present in Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Bhojpur, Rotas, Gaya, Bahuwan, and Baxar districts. As of 1998 sena members had also established a presence in Bhagalpur and Muzafarrpur.90 Bhojpur, Patna and Jehanabad, also Naxalite-affected areas, have been centers of violence in the last several years.91 According to Singh:
Since 1970 there have been problems. It has been difficult for farmers. We cannot even get out of our house. They steal our crops and call strikes. We are farmers. Thats how we earn. They destroy that. Its like kicking us in the stomach. We have to save ourselves and our crops. We need protection from Marxist/Leninists. After we got together, we began to give them an appropriate response, a jaw-breaking response. For all of Bhojpur district, we chose our men and from that year on, we have been battling with CPI(M-L). Those who have land are with us, and those who do not are with them.92
Upper- and lower-caste villagers in Ekwari claimed that Singh was on the CPI(M-L) hit-list. Another member of the sena, Arvind Singh, claimed that the CPI(M-L) had resolved to kill one rich landlord in each village: They kill us and take our crops. To protect ourselves we started the Ranvir Sena.93 According to members of Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti (Bihar Dalit Development Organization, BDVS), a grassroots group active in the region for over ten years, the Ranvir Sena even has a program of life insurance: Their families get paid Rs. 100,000 (US$2,500) if they get killed in a massacre, in the line of duty.94 Reportedly, the Ranvir Sena has sophisticated arms, including semi-automatics bought with money raised through donation drives.95
Confrontations over Land
Dissatisfied with the pace of reforms, or the lack thereof, the underground armed movement of CPI(M-L) first launched a land grab movement in the early 1970s. Under the protection of CPI(M-L), sharecroppers began harvesting crops on upper-caste land in Bihars central districts as Naxalite cadres burned grain storages and imposed economic blockades on hundreds of acres of land that landlords were forcibly kept from cultivating. Blockades were often accompanied by labor strikes. The Ranvir Sena, and other senas before it, emerged to curb the movement and to quash its economic blockade.96
Wages in these areas have ranged from two kilograms of rice to Rs. 25 a day (US$0.63). Women have consistently been paid less. The Minimum Wages Act, legislated as early as 1948, and revised many times thereafter, now prescribes a daily wage of Rs. 32 (US$0.80), but Dalit demands for minimum wages have resulted in a violent backlash from landlords and their caste-based armies. According to government figures for 1995 and 1996, 84.9 percent of landowners in the state are marginal farmers owning less than five hectares each.97 With landholding ranging between five and twenty bighas (3.1 to 12.4 acres),98 even the slightest increase in wages paid to laborers would eat into the farmers minimal profits.99
A representative from the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), a well-respected national human rights organization that has previously documented abuses by security forces, was a member of a fact-finding team that visited Bihar to investigate police raids on Dalit villages in the aftermath of massacres in 1997. He explained the relevance of land to the conflict:
There are many fallow lands in these districts: at least thirty to forty acres in each village. With the Ranvir Sena in place, the land comes under the cultivation of landowners. Other villages have [Dalit] cooperatives, villages where the CPI(M-L) is stronger. The money from the cooperatives goes to lawyers who are fighting cases filed by the police against them [Dalits]. Their major aim is revolution... Even marginal upper-caste farmers employ Dalits to push the wages down. The agricultural laborers are largely Dalits, so the upper castes are united in this way... Dalits dont live in the same settlements. The Mushahars, who are the lowest of the Dalits in these areas, are always segregated. They are also the poorest and the strength of these movements. They are the ones targeted in police raids and massacres when they are unorganized and unprotected by CPI(M-L). Their belongings are small, so it is easy to destroy their livelihood and take them to a stage of destitution.100
Between April 1995 and July 11, 1996, the date of the Bathani Tola massacre, forty-six people were killed on both sides in battles between the Ranvir Sena and CPI(M-L) in Bhojpur district.101 According to press reports, over 400 people, many of them civilians, were killed in conflict between the two organizations in 1997.102 Although the number of fatalities on both sides is high, the states treatment of the two camps differs significantly, as described below.
The raping of women is a common tactic employed by members of the Ranvir Sena and other caste militias to spread terror in lower-caste communities.103 In 1992 over one hundred Dalit women in the Gaya district of Bihar were reportedly raped by the Savarna Liberation Front.104 Pregnant women and children have also been killed. When members of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights asked the Ranvir Sena why they were killing children, they replied, Because they will grow up to become Naxalites. We kill women because they will give birth to Naxalites.105 The sena has also been known to loot many of the houses they raid.
Ranvir Sena Massacres and State Complicity
The extent of political patronage extended to the Ranvir Sena can be gauged by the fact that while a large number of Naxalites are killed in encounters [with police] not a single Ranvir Sena man has been subjected to this fate. The administration awakes a little later when it comes to tackl[ing] these armies. The outfit [Ranvir Sena] had declared a few days before the Jehanabad [Bathe] carnage that it would soon make a national and international headline.
