On Lathicharging a Satyagraha: Dilip D’Souza

Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA

So what do you think happened when the police assaulted a gathering of satyagrahis with lathis? Here’s what happened to some people I met from such a gathering.

  • Tulsibai, 45+, was hit on her stomach and wrist.
  • Manglubai, about 40, was hit on her buttocks.
  • Rajkumaribai, who didn’t know her age, had a deep wound on the upper part of her thigh that she showed us shyly.
  • Jiggelal, 60, was hit so hard on his arms and legs that he blacked out.
  • Janmabai, a 70+ grandmother about 4.5 feet tall, was wounded by a lathi blow on her elbow; she had bandaged it in a leaf and some rags.
  • Manoj Kumar Thakur, 12, had an ugly wound from the butt of a lathi that was thrust into the side of his face.
  • Acchelal, 60, had a broken wrist, now arranged in a splint.
  • Draupsingh, around 40, had an wound on the elbow.
  • Sher Singh, 31, and Sakhar Singh, 40, both had their left arms broken by lathi blows. They were in jail for “leading” the satyagrahis.
  • Gannilal, 40, had a bruise on his forearm from a lathi blow.
  • Mankalal, 23, had bruises on the back of his forearm from lathi blows.
  • Suresh Kumar, 30, was still complaining when we met him of pain in his buttocks from lathi blows.
  • Shyamlal, 25, had a wound below his left eye, also from the butt of a lathi.
  • Several more women were beaten on their backs, waists, buttocks, stomachs, chests, elbows and forearms.
  • Several women spoke of the police pushing lathis between their legs, lifting them and throwing them some distance away.

There’s some more in my notes, but I’ll stop this depressing inventory at this much. None of this happened in Delhi last Saturday night.

It happened in 1996.

It happened in a small village called Bijasen, in Madhya Pradesh. Three of us went there then by jeep and tramping through mud and rain and a 2-hour boat ride.

It could have happened in any number of other places, at any number of other times. This was just one time, one place.

Nobody paid much attention when it happened in Bijasen in 1996.

I believe those satyagrahis in Bijasen had serious, legitimate grievances and demands that the state of Madhya Pradesh was uninterested in listening to. These had to do with their displacement by the Bargi Dam, a huge dam on the Narmada. These had to do with their dissatisfaction with the way their resettlement and rehabilitation was being handled. Nine years earlier, a report on Bargi Dam R&R measures by an ex-Commissioner of the area had these words: “The entire thrust of rehabilitation efforts should be to ensure that the people (the oustees) are as happy, if not happier, after resettlement as they were earlier, before their lands and houses were acquired. This alone would speak of the success of the Resettlement Plan.” These oustees were not happy, let alone happier. Bijasen was just one more in a long catalogue of police excess that nobody remembers.

Kudos to you if you were outraged by what the police did at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi last Saturday night. Please spare some of
that outrage for plenty of other such incidents, from all over the country. Bijasen was just one more.

After we left there, we met the Collector of the district to ask about the police action. There was “mischief” in the actions by the demonstrators, he told us before we could start. “They have chosen such an inconvenient place for their satyagraha!” he told us some
more. “The entire Government machinery has come to a halt because we have to keep running to see these people, or arrest them. Why couldn’t they have chosen a place we can reach more easily?”

We also met the Superintendent of Police, who had led the police party to Bijasen that day. How did all these people get their injuries, we asked him. “They all fell down on the stones while they were running away,” he said.

Besides, according to both men it was the satyagrahis who had attacked the police. “In fact, one woman hit me on my thigh with a lathi,” said the SP.

The Collector remembered this dangerous woman too. “One woman hit the SP on his shoulder with a lathi,” said the Collector.

(Dilip D’Souza blogs at Death Ends Fun.)

3 thoughts on “On Lathicharging a Satyagraha: Dilip D’Souza”

  1. my point exactly; there are so many examples of police brutality and political/ beureaucratic autocracy all across the country and the incident at Delhi was highlighted only because of the high profile publicity that the event received being a sequel to the Anna Hazare episode which was an even bigger crowd puller. I would be inclined to direct my outrage against the high-handedness at Delhi, if I believed that I could, by my action, be assured of a paradigm shift in mindset across the country against such brutality. However, I don’t see that happening unless we cleanse the political system across the land, irrespective of which party or alliance is in power. One is as bad as the other. If fingers are being pointed at the Central Government at Delhi for the current mess, the same holds good across the states irrespective of which party or alliance is governing them. Whether it is a Congress led alliance in the states, or a BJP led alliance, or even one led by a regional party, the situation on the ground is the same. Tyranny is the byword by which all political parties live, encouraged by decades of oppressive rule over the hapless masses that get carried away at the time of elections by empty promises and equal measure of arm twisting where coercion failed. It is for the civil society to raise issues such as those that have been highlighted in these agitations against the government, but also to remember these areas of malfunction by the governments at the time of the elections and exercise their franchise to provide better governance for themselves and society at large. Towards this end, public figures who yield considerable clout with the masses, should use their influence to educate them and create an awareness of their real power against which the “powers that be” are actually powerless. Help India to rise as one and rid the land of this brood of bootleggers, hoarders, scamsters, and parasites that are sucking the lifeblood of this country. This, however is only feasible if these public figures do not have an agenda of their own. I am inclined to quote the great Rabindranath Tagore and echo his sentiments – “Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake. In our seventh decade after independence, we are still craving for that real freedom. A sad commentary indeed on the state of the largest democracy in the world!


  2. Yes, The satyagrahis have to meet some “gandhian” leaders, and enlist their support first. Then the country will take notice, courtesy , our electronic media!



  3. It’s the manifestation of our very own civil society, which burns women, kills newly born girls, forces women and kids into drudgery, beats kids and women, perpetuates castes and the list is endless.

    Every instance where an individual has some sort of power; from a policeman to a politician to a government official to an elder in the family to the so called MARD will eventually abuse it.

    It’s sad to see silent protestors being beaten, but it is even sadder to ignore the Shaitan within us manifesting in police brutalities, corporal punishments, rapes in Kashmir and Manipur and day to day violence in our lives.

    We need a collective thought process and not a blame roulette.


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