Guest Post by Kavita Krishnan
The ‘Operation Black Rain’ film released by the web portal Cobrapost, based on secretly filmed boasts of the Ranveer Sena terrorists with detailed accounts of massacres of Dalit and oppressed caste labourers in the 1990s, has only confirmed public secrets that everyone in Bihar already knew.
For More YouTube Videos of the Cobrapost Film ‘Operation Black Rain‘ see –
The identity of Ranveer Sena commanders and their role in the massacres is well known. These are not secret masked men – these are men who command social clout and enjoy being recognized, respected and feared. So, everyone in the central Bihar regions where the massacre took place knows them.
The role of Brahmeshwar ‘Mukhiya’ as the mastermind of the massacres and the head of the Ranveer Sena is also known to all. The fact of political backing by the BJP and by some prominent leaders of other parties also is widely known. When BJP MP Giriraj Singh had called Brahmeshwar Mukhiya “Bihar’s Gandhi” he was reminding the Ranveer Sena’s political supporters of the BJP’s relationship with the Ranveer Sena. Further, Ranveer Sena leaflets calling upon people to vote for BJP are on record in the Bihar Assembly. Locally, in Bihar, the BJP’s Ranveer Sena linkages are not hidden – they are flaunted.
Likewise the fact that the Ranveer Sena had access to sophisticated weapons is also widely known. Even the Bathani Tola massacre itself was not a stealthy operation – it too was a public secret that everyone knew would take place, and that the police pretended to be unaware of until it actually took place in broad daylight.
What Cobrapost has admirably achieved is to provide indisputable evidence for what was always known – in the words of the killers themselves. The 6 Ranveer Sena commanders are not shy of describing their role in the massacres. The reporter told them his real name and that he was making a film on the Ranveer Sena; all that he avoided mentioning was the fact that a camera was recording their interview. The men boast of the massacres, clearly viewing them as heroic exploits and moments of glory to be relived with pride.
Cobrapost spoke to Chandreshwar, Pramod Singh, Bhola Singh Rai, Arvind Kumar Singh, Siddhnath Singh Rai and Ravindra Chaudhry. The first five were accused in 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, while the sixth was acquitted by the lower court in the Sarthua massacre.
In the Bathe case, Chandkeshwar and Pramod Singh were convicted in the lower court but acquitted by the Patna High Court, and Bhola Rai and Siddhnath Rai were acquitted by the lower court.
Overturning convictions of men who had been convicted in the Bathe case, the Patna High Court had claimed that eyewitnesses were “unreliable”. Yugal Ravidas and Belwanti Devi had identified Chandkeshwar Singh. The High Court had found them unreliable on the grounds that the night was dark and they were unlikely to have identified the assailants by torchlight and by their voices. The Court made this decision in spite of taking into account several previous verdicts where identification by torchlight and by voices had been held reliable and adequate.
On the Cobrapost camera, Chandkeshwar not only declares his involvement in the Bathani Tola massacre in 1996, he asserts his role in the Bathe massacre and also proclaims that he was the one who beheaded five fishermen in the Bathe massacre with his knife. Yugal and Belwanti were in fact right in identifying Chandkeshwar.
In the Bathani and Bathe cases in particular, the eyewitnesses, taking strength from the CPI(ML)’s movement for justice, resisted intimidation and bore witness in court – only to be accused of ‘spinning tales’. But the Patna High Court that so arrogantly dismissed the eyewitnesses and branded them as liars was wrong.
The Terrorists’ Tales
What do the six Ranveer Sena commanders reveal about their motives and modus operandi?
One fact that stands out is the sheer brazenness with which massacres were carried out, with full confidence that the police would do nothing to stop them.
Chandkeshwar says the Ranveer Sena held a meeting in Badki Kharaon village and “got the signature of the entire village and then we told them we will take on the CPI(ML) people at 3 o’clock).” So, there was a signature campaign for the Bathani Tola massacre the time and date of the massacre was announced! This affirms the fact that the CPI(ML) leaders had in fact notified the police several times prior to the massacre, warning them that a meeting had been held and a violent attack imminent. But Chandkeshwar and his Sena men knew the police would look the other way: “Teen baja aur humara sena goli chalana chaloo kar di… teen baje din mein narsanghar hua kar diya wahan police chowki bhi tha (As the clock struck 3, the Sena began firing … it was 3:00 at daytime …the massacre was carried out…there was a police chowki too).”