The Pioneer, December 12, 1997.106
In the districts of central Bihar, over 300 people were killed between 1995 and October 1997 in large-scale massacres committed by the Ranvir Sena.107 Three massacres since October 1997 have increased number of deaths to over 400. Human rights activists add that many have also been killed in smaller confrontations. Extrajudicial executions of Naxalites, coupled with evidence of police collusion with the Ranvir Sena, as documented below, have led to charges that the sena is being backed by the state administration and non-left political parties to check the growing Naxalite movement.108 Soon after a January 1999 sena massacre in Shankarbigha village, Jehanabad district, a senior police official was quoted as saying, The administration would be happy if they kill the real extremists among the Naxalites, but they are killing soft targets like women and children and attacking villages of Dalits and weaker sections, which are unprotected.109
Like other senas before it, the Ranvir Sena enjoys considerable political patronage. The sena is said to be dominated by politicians from various parties, including Congress, the Janata Dal, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in 1998 led Indias coalition central government.110 In turn, the BJP has enjoyed Bhumihar support in local elections, as described below.111 Notorious Ranvir Senaleader Bharmeshwar Singh is also a known BJP activist.112 While Bihars former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, a member of a powerful backward caste, has accused the BJP of backing the sena, he himself has been blamed for only going after Naxalites, despite vows to disarm caste armies.113 Moreover, state agents at the village and district level are dominated by upper-caste members who often operate as functionaries of mainstream political parties [and] are either active with or sympathize with the Ranbir Sena.114
According to press reports, in districts across central Bihar, and particularly in Bhojpur district,
the police force has traditionally been dominated by Bhumihars and Rajputs. Since the implementation of the Mandal reservations,115 the OBCs too have been represented, but these are primarily Yadavs and Kurmis who also happen to be the new landowners in the districts. Caste as a factor in the police and administration is relevant in Bhojpur more than anywhere else in Bihar.116
The reported nexus between sena members and official paramilitary forces has also come under scrutiny:
According to the officials, the Sena goons received arms training from some former CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel.117 Bhojpur [district] has a tradition of sending its young to the Army and paramilitary forces. While on leave, the paramilitary personnel equip the Sena goons with the latest tactics, keeping them constantly ahead of the Naxalites.118
The licensing of guns for sena members came under attack in a report by the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights:
According to Home Ministry reports, the Ranbir Sena possesses 4,000 guns, both with and without licences. Until they actually fire their weapons, a group of Ranbir Sena members could be merely a group of landlords carrying legal arms. On the other hand, guns carried by labourers and poor peasants are likely to be unlicenced... The SSP [senior superintendent of police] gave an interesting explanation for not trying to withdraw licences from weapon-wielding members of the Ranbir Senathat in the present state of agrarian conflict, the state could not protect all the bhumihars. Hence they had to be allowed to have guns for their own security and to safeguard their properties. When asked whether likewise the state was in a position to defend all dalits who did not possess weapons, he maintained a telling silence.119
Bihar is also notorious for instances of booth-capturing at election time; the practice of forcibly entering voting booths and stealing or rigging ballots.120 Political candidates ensure their majority vote with the help of senas, whose members kill if necessary. This phenomenon has been covered widely by the pressand by human rights groups.121 The Ranvir Sena was responsible for killing more than fifty people during Bihars 1995 state election campaign.122 A 1998 article noted the use of senas in Ara district, Bihar, during the February 1998 national parliamentary elections: It is a measure of the chicanery and double-standards of most Ara politicians that when the opportunity arises, they do not hesitate in using the sena, though their public posture against the private army is holier than thou.123
The impunity with which Ranvir Sena leaders carry out their attacksat election time and other timesprovides further evidence of government support. The police record speaks for itself. None of the Ranvir Sena leaders have been prosecuted for the murder of nineteen Dalits and Muslims in Bathani Tola in 1996 and the murder of eleven in Haibaspur in 1997. In Ekwari village in April 1997, police pried open the doors of lower-caste homes and watched as sena members killed eight residents. No sena member was prosecuted. The officers were subsequently suspended, then transferred, but they, too, escaped prosecution. A December 1997 massacre in Laxmanpur-Bathe left at least sixty-one Dalits dead. According to survivors in the village, the attackers identified by eyewitnesses were never arrested. Villagers also received threats of a future attack and felt unprotected despite the presence of a police camp in the village. In January and February 1999, the Ranvir Sena killed over thirty people within seventeen days in Shankarbigha and Narayanpur villages. Sena members had announced the attack in local papers two weeks ahead of time. The state did nothing to stop them. According to an article in The Statesman, a Delhi-based daily, sena members were aided by the police in entering Narayanpur village.124
State intervention often comes to a halt after the distribution of paltry compensation packages and the posting of police camps in massacre-affected villages. Human Rights Watch investigations, and the investigations of a nationalten-member civil rights team, found that in most villages police camps were located in the upper-caste areas, effectively inaccessible to Dalits and other lower-caste villagers.
Sena members who have been arrested have quickly been released on bail; none have been convicted.125 By contrast, some Naxalites who have been prosecuted have been awarded death sentences.126 Not only does the state treat the crimes of the two groups differently, but police and local officials openly tolerate the senas. On August 8, 1995, a little over two weeks after the killing of six Dalits in Sarathua village, the state government announced its decision to ban the Ranvir Sena.127 Sena members continued to hold meetings and conventions to openly outline their strategy and response to Naxalite attacks. Several leaders wanted by the police were present during one such meeting held on October 8, 1997, in Belaur village, Bhojpur district. The local administration was reportedly fully aware of the meeting and its participants but did nothing to disarm the group or arrest the wanted men.128 Six massacres, and police complicity in the attacks, are described in detail below.
Shankarbigha and Narayanpur
On the evening of January 25, 1999, at least twenty-two Dalit men, women and children were killed in the village of Shankarbigha, Jehanabad district, by members of the Ranvir Sena. The massacre was the fifth of its kind since July 1996 in which Dalit and lower-caste men, women and children were killed by the sena for their suspected allegiance to CPI(M-L) or MCC. According to pressreports, members of the Ranvir Sena entered eight thatched huts in the village during the night and fired indiscriminately on the occupants. Many of the victims, including several children, were shot in the head and stomach at point-blank range. Police suspected that the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of two sena activists the week before by MCC members. According to Jehanabad District Magistrate P. Amrit, the killers shouted Ranvir Sena slogans throughout the attacks. The village is only ten kilometers away from Laxmanpur-Bathe, the site of the December 1997 sena massacre.129 Ranvir Sena supporters told Times of India that the sena had planned to kill almost all the Dalits in the village, close to seventy people, but were unable to complete their task.
