Resurrect flame of martyrs in genocide of 21 landlesss labourers in Arwal massacre on 35th anniversary today on April 19th .It symbolized neo fascism in India at it’s helm and has been ressurected today in age of proto-fascism
Today we mark the 35th anniversary of the police firing in Arwal in Bihar. Without doubt one of the landmark events in defining the neo-liberal or semi-fascist nature of parliamentary democracy in India ,which gave vibrations medieval India in Bihar.. In no state in India were the police or politician such an appendage of the ruling landlord castes and land owners did the landlords get such a licence to plunder the lower castes. The hegemony of the upper castes landlords was like the world superpowers whose gangs left no stone unturned in smashing any vestige of power in lower castes, especially dalits.It was a tribute to the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti that it created an organised mass resistance with genuine movements for land reforms. Movements of landless castes had reached a crescendo shimmering it’s flame in the areas of Jehandabad,Gaya and Daltangaunj.The spark of resistance had turned into a Prairie fire. Democrats today should dip their blood in memory and homage and resurrect their spirit to confront the tide of proto-fascism.
In April 1986,in the Arwal block of Jehanabad sub-division of Gaya district a dispute crystallised over a tiny plot of government land that was expropriated by the landlord but on which nine landless households set up their residential places. The landlord had evicted them and constructed a wall around the land. Under the banner of the MKSS the poor households assembled under the banner of the MKSS and led a Morcha to demolish the wall. When proceeding for a public meeting in the compound of the nearby Gandhi library the police launched a surprise offensive, executing 21 persons and taking into captivity an MKSS local leader. The killing was highly ‘indiscriminate, unnecessary and unjustified.”
The Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti was formed in 1978 The Jehanabad-Palamau region is one of the backward regions of Bihar. In addition to cultivation, the peasants have to rely on the collection of forest produce for their subsistence. In this area the writ of the landlord lay unchallenged. The situation began to change with the entry of the Unity Organisation. (later C.P.I.M.L-Party Unity) Learning from their previous left errors special attention was paid to build a mass base for the activities of their armed squads. A peasant organisation was formed – The Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti (MKSS).All old practices were questioned and landlords authority challenged. Struggles for wage increase, against the social oppression of women and scheduled castes, and the biggest struggles arose over the auction of forest produce. It was a unique experiment that the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti was the first Naxalite led organisation to harbour Jayaprakash Narayan followers into the membership and leadership.
The carnage in Arwal on April 19th was a response of the police in connivance with the landlords to supress the landless dalit labour from occupying their plot of land which was robbed from them. A little less than two years previously Comrade Krishna Singh was murdered when adressing a meeting. It is no strange coincidence that just after the massacre the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti was banned.Inspite of being an organisation that incorporated activists who supported ideology of Jay Prakash Narayan and carried no armed squad actions it was declared illegal. This testified the pro-colonial nature of the rulers in Bihar and the embarassment caused to it by the movement of the MKSS .In no respect could the MKSS be classed as a Maoist organization as it waged struggles with people’s weapons and no military actions of armed guerrilla squads. The protest in Patna city had participation and intensity in magnitude rarely seen with the scene of a storm literally created in Patna with armed weapons. Comrade Arjun Prasad Singh felt that the practice of the MKSS was most meritorious till 1987,with no individual armed action but only struggles waged with traditional weapons. I can’t forget the impact it had on me as a college student in the civil liberties stream .Later I witnessed programmes hoisted waging propaganda against sate repression in Bihar by Lok Sangram Morcha of Bihar in Mumbai ,as a participant of programmes of Lok Shahi Hak Sanghatana.Today with Neo-fascism at helm such a trend is grossly missing in the civil liberties movement.Ironically the Lok Sangram Morcha leaders so much appreciated the initiative of Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatan ,that they recommended me to join this forum.
After 1987 the movement took the shape of waging struggle with armed squads which was opposed by a section of the MKSS leadership and C.P.I. (M.L.)Party Unity cadre. Even after taking the movement to course of action of armed squads,there were still powerful shades or trends of the earlier mass movement in regions like Jehanabad till 1996.In the words of research scholar and activist Bela Bhatia who lived in the struggle regions of the Party Unity group., the basic trend was still mass movement with the organisation looking for expansion in democratic base. I suggest all democrats get old issues of Hindi journal ‘Mukti Marg’ to make a judgement on this. No doubt the armed squads of the C.P.I. (M.L.) Party Unity and the Maoist Communist Centre made a great contribution in giving smashing blows to the upper caste landlord Senas, breaking their backbone in important areas and in redistributing land. However often actions of armed squads hindered mass revolutionary action or movements and by around 2000 mass democratic activity virtually subsided with intensity of state repression at an unprecedented magnitude.