Pramod Singh talks of the financial and political support they got from former Finance Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha: “Bhajapa ka sarkar jiss samay tha … Atal Behari Vajpai the … uss samay the Yashwant Sinha … barabar aate the … mukhiya ji se barabar milte the … wo toh humare gaon mein hi … jiss samay chhapemari ho rahi thi uss samay barabar humare gaon mein the (It was when there was the BJP government [at the centre] … there was Atal Behari Vajpai [as prime minister] … there was Yashwant Sinha … he would visit regularly … meet the Mukhiya [Barmeshwar Singh] regularly … he was there in my village when the police were hot on our heels and raiding our places.” Sinha gave them Rs five and a half lakhs and political support.
Arvind Singh, talking of two Ekwari massacres made no bones about how intimidation forced victims to withdraw complaints, ensuring that there are no cases pending either against him or others: “Na na hum sab compromise karwa liye … hum log gaon mein jitna case tha … hum log ke ooper chahe un logon ke ooper keh sun kar chahe laathi danda ke bal se … sab samajha bujha ke sab compromise hai (No, no. We managed to clinch a compromise with them in all cases … we persuaded them with cajoling or show of force to come around and arrived at a compromise with them).”
Most chilling of all is the manner in which the cold-blooded massacre of unarmed people, including women and children, is justified.
Siddhnath Rai explains that “our religion” does not teach us that it is any worse to kill a child than it is to kill a grown man. He said it was alright to kill women and children because they “give shelter to” the CPI(ML) activists.
Ravindra Choudhury used a metaphor of plucking fruit, “aapko bheja gaya ki doh thoh paka aam tod ke laiye aur oo danda chalaya ped par toh aath tho paka gira panch tho kachcha gir gaya toh usko kaat diya jayega ki kachcha tod diya …suppose you are asked to pick a couple of ripe mangoes? You hit the mango tree with a stick … as a result eight ripe mango fall and along with them 5 raw mangoes also fall. Now should you be punished for felling raw mangoes?” But the truth is that women and children were targeted and killed – they were not ‘collateral damage’ as suggested by this metaphor.
Shailendra Vatsayan, the spokesperson of the Akhil Bharatiya Rashtravadi Kisan Sangathan (an open front of the Ranveer Sena), was more explicit: “Idhar se logon ne kaha teri chhattees inch ki atadi hai na … chhattees ke jawab mein chhattees inch phad denge hum tumko kya tumhari auraton tak ko phad doonga jisase kabhi koi bhavishya mein baccha na jane (Our men also said if you got an intestine of 36 inches … we will tear up the whole of 36 you got. And not just you, we will also tear your women … so that they will never give birth in future).”
These pronouncements too are not exactly new – Brahmeshwar Singh too had justified the killing of women “who would give birth to naxalites” and children “who would grow up to be naxalites.” And all six ‘brave’ commanders say they had no qualms about killing unarmed and sleeping people. Asked if those he killed were armed, Chandkeshwar sounds puzzled, “We never recovered any weapons from them.” This belies the impression given out in most media reports that dub the massacres as ‘wars of attrition’ between two armed groups. Those killed were unarmed people, women, children – while the Ranveer Sena used ‘military reject’ equipment sourced with the help of former PM Chandrashekhar. They received training in the use of those sophisticated weapons from Indian Army personnel who were either on leave or retired.
The involvement of the Indian Army in training Ranveer Sena ought to ring alarm bells – the same kind of involvement has been indicated in the arms and training of the Abhinav Bharat, the Bhonsala Academy and other outfits and training centres for Sanghi terror groups.
CPI(ML) Was An Affront to Feudal ‘Honour’
What was the motive for the massacres?
Chandkeshwar is candid, as he explains the reason for the Bathani Tola massacre, “Maley – CPI(ML) –was knocking on the door, the village of Musahars was knocking on the door, it was an affront to the izzat (honour) of the Bhumihars next door.”
The use of the ‘izzat’ word is telling. It reminds us of the ways in which feudal ‘honour’ is affronted by the autonomy and assertion of Dalits and women alike. Women who assert their freedom marry outside the caste and community are killed by feudal caste groups in the name of ‘honour’. This is what Alok Dhanwa called ‘kuleenta ki hinsa’ in ‘Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan. Similarly, feudal ‘honour’ feels affronted when Dalits assert their freedom. Every assertion of freedom of Dalits and women is branded as a ‘provocation’ and violence, while the rapes and massacres are recast as ‘self-defence’ and ‘defence of honour.’
