There is chilling video evidence of how Mustafa was killed. And photographs of three other villagers brutally murdered. Nirala reports on a barbaric low in Bihar’s police force
BHAJANPURA, AN obscure village of Forbesganj town in Araria, one of the most backward districts of Bihar, has unwittingly become the epicentre of communal politics. On 3 June, police bullets and atrocities took four lives, including an seven-month-old baby, a pregnant woman and an injured man, who was heinously stomped to death. In a statement that makes a mockery of the irrefutable evidence against them, the police are justifying the killings as an act of “self-defence”. The silence of the Nitish Kumar government is also raising several uncomfortable questions especially since all four people killed in the firing on 3 June belong to a minority community.
The residents of Bhajanpura could never have imagined their demand for a road could take such a tragic turn. The brutality of the police emerged in a blood-curdling video of a cop, Sunil Kumar Yadav, literally jumping on a prostrate and injured man, pummelling him to death. This two-minute long video footage is so disturbing that one shudders to think of those who saw it with their own eyes. Fatkan Ansari, father of the deceased Mustafa, breaks down while talking to TEHELKA. “Who killed him? Why was he killed? How was he killed? What do I tell you? This will not bring back my son,” is all he can mutter, before lapsing into silence.
This eerie silence is everywhere in Bhajanpura where, like Ansari, people do not want to speak about the incident. Mustafa happens to be just one of the many who have suffered a gruesome fate at the hands of the keepers of law.
In Mustafa’s case, it was the video clipping of the brutality and the ensuing politicisation that caught the nation’s eye. Similar atrocities have either escaped the media’s glare or have been hushed up by the cops. Previously, on 17 December 2010, the police had opened fire on a group of residents from Batraha village who had come to protest the lewd behaviour towards their women by some paramilitary jawans. Three women and one man died in the firing. According to social activist Arshad Ajmal, several such reports never see the light of day.
Post-mortem reports show that bullets were fired at point-blank range to the neck, chest and torso areas
The particular incident in Bhajanpura was triggered by a protest by the villagers against the blockage of their only access road by a factory. They have been using this road for the past 60 years. Trouble be-gan when Auro Sundaram International Company (a company set up by the Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority to set up manufacturing of starches from maize), started building roadblocks around the road. According to sources, on 1 June, an agreement was reached between villagers and company officials to build a road somewhere else. But talks broke down on 3 June and the resulting violence claimed four lives.
After the incident, the village has turned into a police camp of sorts with more than a dozen Circle Officers from adjoining districts, three or four IPS officers and several administrative officials gathering there. The police claim the villagers pelted stones, set machines on fire and took out illegal firearms from their houses and fired at them. They only retaliated in self-defence. But the horrifying video of the injured man being stomped to death pulls the rug under the police’s claims. To quell a protest the police may resort to lathi charge, or in very rare circumstances, open fire. Post-mortem reports prove that the bullets were fired at point-blank range to the neck, chest and torso areas. All pointing to an obvious intent to kill.
|Murders most foul. Cops call it self-defence|
According to sources, Saurav Aggarwal, son of powerful the BJP MLA Ashok Aggarwal, is on the board of directors of Satyam International, which got the project to set up the starch factory. Ashok Aggarwal is considered to be close to Deputy CM Sushil Modi, who has still not given any statement on this barbaric incident. Even CM Nitish Kumar, after ordering a judicial enquiry, has refrained from saying anything.
Eight days after the incident, a relief of Rs 3 lakh was announced for the family of the seven-month-old Naushad Ansari. Home Secretary Aamir Subhani has ordered a thorough inquiry to assess “why the villagers turned violent”, when they had already reached an agreement with the company. Subhani hints that the villagers might have been instigated by some local leaders and touts.
‘They shot two bullets into my seven-month old grandson. I’ll never be able to forget it,’ says Rafeeq Ansari
THE OPPOSITION parties have launched an attack on the Nitish Kumar-led government. Bihar Pradesh Congress President Mehboob Ali Qaisar, after touring the place, demanded compensation for the families of the dead and announced that the party would launch an agitation. The CPM had also announced an agitation from 14 June. Nitish’s own party members have criticised the state government’s apathy towards the incident. Senior JD(U) leader Taslimuddin has called it an “administrative failure”.
Party spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari’s statement that the Congress and RJD are exploiting the issue shows the government is skirting the real problem. Tiwari said any compensation given before the probe would be illegal. One wonders then whether the compensation offered to the seven-month-old’s family on the grounds that the child had no role in the agitation, is supposed to indict the police of murdering innocents or pacify the victims.
Tiwari, a JD(U) member, toeing the CM’s line is understandable, but political observers of the state see it differently. If Nitish Kumar — who has had a clear and different stand on communal politics, his electoral alliance with the BJP notwithstanding — is adopting a lenient attitude in this matter, it will not be easy to decipher the complex maze of Bihar politics.
Several NGOs have also come out against Nitish’s government. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD reached Patna on 10 June to hold a press conference. Shabnam’s report on the Bhajanpura incident accuses the Bihar government of “going down the path of Gujarat, which functions on the orders of the RSS”. “If Nitish Kumar was upset on having his picture next to Narendra Modi’s in an election poster, how can he remain silent on the atrocities committed under the protection of his own (Sushil) Modi? Had the villagers been Hindu, would the police have acted similarly?” she says.
While accusations and counter-blows have taken the focus away from the real issue, a fog of gloom has descended over Bhajanpura. Rafeeq Ansari, whose sevenmonth- old grandson was shot dead, is devastated. “Two bullets were taken out of an eight-month old. I will never be able to forget it,” he says. Rafeeq’s daughter-inlaw is admitted in Patna Medical College in a critical state. Mohammed Shamsul’s seven-year-old niece, who was also injured, is admitted in the hospital. “Justice, for the harm done to us and safety of the future of the village is our only demand from the chief minister,” says Shamsul.
But the chances of Nitish doing anything like that are rather slim, chiefly because this incident has shown the rift between the state and the villagers. Good governance has been the hallmark of the Nitish Kumar government, but development is yet to achieve that status. Even if the CM announces some relief for Bhajanpura, several Bhajanpuras are waiting to happen in Bihar. If not on account of the brutal murder, then definitely due to the land acquisition and spurious dealings of companies with the locals. Such conflicts have taken place in Madvan at Muzzafarpur as also in Aurangabad and Nabinagar. Police lathi charged a crowd in Madvan, and on 14 January, in another such incident in Nabinagar, one villager succumbed to injuries.
Administrative officials also know the people don’t have the will to go on prolonged protests. Last year in Bhagalpur, a protest rally of villagers demanding electricity was so badly beaten by the police that three villagers died. There was no hue and cry over the incident. Four years ago, a policeman had tied a chain-snatcher, Aurangzeb, to his motorcycle and dragged him to the police station. Last month, one person died in police custody in Gaya, but the protests simply fizzled out.
It seems police brutality has plummeted to such depths that people have given up protesting. The absence of protest was conspicuous in an incident in Shumbha village of Alauli Police station where a Special Auxiliary Police jawan fired and injured two kids. Two days earlier, during the Urs festival in Gopalganj, inebriated jawans of the Bihar Military Police beat up old people, women and children with lathis, but no one came out in protest.
Whether the police are playing the role of state tyrants, or simply carrying out orders from higher powers, Nitish Kumar has a problem on his hands that only he has the power to solve.