The police ignored early warnings that a massacre was likely. On January 8, 1999, a little over two weeks before the attack, Ranvir Sena leader Bharmeshwar Singh admitted in an interview to a local daily that the sena was planning an attack in Jehanabad district, with renewed vigour [and] in a very calculat[ed] manner.130 Singh also admitted that the sena had already chosen its target and was simply waiting for the right time to strike.131 According the CPI(M-L) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, his group made a written submission to the local administration providing a list of villages deemed vulnerable to sena attacks. A list of already-accused sena members was also included.132
The National Human Rights Commission, a statutory body set up pursuant to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, has asked the state government to investigate the massacre and prevent a recurrence of such incidents.133 Twenty-four people were arrested in late January 1999 in connection to the massacre, all of whom belong to the Bhumihar caste.134 Activists are pessimistic, however, that any will be prosecuted.135
A little over two weeks after the Shankarbigha massacre, on the night of February 10, 1999, the sena attacked neighboring Narayanpur village. Sena members killed twelve and injured seven. According to press reports, over onehundred heavily armed sena members descended on the village during the night and forced their way into homes, shooting at will. The attack, which began at 9:00 p.m., lasted for one hour. The police did not arrive until 8:00 a.m. the following morning.136 Bihar Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari stated that a lack of vigil and alertness [had] led to a repeat of yet another strike by the Ranvir Sena.137
In a press release issued soon after the incident, the Ranvir Sena claimed responsibility for both massacres. Shamsher Bahadur Singh, leader and spokesman for the sena, stated that sena members were forced to take up arms to save the honour, dignity, and life and property of the innocent farmers. The killings were meant as retaliation for the deaths of farmers at the hands of Naxalites over the past thirty years. The press release added:
Our fight will continue till the extremists as well as the government lift the illegal economic blockade and release confiscated land, other properties, arms and ammunition, etc. of innocent farmers... Our main targets of future attacks will be Khakaria village in Jehanabad district, Akbarpur village under the Paliganj police station in Patna district and those villages where Naxal activists have let loose a reign of terror and become centres of extremists.138
On February 12, 1999, the Indian president dismissed the state government and imposed federal rule in Bihar, citing as the reason a breakdown of law and order and constitutional machinery. The following day, paramilitary forces numbering in the thousands were dispatched to the state. Two days later, on February 14, CPI(M-L) Liberation members reportedly gunned down seven people, including four upper-caste Bhumihars who were said to be Ranvir Sena supporters, at Usri Bazaar, Jehanabad district. The police alleged that the attack was in retaliation for the killings in Shankarbigha and Narayanpur.139 In early March 1999, the central government reversed its decision to impose presidents rule. As of this writing, Bihars state government, with Rabri Devi as the chief minister, had been reinstated. Sena leaders Bharmeshwar Singh and Shamsher Bahadur Singh had yet to be arrested.
On the evening of December 1, 1997, armed sena activists crossed the Sone river into the village of Laxmanpur-Bathe where 180 families lived. They raided fourteen Dalit homes and killed a total of sixty-one people: sixteen children, twenty-seven women, and eighteen men. In some families, three generations were killed. Twenty people were also seriously injured. As most of the men fled the village when the attack began, women and children numbered high among the fatalities. During the attack, at least five girls around fifteen years of age were raped and mutilated before being shot in the chest by members of the Ranvir Sena. Most of the victims allegedly belonged to families of Party Unity supporters; the group had been demanding more equitable land distribution in the area.
The village of Laxmanpur-Bathe has no electricity and is virtually inaccessible by road. In crossing the Sone river to reach the village, sena members reportedly also killed five members of the Mallah (fisherman) community and murdered the three Mallah boatmen who had ferried them across the river on their way back.140 According to newspaper reports, the main reason for the attack was that the Bhumihars wanted to seize fifty acres of land that had been earmarked for distribution among the landless laborers of the village. A group of peasants, reportedly affiliated with Naxalite activity, was ready to take up arms against them.141 Authorities apparently knew of the tensions but had not cared to intervene in the land dispute and nip the trouble in the bud and instead allowed things to come to a head.142 Following widespread publicity about the massacre, Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi suspended the Jehanabad district superintendent of police and replaced several senior officers.143
Human Rights Watch visited the village on February 25, 1998. According to villagers who survived the attack, close to one hundred members of the Ranvir Sena arrived en masse and entered the front houses of the village: Their strategy was to do everything simultaneously so that no one could be forewarned.144 Human Rights Watch visited a house in which seven family members were killed. Only the father and one son survived. Vinod Paswan, the son, described the attack:
Fifteen men surrounded the house, and five came in. My sister hid me behind the grain storage. They broke the door down. My sisters, brothers, and mother were killed... The men didnt say anything. They just started shooting. They yelled, Long live Ranvir Sena, as they were leaving.145
At the time of the attack, the father, Ramchela Paswan, was away in the fields. When he returned, he found seven of his family members shot in his house: I started beating my chest and screaming that no one is left. No one has been saved from my family. Then my son came out saying he that he had not been killed.146
Human Rights Watch also interviewed seven female residents of the village, many of whom witnessed the rape, mutilation and murder of five girls. Thirty-two-year-old Surajmani Devi recounted what she saw:
Everyone was shot in the chest. I also saw that the panties were torn. One girl was Prabha. She was fifteen years old. She was supposed to go to her husbands house two to three days later. They also cut her breast and shot her in the chest. Another was Manmatiya, also fifteen. They raped her and cut off her breast. The girls were all naked, and their panties were ripped. They also shot them in the vagina. There were five girls in all. All five were raped. All were fifteen or younger. All their breasts were cut off.147
Twenty-five-year-old Mahurti Devi was shot in the stomach but survived her injuries after extensive surgery. She had returned home after a dispute with her husband and was living in her mothers house. She recalled:
They broke in and tried to open our box of valuables. They couldnt so they took my chain and earrings off my body. There were ten to twelve of them in the house. They didnt wear any masks. I said I had nothing. They said open everything. My mother was shot, and she fell down. They flashed a torch on my face. Then they shot me, and I fell down.The police took me to the hospital. After a three-day operation I came to, and the police took a report from me. Some people have been arrested, others are still free. They looted all the houses.148