No doubt every democrat should laud the sacrifice and contribution sowing seeds of revolutionary democracy. However still a people’s revolutionary alternative base has not been created and framed movements used as a pretext to subvert al genuine democratic dissent. All revolutionary democratic back up structures like the Revolutionary democratic Front have been ripped off their flesh and even the civil liberties organisations are being swept of their feet. Decades ago we witnessed strong resistance in cities like Kolkata ,Delhi and Hyderabad by the All India Peoples Resistance forum and the Struggling forum for Resistance .Today the genuine revolutionary democratic forums backing the Maoist trend are considerably weak and only by uniting with other revolutionary organisations of other trends can they confront it.
Today Neo-fascism has reached a helm and debatably contradictions may have to be utilized with sections of ruling classes tactically. However we must beware of subjugating or tailing reformist parties with no class agenda. The formed JD regime of Nitish Kumar is Bihar is a classic example. More than the armed squads of Maoists activists or intellectuals like Professor G.N.Saibaba, Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale., Sudha Bhradwaj, Stan Swamy. Vernon Gonzalves Arun Ferreira,, Gautam Navlakha or Anand Teltumbde are languishing behind bars. They seem to be the true thorn in the flesh to the saffron fascists .The writings of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlkaha in no way endorse the ideology of the C.P.I.(Maoist) ,whatever their connections to forum supportive of Maoist activity.
Another classic example is the assassination of Shankar Guha Nyugi in Chattisagarh ,who had no connection with the Maoists. His very abolishing of contract labour in mines that aggrandized the prospects of industrialists or corporates in amassing wealth ,sent shivers down the spine of the rulers.
No doubt even if not agreeing with Maoism,line of C.P.I.(Maoist) or attributing mass line, we must applaud the sacrifices of the Maoists in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand and work in creating base of armed revolutionary resistance to contractors, mafia and ruling class tyrants .Still we must asess how whatever strides genuine revolutionary democracy has not been built in Maoist areas, even if Janatana Sarkars have been created. Even in Lalgarh whatever progress the mass base of the movement was effectively dispelled.
It is debatable whether after 1987 the revolutionary armed squads should have been brought into action .In the view of some activists like Dr Vinayan it curtailed the consolidation of the mass movement and invited repression of the state. Former Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad,Lok sangram Morcha and AIPRF leader Arjun Prasad Singh endorses the view that the actions of red army corpses gave a setback to the massline of the revolutionary peasant movement.
It is imperative for the younger generation of democrats to read the Association for Democratic Rights(West Bengal) report on firing in 1986 , Peoples Union for Democratic Rights report of 1992 covering the repression in Bihar, and old issues of journal ‘Mukti Marg’ which in great detail. covers mass revolutionary struggles. Another must read is Bela Bhatia’s 1996 paper on the Naxalite Movement in Bihar. The latter work has a critical approach to armed squad activity even if generally supportive of the work. I also recommend old issues of organ of All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights ,’In Defence of Democratic Rights,’ which gives a most accurate portrayal and analysis of the state of Indian democracy prevailing upto 1995.
For Marxist-Leninist cadre I wish they could get hold of the 1980’s issues of Organ ‘Party Unity’ which in meticulous detail dealt or analyzed aspect of mass line in peasant movement and not individual squad action. Arguably no organisation practiced mass line as the C.P.I.(M.L) Party Unity did from 1978-1987.
It is significant in the eyes of a Maoist critique the revolutionary movement has barely made inroads in the working class or in plain areas. After the suppression of movement in Jehanabad, the penetration of work in plain areas had a major setback.
I reccomend readers to read the asessment of Bernard De Mello in pages 154-159 in book ‘India after Naxalbari ‘where he intrinsically throws light on caste feuds in Bihar. He describes the three main objectives of the Naxalite movement and it’s achievements. and highlights the superficiality of land reforms with regard to zamindari abolition. Seizure of illegally occupied land, and its distribution amongst landless labour, the assertion of human dignity of the dalits and backward castes and the winning of higher wages. Bernard explains the immense significance of the caste structure and how it divided or segregated the society. The struggle for ‘Izat’ is described, including fight against sexual abuse of Dalit women. The neccessity of the dalit labourers to organise armed self defence of the Dalit tola s of their villages in the form of local militia with country made weapons. The retaliatory actions after the 1992 Bara massacre of dalits were described, where a sena of the Bhumhar caste was given a smashing blow. Bernard described how the MKSS had even brought upper backward castes into their fold, who harboured prejudices against the dalits,which affected the inner harmony so much needed for a cohesive organizational structure.
