It was 9 pm when Banarasi Mushahar, 55 was sitting with family friend Rampreet Nat picked up his night meal to go to the agricultural land he was guarding for the last seven years. In the typical village terminology, it is called Seermai which means an arrangement where in lieu of your work for guarding or agricultural work, the owner or Zamindar give you some portion of land for your own work. This is just an arrangement of kind and avoid any written document or handling of cash. Banarasi Mushahar was doing Seermai at the land of Raj Kumar Jaiswal, a local businessman for his 10 bigha of agricultural land in which he could own produce of one bigha land for looking after the entire plot.
Covid restrictions were there and summers have just crept in but farmers would do work till the sun set out but that day on May 23rd, it looked unusual as the group close to village Pradhan Keshav Yadav continued with tilling land with tractors with lots of music and DJ. The Mushahar community in the village Koilaswa, which actually became famous in the early years of this century, for hunger deaths and brain fever or what is termed as Japanese encephalitis but things have been normal in the region though the conditions of Mushahars remain the same, isolation and facing deep contempt from the so-called dominant caste forces who wanted to use them as slave labour.
Banarasi and Rampreet left their home at Koilasawa to the plot of Raj kumar Jaiswal which was just outside a few plots away. His son Sunil accompanied them to a few meters. It was loud noise outside as people were still tilling the land.
The dead bodies on the road
On 24th morning when villagers were going out in the field to defecate they were shocked to see two bodies on the road. It was a ‘brutal’ murder where the head of the man was severed from the body. The other man was lying unconscious on the other side of the road. There was some hockey sticks on the ground too. People could easily identify the dead man as Bansidhar. They rushed to his home to inform the family. Everyone was shocked. Sunil and other family members rushed to the place to find. They were crying and weeping. The village Sarpanch had already informed the police which came from the local police chowki of Narayanpur. The police arrived at the scene around 9 am and did the ‘panchnama’ of the body and took it for post-mortem while the other man, Ram Preet was sent to District Hospital in Padrauna for treatment. His condition was serious and have now been arrested as accused after the hospital released him. The police officers came to the ‘conclusion’ that both Ram Preet and Banarasi had drunk Tadee i.e. ( traditional Toady) and got into fight on certain issues and ended up fighting and wounding each other. Accordingly, In the fight that turned bloodied in which Banarasi got killed and Ram Preet was seriously injured who was then taken to hospital.
The version of Banarasi Mushahar’s family
Interview with Rajmati Devi, Wife of Banarasi Mushahar
Banarasi Mushahar’s wife Mrs Raj Mati Devi accuse police of not being fair in this entire case. She said that the police reached the ‘conclusion’ in this case so fast on the basis of ‘story’ cooked up by the village Pradhan Keshav Yadav, that it ignored the basic practice of meeting the family people seeking their response and whether there was any doubt. It did not bother to find out whether Banarasi Mushahar became victim of rivalry over land by others or any other reason as after all, Banarasi Mushahar was a respected person of his community who used to run the Public Distribution Shop, usually, referred as Quota Shop by the villagers. A Mushahar running a PDS shop was unacceptable to the powerful dominant castes in the village, yet Banarasi ran it for 7 years, till one day Keshav Yadav, who was not the Pradhan then but a Panchayat Member, lodged complain against him in the district related to ‘corruption’ and also got people loot the shop during the day time. Nobody helped Banarasi. He was dejected and wanted to come out clean on the issue so was doing everything to fight his case. A small piece of land owned by him was put on ‘Rehan’, a local bartering system when you give some of your land for certain cash and once you return the cash, land comes back to you. Nothing happened and the quota shop went to the Yadav community person. It was a bolt from the blue for Banarasi as after much hard work, he was able to get a quota shop but that was unacceptable to the dominant communities and he knew it well but never lose heart. Banarasi knew it well that being Mushahar his journey is tough and people would not accept him in power position. Mushahars are supposed to be just ‘labours’ and that too who should not speak independently and depend on the whims and fancies of the dominant castes. He decided to build his life again and this time not competing for quota but doing Seermai at Raj Kumar Jaiswal’s agricultural land.
It has been more than 7 years since he converted Jaiswal land into real agricultural land, planted trees which have now grown up. He would take care of 10 bighas of the land and Jaiswal allowed him the produce of one bigha but then there was no other benefit. It was only hard work and no acceptance of any return. There was no timing. It was actually 24×7 hours painful yet thankless work yet Banarasi was happy. He and his family were living happily and his elder son had migrated for work.
It is shocking to hear from Banarasi’s wife Rajmati Devi that immediately after the murder of her husband the owner Raj Kumar Jaiswal refused to help them. He did not pay anything and now the family can’t even access the land which they had been helping Banarasi in maintaining.
Uncomfortable Questions: Banarasi’s son Sunil says that his father though was older to Ram Preet but was much stronger in physique than Rampreet and it is unlikely that Rampreet would be able to kill him. He further says that both the bodies were found on the road near the school. One lying one side and the other a bit away on a different direction across the road. Both Rajmati and Sunil ask if there was fight between the two then why would they come out in the public road to kill each other when they were drinking at the peaceful and ‘secure’ place at Raj Kumar Jaiswal’s plot which Banarasi was taking care off. Both of them says that it was a conspiracy to kill Banarasi and in such a way so that the conspirators are not identified.
Sunil says that there was a hockey stick on the road near these bodies and he question who would have brought this as neither of them had this when they were leaving the place. They say that if these two people were fighting with each other, definitely most of those close to Pradhan were awake till late in the night and tilled the land, would have heard and should have intervened.
The other question which the family raise is that police has been uncooperative and did not visit the Mushahar basti or never met any one of them or sought their grievances in this regard.
Banarasi’s family’s Demand: The family tried to meet some officers and politicians but they were told that due to Corona it is not possible. The local police chowki person send them to main police thana and vice versa. They also blame that the For them to go to Padarauna, the district headquarter is very difficult as they don’t have money. Ram Preet is in the jail and the family says that he must be given an opportunity to speak in the court and tell the truth. The family has not got any chargesheet so far. They don’t even know what is happening in the case and why nothing is moving.
The Mushahar family is in bad shape. They don’t have any land and living in difficult time. The big land owners don’t give them work so life has become further difficult for them. It is important for the police to investigate this case fairly, speak to the family and take their grievances seriously. Banarasi’s murder is not a simple one. It is actually a caste crime but very shamelessly done to intimidate the community further to live in permanent fear so that they do not ask any question for their rights. It is time such crime be investigated seriously and real culprits should be arrested under the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.