KARU TURI, 60, a weaver in Mahuliatand village in southern Bihar, is bemused at the number of police and government officials that have visited this dalit hamlet following the Naxalites’ massacre that killed 10 policemen here on February 9. “If these officials had come earlier and lent an ear to the poor, our lives would have been easier,” he says. Like dozens of his neighbours in Mahuliatand, he is landless, despite his three-decadeold government-ratified land possession certificate that he received in 1977.
Framed in forest, Mahuliatand, part of Kauwakol block in Naxal-affected Nawada district, has never made headlines, not even with its decades of endemic malaria that took more than 200 lives in the area last year. Obscurity lifted, if temporarily, with the February 9 attack, possibly the Naxalites’ most daring and skillful operation yet. Striking during a function to commemorate dalit saint Ravidas, the Naxals killed the armed policemen in a crowd of around 600 without a single civilian casualty. Among those dead was Kauwakol station-in-charge Rameshwar Ram, who had been invited to the function as chief guest. It seems to have made no difference that Ram was himself a dalit. Eyewitnesses said the attack was mostly carried out by unarmed women who simply surrounded the cops and pinned them down before snatching their guns and shooting them with their own weapons. The operation lasted barely 10 minutes; when the rebels left, they carried away five INSAS rifles, two AK-47s, five SLRs, one carbine and two .38 revolvers apart from 1,250 rounds of cartridges and 45 magazines. Six policemen escaped unhurt; they had been standing a little distance apart, said an eyewitness, and when they saw the attack underway, they simply threw down their guns, stripped off their uniforms and ran.
Among those named in the FIR in the massacre are the sarpanch of Mahudar village, Ajit Yadav, and the BSP Lok Sabha candidate from Jamui, Arjun Ravidas. Both had made little contribution to real public welfare but, with elections obviously in mind, had been prominent financers of the Ravidas Jayanti celebrations for the last four years. It is they who invited Rameshwar Ram for this year’s ceremony. Yadav, a close aide of Nawada MLA and former hooch mafia kingpin Kaushal Yadav, has several cases against him. His wife was elected chairperson of the Kauwakol block committee, allegedly by virtue of the family’s money power.
“Both men are as hated here as the Naxals. By killing the cops and getting these two corrupt men in the police net, the Naxals have secured a double victory for the people,” said a Naxal sympathiser.
The Bihar Police have not paid for the coffins they got from a Nawada carpenter for the last rites of the 10 policemen Maoist rebels murdered on February 9. This is no one-off but established practice in Nawada, where the police apparently never pay for coffins for personnel killed in the line of duty.
Says Rajesh Kumar, proprietor of Bhojpur Kast Kala Udyog, the shop that provides the Nawada police its coffins, “When I ask for the costs, they’re indifferent. Anyway, I know it’s unwise to ask policemen for money,” His brother and business partner, Dinesh, says, “I had to spend Rs 10,000 to make the 10 coffins at short notice, after getting my workers to work the entire night. On other occasions, when it was a coffin or two, if they did not pay, I could bear it. But it gets difficult when it’s 10 coffins.”
The Nawada police had no comments when contacted.
Mahuliatand has emerged as a huge embarrassment for the Nitish Kumar Government, particularly at a time when the Chief Minister has been singing the praises of the NDA coalition for its “good governance and unprecedented development work”. The state government has sought to explain the incident away as a one-off, but villagers in Nawada’s Naxalaffected hinterland told TEHELKA that it was a “deliberate reaction against false government propaganda” and the everrising corruption and callousness across all levels of the administration in Bihar. A veteran Nawada-based leftist leader who has an estimable acquaintance with the rebels, describes the massacre as an act of retaliation against new Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s stepped-up anti-Naxal offensive. “It was also revenge for the police lies about the Roh incident of January 16, and the Labnimarai fake encounter of May 14, 2008, in which six Naxalites were killed after surrendering,” TEHELKA’s source said.
THE POLICE are a feared and deeply hated institution in villages in this part of Bihar. Recent exercises in enhancing ‘police-public contact’ in Naxal-affected areas by having policemen distribute blankets and organise health camps have in no way diminished grim memories of police callousness and outright brutality. Recent, glaring instances include a police attack on unarmed people in Lalbigha village during Saraswati Puja. Last year, on March 17, a drunken sub-inspector of Rupauli police station fired at a group of unarmed villagers after a trivial argument; two youths were severely injured. Senior Jamui-based journalist Ravindranath Bhaiyajee remarked on how many journalists in this part of Bihar received police threats if their Naxal-related reports became too probing.
Mahuliatand is virtually a no-man’s land, splayed across the invisible boundaries of three districts along the largelydesolate river border between Bihar and Jharkhand. People here say the temple of Sant Ravidas, where the massacre happened, falls under Teesri police station in Jharkhand’s Giridih district while the podium for the function, erected about 10 metres away, falls under Kauwakol police station in Bihar’s Nawada district and the grounds adjacent to the tiny temple complex, where the crowd was gathered, fall in Bihar’s Jamui district.
“When a crime is perpetrated against a poor villager by an influential one, the police habitually pass up responsibility by saying the site of the crime is not under the jurisdiction of their police station. But when they get information about Naxalites assembling in any of our villages, the police stations of all the three districts in the two states jump to instant action and work in close cooperation for combing operations, which is a way of harassing us poor villagers more,” said a Mahuliatand resident who did not want to be named. Others in the village agreed with him; most appeared to be markedly unregretful about the massacre.
Mahuliatand, which has remained far from the government’s development and welfare schemes, stands now poised at a historical moment — it can either become a turning point for the government’s strategy in dealing with the Maoist crisis or remain a metaphor for the diminishing difference between sweat and blood in Bihar’s hinterlands.