At the time of the massacre, Jasudevi was at her husbands home in another village. She arrived in Bathe the morning after the attack to find her two sisters-in-law and her fifteen-year-old niece shot to death. My niece was supposed to go to her husbands house the same day. She was expecting a child. When I found her it looked like she was trying to run away when she was shot.149 Seven-year-old Mahesh Kumar was being held by his mother when she was shot. She fell forward and protected his body with her own. She then died.150
Local police had been aware of the possibility of violence long before the Bathe massacre. On November 25, 1997, sena leaders openly held a strategy meeting seven kilometers away from Bathe. Sena leader Shamsher Bahadur Singh had also been touring the area in the months before the massacre openly seeking donations from supporters. Police officers claimed to be aware of these meetings but dismissed them as routinemissing yet another opportunity to intervene and preempt a sena attack. One officer was quoted as saying, "It's like crying wolf. The Communist Party of India (M-L) keeps sending us complaint letters every week, we cant take action every time.151
According to members of Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti, a grassroots organization, the events that unfolded in Bathe were more complex than a random attack on a Dalit hamlet:
CPI was organizing in Bathe because the residents were so poor and exploited, they couldnt even feed themselves after a full days work. When they asked for more wages, they were beaten down even more. Some CPI(M-L) and Party Unity people had a split.152 A few people leftthem and gave information about party activities to landlords. The landlords contacted Ranvir Sena in Bhojpur, saying that they needed help controlling them. The Ranvir Sena came out at 4:00 p.m. They ate and drank liquor with the landlords and attacked at 9:00 p.m. They had a list of whom to attack but got drunk and killed anyone and everyone.153
The activists also claimed that the purpose of Bathe was to teach others not to rebel or raise a voice. In so doing women became vulnerable and were sexually assaulted
They raped women and cut off their breasts. A woman whose pregnancy was nearly complete was shot in the stomach. They said that otherwise the child will grow up to be a rebel.154
Life for most in the village has been disrupted. At the time of the Human Rights Watch visit, children were unable to go to school because a makeshift police camp had been located on school grounds. None of the adults were working. Villagers complained, There is no work, all has stopped. Since they [Bhumihars] are the landed families, our people dont get to work in their fields.155
Since the massacre, police protection in Bathe has remained grossly inadequate. The Bihar government announced soon after the Bathe killings that police would be deployed in the area to set up camp and maintain law and order. However, when parliamentary elections were later announced, the police force was directed to control election-related violence. Despite their dual assignment of controlling the Ranvir Sena and watching the polls, the police seemed more intent on conducting raids on Dalit villages in the name of controlling extremism and seeking out Naxalite cadres than on protecting Dalit villagers. According to a member of BDVS, Bathe protection is near the poor but it only benefits the rich. Police always go to the landlords houses... All their needs are taken care of byupper castes. If someone calls a meeting they wont come. They say we dont have time. They just do flag marches.156
At the time Human Rights Watch visited the village, the Dalit residents of Bathe feared another attack:
Fifteen to twenty days ago we received a message that they will sprinkle petrol on the houses of villages and set them on firethe houses of those that didnt get killed the first time around. We told the police. They said we are here so nothing will happen, but the police are protecting them. They are stationed in the Ranvir Sena tola [hamlet]. Police are helping the Ranvir Sena. The accused are moving around freely. So we feel that the culprits are being protected.157
Human Rights Watch also spoke to police officers stationed in the village school. Officer In-Charge Amay Kumar Singh informed us that a total of twenty-six police officers were present in the village. He claimed that the police arrived soon after the massacre. According to Singh, twenty-five of the twenty-six perpetrators identified by villagers had been arrested but at the time of the interview (two months after the events) had not been formally charged. He claimed that the police were providing security for all villagers and that new threats had not been reported to them.
Like many officers, Singh claimed that police response to attacks is hindered by insufficient funding, infrastructure, and equipment for village-based police camps. These arguments fail, however, when one notes the frequency of police search and raid operations on remote Dalit villages. Though Singh believed that his officers had enough guns to provide security, and were able to communicate quickly with the area police station, he claimed that more men and more facilities were needed and that the roads to the village were in very poor condition. Road construction had begun soon after the massacre but came to a halt when VIPs stopped visiting the area. We have no car. Look at our conditions. We are sleeping on the ground, Singh complained.158 Deputy General of Police Saxenaalso reported that the local police station was poorly equipped and there was not enough personnel. Thats why we couldnt prevent this, he said.159
On January 9, 1998, nine people suspected to be supporters of the Ranvir Sena were killed by CPI(M-L) activists in Chouram village, forty-five kilometers from Jehanabad. The killings were reportedly in retaliation for the Bathe massacre. The attackers opened fire indiscriminately on the victims as they were returning home from a funeral.160 Several Dalits in the Bathe area were subsequently taken into custody by the police. Bathe villagers claim that the sena members were actually killed by Marxist-Leninist party members who were not from their village: Police have been harassing Dalits for fifteen kilometers around this village. No one cares about the sixty-one people who died here. Everyone cares about those nine. The Ranvir Sena says that they will take ninety for those nine killed.161
Despite the arrests immediately after the massacre, as of February 1999 none of the sena members responsible for the Bathe attack had been prosecuted.
On the morning of April 10, 1997, members of the Ranvir Sena gunned down eight residents of Ekwari village in Bhojpur district in an operation that lasted two hours. Police officers stationed nearby forced open the villagers houses and then stood by and watched as the massacre took place. Seven of the eight killed belonged to the lower-caste Lohars, Chamars, Dhobis and Kahars. The village is known to many as the birthplace of CPI(M-L) in the 1970s. The head of the lower-caste hamlet in the village described the incident to Human Rights Watch:
They were killed by the Ranvir Sena. We recognize them. The police were with them. They werent shooting. They searched the houses. Then they left and Ranvir Sena came in and shot everyone. The police were still there. They were from the new police camp, not from outside. They sent more after the massacre. The sena killed to get more notoriety.162
An article in The Telegraph, a Calcutta-based daily, reported that the attackers raped two women before killing them: a fifteen-year-old girl and a woman who was eight months pregnant. A ten-year-old boy was shot in the head.