As democrats we need to understand the true brand of Indian neo-fascism and how it is distinct from that of China under Chiang Kai Shek or Germany under Hitler. It is very hard for fascism to permeate India completely with such a strongly entrenched parliamentary democracy. We must remember that even British colonialism was not fascism. Even if crushed with the power of iron, dissent to limited extent still prevails in democratic blogs or journals. Still considerable marxist criticism takes place, even if stifled. Crisis of capitalism has not sharpened to such regions of Italy and Germany in the 1930’s.Comrade Arjun Prasad Singh’s paper on Indian fascism is most noteworthy and analytical and also the work of intellectuals adressing caste question like Comrade Ajith(Murali),K Venugopal and late Anuradha Gandhy.Journal Towards A New Dawn’ too had most analytical and insightful writings. Marxist Democrats have to also contemplate a united front against fascism with Ambedkarites and Gandhians, particularly in context of Operation Greenhunt and Bhima –Koregaon Conspiracy case.
On this day we must remember that at no juncture even in so called Nehruvian era was India a genuine bourgeois democracy and thirty five years later the even fascism has furthered penetrated the parliamentary democratic structure. With Neo-fascism accentuating we are seriously lacking a cohesive, mass revolutionary democratic resistance or alternative .How can we forget the magnitude of armed repression on the Telengana armed struggle by the Nehru regime and supression of democratic workers protests in West Bengal later. Even under the Janata Dal regime in Bihar organisations like Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti were banned and thousands of revolutionary democratic activists detained in Bihar.
Kobad Gandhy recounted to me how scant revolutionary education even prevailed amongst maoist cadre whom he encountered, amidst fascist like conditionsi n prisons. He has strong conviction that we have to rid of the traditional patterns of work and formulate revolutionary ideas afresh .Even if an admirer he did not repose faith in the ideology and practice of the Maoists today, He had strong conviction that more emphasis should be placed on the freedom of the individual.
EXPERIENCE OF SOCIAL ACTIVIST BELA BHATIA
Banned after the Arwal massacre in 1986 the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Commitee was revived as the Mazdoor Kisan Mukti Manch in 1988 and the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad in 1994.
In the view of researcher Bela Bhatia who worked with the Lok Sangram Morcha (front of the Party Unity group) from 1993-96, the C.P.I.(M.L.) Party Unity did the best work within the revolutionary camp in Bihar as it built mass movements and did not place one -sided emphasis on guerrilla armed squad actions carried out by defence squads .
It played a major role in combating and isolating the Ranvir Sena from 1996-98. In fact after 1998 when merging with the PWG the mass movement it led declined with sole emphasis on military actions.
Social activist and rsearch worker Bela Bhatia interviewed activists of the Mazdoor Kisan angram Samiti (M.K S S.).Below I am quoting an excerpt from her interview of a squad member.
Feudalism will have to be rooted out steadily, otherwise it will uproot you.
It lies like a shadow to every person and until it is rooted out revolution cannot be achieved.
Before the organization came we did not have knowledge. The organization gave us education regarding the present system and he need to overthrow it.
India is a semi-colonial and semi-feudal Country. There is foreign capital also in our country. We have o en this foreign capital an utilize the capital of our own country. The downtrodden people have to rise above the system. Each individual should get education. We got books to read about Marx,Lenin and Mao From these we learnt that Mao was a revolutionary and so were Lenin and Mao Tse Tung. We read a little about all the 3. We have not read a lot but understood that what Marx and Lenin wanted to say was that this rotten system should be destroyed, the exploitation of one human being by another should end, human kin should be liberated from this. This is what the leaders have to say. Below I am publishing some testimonies of leading members of the M.K S.S on revolutionary violence. Without arms we feel that we shall not be able to fight. With arms we feel confident, we will have the power.
We fell that we will be able to settle he fight. If e do not have the armed power ,then how will we counter the Landlords anger. Can his anger be countered by wagging our finger at him?