‘Maley’ – the CPI(ML) – represented the social, economic, political assertion of the oppressed poor. Academicians and activists have recorded the forms that this assertion took, as the labourers rallied around CPI(ML).
Bela Bhatia (‘Justice Not Vengeance: The Bathani Tola Massacre and the Ranbeer Sena in Bihar’, special article, EPW, September 21, 2013 Vol XlVIII No. 38) presents a detailed record of several ways in which ‘Maley’ challenged feudal power.
She recounts an instance where a labourer Deepa Musahar had been shut up in a room “because this mongrel of a human being had the audacity to ask his malik (employer or “master”), Deep Narayan Chowdhury, for wages that were due to him for the previous year.” But, she notes, “In his dealings with Deepa Musahar, however, Deep Narayan Chowdhury had not reckoned with the fact that times had changed. No sooner had the news of this event reached the other labourers that a rasta roko (road blockade) was organised in protest by local members of the CPI(ML); the Belaur road (the main thoroughfare linking Ara with Sahar) was jammed.
“After the local administration and police intervened, the combined pressure made Deep Narayan release Deepa Musahar who had been detained for four hours by then. This instance, besides other strides that the CPI(ML) had made, led some Bhumihar leaders (including Deep Narayan Chowdhury, Dharichan Chowdhury, and the panchayat mukhiya Shiv Narayan Chowdhury, who were to play a crucial role in the bloody events that followed) to feel that the CPI(ML) base in the region was growing and that they had to pluck this thorn out before it destroyed their very existence. This led to their mobilisation in the shape of the Ranbeer Sena. The Ranbeer Sena was banned in November 1995, but continued to operate in the area, as the Bathani Tola massacre and subsequent massacres show.”
Apart from wages and land, CPI(ML) also challenged a whole range of oppressive caste codes – from daily humiliations to rapes – to which the Dalits and oppressed castes were subjected. Bela Bhatia writes, “One oft-mentioned form of social oppression in the old days was to prohibit labourers from sitting on a khatiya (string cots), even in front of their own homes. Even guests of the labourers were subject to the same rules. In other villages, labourers were required to register the name of every relative or outsider who visited them with a particular zamindar. Backward caste boys were beaten if they were caught wearing good clothes. Another outrageous practice for which Belaur is particularly known involved forbidding young brides leaving for their sasural (in-laws home) from sitting in the doli (palanquin) from the house of the parents, as is required by custom. The maliks would not tolerate them sitting inside the dolis when they crossed their houses; the brides of Belaur were r equired to walk barefoot until the outskirts of the village. The izzat (honour) of dalit women has always been cheap, and many prominent upper caste men have been involved in raping them. For example, in the present case, the son of Deep
Narayan Chowdhury is known to have raped several women including a Yadav woman of the Bhagwanpur tola of the village. Deep Narayan Chowdhury, quite unconcerned, once commented “maine saand pala hai” (I have raised a bull).”
The right to vote and elect leaders of their own choice was seen as the ultimate affront and challenge to feudal power. Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the CPI (ML) Liberation (June 2, Economic & Political Weekly, 2012) observed, “If we look at the history of the CPI(ML) movement in Bhojpur, we will see that the right to vote has been one of the most keenly contested issues. In fact, behind the emergence of the CPI(ML) in Bhojpur was the Assembly elections in 1967 in which Ramnaresh Ram contested as a Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate and he and all his close comrades were badly beaten up and harassed by the feudal lobby which could not stomach this ‘political audacity’ of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Years later, in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, when large numbers of Dalits for the first time succeeded in exercising their franchise and electing Rameshwar Prasad as the first naxalite Member of Parliament from Ara, a bloodbath ensued in Danwar-Bihta village just after the polling and as many as 22 persons had to pay with their lives the price for the right to vote.” The election of Ram Naresh Ram and Rameshwar Prasad as MLAs from the Sahar and Sandesh Assembly seats in 1995 was one of the key triggers for the Bathani Tola massacre.