The partisan role of the police could not have been clearer. While policemen pried open doors of houses, the Ranbir Sena activists followed them in and mowed the people down. Sunaina Devi, an eyewitness to the murder of her father-in-law and sister-in-law, said that when they refused to open their doors, the policemen broke them open and let the killers in Sagar Mahato said he saw the police running away and watching from a distance.163
The article also reported that the CPI(M-L) Politburo member and member of legislative assembly, Ram Naresh Ram, claimed that the murders were premeditated and that police were bribed by the landlords. A probable cause of the conflict, a villager added, was that many acres of land were lying fallow in the village due to a blockade imposed by the CPI(M-L).164
The Bombay-based Times of India reported that the fifteen-year-old was raped in the presence of her father. The pregnant woman was said to be the relative of Jai Kahar, a veteran CPI(M-L) activist and a suspect in the murder of a landlord in the area the previous year. An eyewitness recounted, Fifty people belonging to upper caste cordoned off the entire small tola and started searching for firearms. I know them by their names. They are the landlords of this region. Indrajeet Singh, Binod Singh, Pankaj Singh, Ajay Singh are the main culprits who killed eight people in this tola.165
Human Rights Watch visited the village of Ekwari in February 1998. A police camp had been established in upper-caste territory, an area inaccessible to Dalits who were afraid to cross the road dividing the two parts of the village. When Human Rights Watch asked the villagers to take us to the police camp they responded, We cant take you there. They are on Bhumihar land. No one is protecting us.166
An Ekwari village sub-inspector told Human Rights Watch that in his camp there were two sub-inspectors, one sub-inspector BMP (Bihar Military Police), and seventeen constables, making a total of twenty officers. A second camp located near the village fields had nineteen officers. The sub-inspector claimed that the police presence was sufficient to maintain law and order in the village. At the time of the massacre, he was on assignment at the police station eight kilometers away.
There was a fight between CPI(M-L) and the Ranvir Sena. One Ranvir Sena member was killed. Eight CPI(M-L) were killed some days later. They were not members of CPI(M-L) but were killed based on caste. They have been fighting for years. People are killed on both sides. All have been arrested and charged. Thirty-six were named; approximately thirty were from the Ranvir Sena. All are in jail. There is only one absconder. He escaped from jail. When a CPI(M-L) dies, its always the Ranvir Sena; when a Ranvir Sena dies it is always a CPI(M-L) who kills. We also caught the CPI(M-L) who killed the Ranvir Sena. We are here for now and most likely will stay for a while.167
In the aftermath of the killings, seven police officers were suspended. Another police camp officer claimed that the suspensions were a political move. Both sides are political, so whenever there are problems there is a lot of pressure on the state, the superintendent of police, the district magistrate. So in order to remove the pressure they suspend officers. The same officers come back on duty in a different police station.168 When asked to describe the current situation, the sub-inspector responded that it was peaceful and normal. Theres been so much violence here that even one murder every few months is considered peaceful. Labor is an ongoing problem. Its a very old problem. Whenever killings take place, there is a strike. But now work is ongoing.169
Residents of the Dalit and backward-caste hamlet agreed. They explained that work had started again, but there was a lot of fear and little protection. Although CPI(M-L) is active in the village, the lower-caste villagers claim that the Ranvir Sena is more powerful. They have rifles, semi-automatics, and guns. Weonly have sticks.170 The head of the lower-caste section of the village was also apprehensive about the police and had little faith in the protection they provided.
Police are here for law and order. They see whats going on, but they are allied with the Ranvir Sena. They get money and food from the forward castes so they favor the forward castes. The police dont care about the poor. We dont go to the police, nor any other state agencies. We asked for help from the Bhumihars to keep the killings low. They said they cannot control them even though the Bhumihar population belongs to the Ranvir Sena. We have no protection.171
According to the former deputy superintendent of police (DSP) for Bhojpur district, Bihar, the April 1997 attack was due to police negligence:
The police completely failed in giving protection. They went in one house, and the Ranvir Sena went into another. The guards did nothing to protect them. The Ranvir Sena killed everyone in the polices presence. By the time the station police came, the Ranvir Sena had run away.172
The former DSP went on to describe the situation of women and children.
There are 106 widows in Ekwari. At least fifty women have also been killed in the past several years. The Dalit men go to jail and get sentenced, while the Ranvir Sena has enough money to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Dalit women are made homeless, and the children cannot go to school because the family needs the money to fight the cases against the men. The Ranvir Sena cares only about high numbers. They also rape the women. The police send innocent people to jail. No one can surrender for fear of so-called police encounters. They do not get justice from the police. That is the main factor.173
Even the landlords of the village (members of the Ranvir Sena) complained that the police, under pressure to maintain law and order in their jurisdiction, have arrested indiscriminately on both sides.
First the police were with us, now they have left us. Since 1995 the police have really bothered us. In April, people were killed here. They killed one farmer and destroyed all crops. Seven CPI(M-L) were killed by Ranvir Sena for retaliation. The police just take care of the dead bodies. They dont really help. In response to the April massacre, the police destroyed a landowners house after arresting him. They also arrested thirty-nine people. All landowners were innocent. They were not part of the Ranvir Sena. The police were also involved in the Ranvir Sena massacre. Seven people were suspended. The police are not with anybody they are trying to scare people. They always capture the innocent, even when CPI(M-L) strike.174
As of February 1999, none of the sena members or police officers responsible for the killings in Ekwari had been prosecuted.