Without armed power it is impossible to ensure peoples protection. If we do not have arms then no one will take our committee seriously. Each will do according to his will. They will think, What can they do to us. When this power is their, they will fear. They know that if thy do not obey us the we have the power to destroy them. There will be lot of problems. We may even be killed during this period, many have been martyred .Seeds are sown I he field in hope that they will grow. Similarly, with a dream of Socialism we are walking. The possession of arms helped resolve some conflicts without actual resort to violence In Nyona village a wage issue was resolved peacefully because of the armed capacity of the organisation. A villager stated Because we have arms ,the zamindars have shrunk with fear. Also gangs of bandits and dacoits, who used to lot peoples houses ,have been vanquished. Because of the atrocities, the people used to feel very insecure. This has come to an end.
I am quoting another passage fro Bela Bhatias interview. A senior member of the M.K S S stated: In 1979 there was an atmosphere of terror in the villages due to the feudal forces and criminal gangs.
Even though the labourers had heard about us they we too scared to call us.
However we were able to establish contact with few members of he J.P Movement, and asked him to arrange a meeting with few labourers introducing us as individuals who belonged to a party of the poor. On the agreed day we met at midnight In the fields. Instead of meeting a small group we met about 50 men. They were armed with lathis ,bhals and gadasas.
The terrorized villagers explained that they would have taken the activists to the village but it was too risky.The Maliks had warned them that they would be severely punished if they brought he Naxalites to the village..We activists, emphasized the issues of ,wages, land and basic democratic rights, but explained that it could only be done by our own strength. The People understood this stating,We have understood . You are Naxalites,you talk about strength.People now started coming in large numbers. At first they were hesitant to speak out. Finally one of them spoke out, We will now be coming to the meeting, expecting each time to get arms. If you are demanding confrontation and armed revolution, should you not provide us with arms. Thus, I actual fact, they were demanding arms. Such incidents show the mass approach of the M.K S.S
INDIA TODAY 1986 REPORT
The 23 peasants gunned down by the police in the Bihar town of Arwal 11 months ago will not, it seems, be buried as just another statistic in the state’s bloody history of communal and caste violence.
The tragedy has shaken hundreds of ordinary citizens and compelled lawyers and students, teachers and journalists, jurists and artists – and even company executives – to form a body called the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission. Determined to exert “more pressure” against atrocities committed by governments, the commission has chosen Arwal as its first symbolic battleground.
Last fortnight, almost 2,000 peasants crammed the site of the killing to witness survivors perform a surrealistic reenactment of the April 19 massacre in which the police opened fire – without warning – on a gathering that also included women and children. The commission’s independent tribunal of jurists, which has begun sifting through a mountain of evidence, includes V.R. Krishna Iyer and V.M. Tarkunde, both former justices of the Supreme Court, P.S. Poti, former chief justice of Gujarat and T.U. Mehta, former chief justice of Himachal Pradesh. “We might not have any legal authority,” says the commission’s president, film maker Mrinal Sen, “but we can act as an agency of opinion and conscience against increasing state violence and lawlessness.”
The commission, which has already rattled the Bihar Government, was formed only on January 10 this year. Inspired by The International War Crimes Tribunal formed by Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre and other European intellectuals, the commission, to establish credibility, has enlisted several eminent personalities. They include, among others, historian Romilla Thapar, economist A.R. Desai, journalist Samar Sen and writer Mahasweta Devi. “Just as the verdict of the War Crimes Tribunal shaped world public opinion against American intervention in Vietnam,” says Bombay-based advocate P.A. Sebastian, the commission’s principal secretary, “our commission will issue verdicts that the Government will find difficult to ignore.”
The Arwal case was taken up first because it illustrates how easily a government determined to have its way can ignore and suppress protests against even its most heinous actions. Although four independent inquiries had suggested that the firing was unjustified, the state Government failed to institute a magisterial probe, and refused to divulge details of a routine administrative inquiry on Arwal to the Supreme Court. The Government insists that the police had fired on extremists. It has banned the Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti (MKSS) that had organised the Arwal gathering, and carried out mass arrests each time peasants tried protesting against the tragedy.
The Government has now refused to respond to the tribunal’s notice served on it and has also instructed officials to steer clear of it. To get around this, Poti and Mehta, on their own, inspected the Arwal police station, questioned reluctant police officials, inspected weapons alleged to have been seized from the mob, and enquired whether the crowd had been warned adequately before the firing.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com