On March 23, 1997, ten landless laborers were killed in Haibaspur village in Patna district, Bihar, apparently for aligning themselves with the CPI(M-L) Party Unity. Before leaving the village, the Ranvir Sena inscribed its organizations name in blood on the rim of a dry well.175 Party Unity forces retaliated within a month by killing six Ranvir Sena supporters on April 21, 1997.176 According to BDVS activists, alcohol and the rape of Dalit women by the Bhumihar men played a role in the attack on the village:
The Dalits made alcohol, and Bhumihars drank it. When Bhumihars fought among themselves, they went to the Mushahars [Dalits], gave them drinks, and got them to take revenge on their enemies by taking their field crops and so on. But the Dalits were working for both sides so the Bhumihars killed them. They were double-crossing them. Theyonly gave them liquor to get them to do the work. Bhumihars give them money to make the liquor, then give some liquor to the Dalits to get them to do the work. Whoever makes alcohol also pays a commission to the police. When the Bhumihars came and drank, they also raped the Mushahar women. Mushahar men did not like it so they protested and were killed. The people killed were mostly innocent, but these are the two reasons it happened.177
According to an article in The Hindu, a Madras-based daily, although the police were informed immediately of the Haibaspur killings, they did not arrive on the scene until the following morning, after hearing that the chief minister was due to visit the site.178 When Human Rights Watch spoke to villagers in February 1998, they said they were still afraid of another massacre and had received threats from neighboring upper-caste landholders.179 Apart from the promise of small compensation packages, the state had done little to protect them.
In response to the Ranvir Sena attack on the Dalit hamlet of Bathani Tola in July 1996 (see above), then-Home Minister Indrajit Gupta expressed dissatisfaction with police protection in the affected region. Even though four police camps had been posted in the area, Gupta charged that they were, paralysed, impotent and did nothing.180 Residents of the village claimed that most of the main perpetrators were still roaming freely in their village, though the police claimed to have arrested all sixty men involved.181 A new police camp was soon set up near the site but was considered largely ineffective in checking threats from upper-caste landlords. They are at the beck and call of the landlords. Their food comes from the landlords houses. How can they render us justice? one villager asked.182
Despite signs of rising tensions in the area, police neglected to shift their picket (booth) to Bathani Tola.183 On July 26, 1996, the Bombay-based daily Indian Express reported that officials had received written notification of the possibility of an attack. In a letter dated July 4, 1996, to the district magistrate, the Bhojpur district committee of CPI(M-L) complained that the Ranvir Sena had renewed its campaign of terror in the villages and charged that the night before, a gang of the Ranbir Sena [had] been engaged in indiscriminate firing.184 The committee added that there was much tension and fear and urged the district magistrate to take strong action immediately.185 CPI(M-L) had also sent requests for protection on June 26, June 29, and July 2. According to press reports, Superintendent of Police S. N. Pradhan dismissed the letters as routine.186 The killings took place on July 11. During the attack itself, the police reportedly made no attempts to intervene despite being on duty a stones throw away from the scene.187 Soon after the incident the chief minister suspended police officers stationed in camps near the tola,188 but failed to prosecute them.
Government Compensation Packages
Instead of prosecuting accused sena members or taking action against colluding police officials, official action in cases of caste-based killings in Bihar has generally come to a halt after a few officers have been temporarily suspended and surviving family members have received the preliminary disbursements of their compensation money. The promised relief package has often included food rations, temporary manual labor jobs, and when the victims were Dalit and poor, an offer to build pucca (solid) houses. Solid houses are essential for instilling a sense of security for villagers whose flimsy mud huts are easier targets for police and sena raids. The government, however, has seldom followed through with promised relief packages.
In Shankarbigha, the government promised monetary compensation, a government job, and pucca housing to the victims dependents.189 Two and a half weeks later, in Narayanpur, the government promised Rs. 140,000 (US$3,500) toeach of the victims dependents.190 In Bathe, the Paswan family lost seven of its members. It received Rs. 100,000 for every family member killed from the Bihar and central government, for a total of Rs. 1,400,000 (US$35,000). The family used the interest from the money to construct a new house. Even though the entire village remained vulnerable to future attacks, pucca houses were only provided to the families of those that were killed.191 According to BDVS Director Dr. Jose Kananaikal, Over 2,000 people have visited in the two months following Bathe. But now nobody cares. The chief minister also said they would get land, but that never happened. They also promised a school and a road, but that didnt happen either.192
When the chief minister arrived at the Haibaspur massacre site, he promised a compensation package to the families of the victims but failed to disarm the sena members responsible for the killings.193 The government announced Rs. 120,000 (US$3,000) as compensation for each victim. It also assured work and food rations for three months and promised pucca houses for the entire Dalit hamlet. In February 1998, almost a year after the massacre, a civil rights fact-finding team reported that only Rs. 20,000 (US$500) had been paid, that no work or food rations had been provided, and that the houses had only been partially constructed. Moreover, police raids since the beginning of 1998 had destroyed the little construction that had taken place. Dalit residents were also unwilling to work in adjoining villages where they were earlier employed for fear of another orchestrated attack by their employers.194
The States Targeting of Naxalites
As noted above, although both the Naxalites and the private militias share the responsibility for increased violence and deaths in the state, the states response to the Naxalites has been markedly different. Police have frequently operated as agents of the landed upper castes, conducting raids on Dalit villages and disguising killings as encounters. According to a Peoples Union for Democratic Rights report, The administration bans both the Ranveer Sena and the CPI(M-L) Party Unity but in effect treats them differently. [T]he judiciary is [also] influenced bythe social and political background of the people concerned.195 PUDR members also believe that the government is under pressure to show that the killings will be stopped, but its actions have focused primarily on Naxalite activities.
Many are arrested under Criminal Procedure Code Section 107 for preventive detention. The Supreme Court has stated that the detention cannot be more than twenty-four hours, but in many cases it takes fifteen to thirty days to get a lawyer; sympathetic lawyers are already overburdened. The charges are bailable but they have no property, no surety. So they remain in jail for long periods of time They wont settle land disputes because land is in the hands of landlords. So they treat it as a law and order issue and arrest and raid instead.196
The pattern of extrajudicial executions by security forces in disturbed areas and by police forces in Naxalite-affected areas has been documented by international human rights organizations and Indian civil liberties groups.197 The police routinely claim that the killings occur in so-called encounters. The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, the largest civil rights organization in the country, has described the use of the term encounter killing as
a unique contribution of the police in India to the vocabulary of human rights... it represents in most cases the taking into custody of an individual or a group, torture and subsequent murder. The death generally occurs as a result of the brutal torture or stage-managed extermination in an appropriate area. An official press release thenelaborately outlines a confrontation, an encounter where the police claim to have fired in self-defence.198
Such tactics have long been used against suspected Naxalites. In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the Naxalite threat has been used to justify state violence against all forms of peasant resistance and against other critics of state policy. Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of systematic human rights violations that has formed part of the state governments counterinsurgency efforts. Since 1968, security forces have murdered hundreds of villagers, guerrilla group sympathizers, and suspected militants in the state. Human Rights Watch has also documented the degree to which security forces have colluded with powerful landlords to crush organized efforts by peasant movements to secure their rights to land and fair labor practices.199
These tactics have also been used in Bihar. On April 15, 1994, police reportedly killed eleven MCC members in an encounter in Gaya district, Bihar. According to a report by Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, since then, there has been a significant rise in the number of people killed in this manner.200 On December 27, 1997, an encounter took place in Kodihara village, Patna district.
At 5:30 a.m. that day, the police entered the village and caught hold of and beat people who were going out to work. There was a Naxalite squad in the village which noticed the arrival of the police and slipped away. The police fired at them but they escaped. Two of them hid in the fields nearby, but the police soon found them. The two of them handed over their weapons to the police and offered [to] surrender. But the police shot them dead in cold blood. This murder was seen by all the villagers assembled there.201
Villagers reported that after searching Kodihara, police moved on to Jhunauti. The raid on Jhunauti is described below.
Police have also repeatedly engaged in excessive use of force when dealing with Naxalites. On July 3, 1995, four Party Unity members were killed and eight arrested. The following month, the police fired into a crowd of 500 people gathered at a CPI(M-L) Liberation office in Begusurai town soon after they lathi-charged202 a peaceful protest on land reforms. Five people were killed, and one was seriously injured. Sixty-five people, including twenty-nine women, were arrested on charges of rioting and illegal assembly. Three people were additionally charged with murder and attempted murder. All those arrested were severely beaten in police custody. In this incident, as in the two described above, the police claimed to have fired in self-defense, while villagers and other eyewitnesses claimed that the firing was one-sided. Post mortems were conducted immediately, and the bodies were quickly disposed of, eliminating any possibility of independent autopsies for verification of the manner of death.203
Under the pretext of seeking out Naxalite militants police have conducted raids on Dalit villages and falsely arrested those accused of harboring Naxalites. In some cases, federal paramilitary forces have been deployed. Like the private militias, police have sexually assaulted women and attacked children who remained behind after the men fled the villages. Women have also been arrested and taken into custody in order to punish their families and force their male relatives to surrender. After the Ekwari village massacre of April 1997, police conducted search operations in neighboring lower-caste hamlets. Women were molested and beaten, and local residents alleged that police took Rs. 5,000 (US$125) from them.204 As noted in a PUDR report:
The loot of property and molestation of women by policemen in the course of [the post-Ekwari] search is a fairly common feature of routine police searches in poor settlements. So searches end up as punitive measures inflicted upon a section of the populace already targeted by the Ranbir Sena. Search operations in upper caste localities are not only rare but also very cursory.205
A ten-member team comprising members of seven civil liberties organizations visited sixteen villages in Patna and Jehanabad district, Bihar, in February 1998. Their mandate was to investigate reports of abuses committed by Bihar police deployed to protect Dalits in the aftermath of the 1997 massacres. The teams report described the raids:
In the course of the raids, the police routinely abuse women in the most vulgar and offensive language [T]here are no women police at all in the raid. It is the male police [who] enter the houses without consideration for the womans privacy. They abuse the women whose sons/husbands they are looking for. One frequent [accusation] is that the woman has sent her husband away so that she may sleep with the extremists. Women who are going to the fields in the early morning cold are forced to remove the chaddar [blanket] so that the police may see whether they are hiding any arms or ammunition underneath. These suspicions are only meant to insult and humiliate women.206
The report added:
The raids are frequent and create fear and terror among the poorer classes who are suspected of harbouring Naxalites. These raids are common in villages where the landless agricultural labourers organised by the various sangathans [meetings] of the CPI(M-L) organisations have fought for wage increases and occupation of gair mazarua [government] land. In some villages the raids are very frequent. Jhunauti [Jehanabad district, Bihar] was subjected to at least twenty raids in the last two months. In Andhrachak, Jehanabad district, Bihar, there is one raid every week. Sevanan, Jehanabad district, Bihar, is subjected to at least two raids a week.207
Raid in Andhrachak
Residents of Andhrachak spoke to Human Rights Watch representatives about a raid on their village on February 10, 1998. Some 300 police officers, includingmembers of the Special Reserve Police Force,208 surrounded fifty homes and arrested six people, all of whom were still in jail at the time of the interview on February 26, 1998. Ranjeet, a twenty-eight-year-old agricultural laborer, witnessed the arrest of his brother, father and cousin.
The first time they came at 4:30 p.m., they didnt take anyone. They came into all the houses. They took my friends torches, his tobacco box and Rs. 500 out of the money box. They ransacked all the rooms and broke the pots and doors. We ran because we were afraid of being beaten They also beat my brothers wife with the butt of their gun. They hit her on her backside; she had to seek treatment. The second time they came it was 4:00 a.m. The people they arrested were also beaten with sticks. They were charged under Criminal Procedure Code 107 [preventive detention].209 I went to jail to get them released. They said they would only give bail after [national parliamentary] elections. They say it is Rs. 1,000 (US$25) for bail. We will have to get a loan or a bond.210
The police told villagers upon arriving that they came in search of guns and that they suspected Naxalite activity in the area. But as sixty-year-old Sona Devi explained, Where are we going to get guns from? We dont even have money for food, clothes or a home. Devi complained that the police never went to the landlords houses: They are the ones that have guns. She claimed that the Ranvir Sena was operational in Kayal, an adjacent village where Dalits laborers worked. The Kayal people call the sena in to scare us and threaten us. We are afraid of them. They will kill us. They have already killed two Dalits in the field before
The Kayal village people tell police we are Naxalites, but no one goes and sees their Ranvir Sena activities.211
Devi also reported that nine to ten days before the police raid, Bhumihar men came to the village to threaten its residents. They said if you touch us, harm us, or dont work in the fields, then we will send the Ranvir Sena to set fire to the villages and kill everyone. The villagers did not go to the police, explaining that they are afraid of them also, they [the sena and the police] are all together.212 Other women in the village claimed that members of the Sena had misbehaved with them. They come in the night and beat the men and rape the women. It has happened many times. They beat the women too and rip their clothes off. The police dont do anything.213
Raid in Jhunauti
The village of Jhunauti in Jehanabad district, Bihar, has over 190 Dalit households. Over one hundred Bhumihar families live adjacent to them in the same village. Since 1997, police have raided the village more than five times. A fifty-five-year-old Dalit agricultural laborer in the village described the raids to Human Rights Watch:
The raids take place mostly at night. Once it happened during the day. Two times they took people away; once they misbehaved with women; usually they break everything and take our chickens. In December 1997 they came at 7:30 p.m., there were thirty-five to forty police. That is when they misbehaved with the women and broke everything. Everyone runs away when they come.214
The village school teacher, who was present during the December 1997 raid, explained the reason for it:
There is no Ranvir Sena in Jhunauti, but the police harass us. They found a gun at one laborer's house so they bothered all of us. In January 1998 they also went to Bhumihars for a raid. During the Kodiharaencounter,215 CPI(M-L) party people were killed. So they came here for a raid and then to the Bhumihars. In December during the bad episode [Bathe] they only came here CPI(M-L)) stole a rifle from a landlord, which is what started the raid. But the party does not live here.216
The school teacher also asked the police why they were searching the village. They told him they were looking for rifles, guns, and Naxalites and proceeded to enter his house.
I said, Why are you arresting me? They said, After we search the whole village we will leave you. They caught ten to twelve men. They were all eighteen to forty-five years in age. They asked one woman to name them all. She knew their names so she told them. They arrested five men, the younger ones. They said they were Naxalites. My son was one of them. He is twenty years old.217
His son was taken to jail with the others. They were then brought to Jehanabad court and charged under Indian Penal Code, Section 395, a dacoity charge which carries a maximum life sentence. Dacoity is defined under Section 391 as robbery committed by five or more persons. Thirty-eight days later, the court was asked for a bail order. The families had to pay Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 (US$25 to $125) each and were forced to sell their chickens and belongings and to ask for contributions from the village. Most villagers earn only one and a half to two kilograms of rice per day as agricultural laborers. At the time of the interview, the dacoity case against them was still pending.
One woman was on her way to a neighbors house when she was grabbed by a police officer. Do you keep Naxalites in your house? they asked her. I cursed at them. I called them motherfuckers, and they removed my sari. I ran back home.218 Forty-five-year-old Athi Basmatra Devi had Rs. 150 taken from her home, and twenty-year-old Kunti Kumari saw her husband being dragged away by the police. He was in jail for thirty-eight days, she said. He was innocent.219
Many villagers had left their homes out of fear of another raid. Most other villagers had little to say to the fact-finding team as they feared a backlash from the police. One resident explained, The police harm us so much, that is why they are not talking to you. They beat down the innocent and we can never ask why. They say we are Naxalites. They are only after the Dalits. They do not to this with Bhumihars.220
Extortion and looting
Police throughout India engage in extortion, motivated in part by their need to pay off debts incurred for securing their positions through bribesa cycle that has been documented both by Indian civil rights organizations and by the governments National Police Commission reports.221 In 1996 it was reported that police inspectors in Bihar were made to pay a bribe of Rs. 100,000 (US$2,500) before being recruited.222 It is not anomalous, therefore, that raids by the police in the aftermath of massacres have often been accompanied by looting and extortion. According to the ten-member teams report, on January 6, 1998, police raided the village of Makarpur in Jehanabad district, Bihar. The villagers mistook the police for the Ranvir Sena and began to run. Seven young men were arrested and, after three days of illegal detention, were released after paying a Rs. 5,500 (US$138) bribe. They were threatened with further detentions and beatings if they refused to pay the money.223 In Nagwan village, Patna district, Bihar, two people were taken to the police station and threatened with being booked for a crime unless they paid Rs. 900 (US$22.50).224
In several villages, under the pretense of kurki-japti (attachment of movable property), police have seized the property of those absconding in criminal cases. In so doing, they followed none of the legal procedures for seizure, including presentation of a court order and list of materials to be seized, and seizing in the presence of two witnesses. As the report noted of the pattern of behavior:
The material seized in this looting is of varied kind, and appears to be aimed at destroying the livelihood of people. Grain or rice stored in the house, all possible utensils, chairs, cots and tables, door frames, etc. are taken away. Buffaloes were taken away in Uber village in Jehanabad [district, Bihar]. Goats were also taken away in some villages In Uber, not satisfied with having taken away the buffaloes, the police asked the householders to give them Rs. 100 (US$2.50) a day to feed the buffaloes.225
In some cases, police abandoned the pretense of seizure or attachment of property and engaged in outright looting. In Kodihara village in Patna district police stole jewelry, clothes, Rs. 2,000 (US$50), and consumables collected in preparation for a marriage from a villagers house.226 The raids have had a devastating effect on the livelihood of villagers who earned two kilograms of rice or less than Rs. 25 (US$0.63) a day.