The daily violence and humiliation of class-caste dominance that subjugated Dalit and oppressed caste labourers was, in the feudal vocabulary, called ‘peace and harmony’ and ‘social fabric’ (when the RSS and BJP use the term ‘Samajik Samrasta’ – they mean this very same feudal hierarchy). And every attempt to challenge this caste-class order, was branded as an act of violence and provocation. Anti-Dalit violence was, then, a mere restoration of the correct order! As Brahmeshwar Mukhiya said in his last interview to Dan Morrison of the New York Times, “Violence for the restoration of peace and harmony is not a sin.”
It is this inversion of the very meaning of ‘peace’ and ‘violence’ that allows BJP leaders to call the CPI(ML) activists ‘terrorists’ in public discourse even today, while unabashedly calling the BJP-backed terrorist Brahmeshwar Mukhiya ‘Bihar’s Gandhi’!
Ranveer Sena, RSS and Bihar’s Rulers
The Cobrapost sting indicates the Ranveer Sena’s strong links with former PM Chandrashekhar, a former Finance Minister, a former HRD Minister MM Joshi, former Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi, and several other prominent Bihar politicians including CP Thakur and Shivanand Tiwari, criminal politician Anand Mohan and Arun Kumar, formerly a leader of the Lok Janshakti Party and now with the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, a BJP ally.
The Ranveer Sena’s ideological and political relationship with the RSS and BJP are well known. Ranveer Sena used a saffron flag and its literature had all the RSS staples – shrill rhetoric against communists alleging that communists were agents of China and Pakistan that were out to destroy India’s social fabric, demands for scrapping Article 370, and ban on cow slaughter. Brahmeshwar Singh, in an interview close to his death had expressed his hope to see Modi as Prime Minister.
But the spate of massacres themselves raises equally serious questions about the Laloo-Rabri regime. Why did the RJD Government allow the Ranveer Sena to massacre at will? Why did the police in the Laloo-Rabri regime look the other way when the Ranveer Sena slaughtered the poor, and why did they deliberately sabotage cases by failing to collect evidence? The answer lay in Laloo Yadav’s own assertion, in a speech in the 1990s, that he was willing to ‘join hands with the forces of hell in order to counter the CPI(ML).’
The Rabri Devi Government was forced to set up the Justice Amir Das Commission after President KR Narayanan’s intervention after the Bathe massacre. But Justice Amir Das received no cooperation from the RJD Government, not even basic infrastructure.
The JDU-BJP Government headed by Nitish Kumar that came to power in 2005, disbanded the Justice Amir Das Commission. Nitish Kumar hastily scuttled the Commission, which he knew would have embarrassed him by exposing his BJP allies as killers of Dalits. Nitish had claimed that Sushil Modi was different from Narendra Modi, to distance himself from questions about the Gujarat massacre of 2002. Had the Commission been allowed to submit its report, Nitish would inevitably have been asked what had compelled him to join hands with the butchers of Bihar’s poor. It was the Nitish Government that presided over the serial acquittals of the killers in the massacre cases. Brahmeshwar Singh too had said that the massacres would not have been needed had a Government headed by Nitish Kumar been in power. And when Brahmeshwar Singh was killed, Nitish allowed the Ranveers to ‘vent their anger’ in Ara and Patna, attacking Dalit hostels and rioting, in the much the same way as Modi had allowed ‘Hindus to vent their anger’ on hapless Muslims in Gujarat 2002.
The Ranveer Sena massacres are also a comment on the crisis of ‘Dalit politics.’ What accounts for the silence of the Bahujan Samaj Party on these massacres – both in the 1990s and now? What can explain why self-professed Dalit leaders from Ram Vilas Paswan to Udit Raj to Jitan Ram Manjhi nestle in the lap of the butchers of Dalits?
Organised Violence By Ranveer Sena Elements Today
Are the Ranveer Sena killings things of the past? Yes and No.
The private militia has indeed lost much of its power. But organized feudal attacks on Dalit women, and targeted murders of CPI(ML) leaders by Ranveer Sena elements, continue in Bihar.
Last year, a former Ranveer Sena commander raped teenage Dalit girls in Kurmuri, Bhojpur, bringing alive memories of the attacks of the 1990s. On 27 July this year, Bhumihars assembled at the house of a local BJP leader in Parbatta (Khagaria district) and attacked the Dalit women of the Shiromani Tola, because a Dalit man had eloped with and married a Bhumihar woman. In Parbatta, the local JDU MLA, also a Bumihar, has conspicuously protected the attackers, as has the police and Administration. Soon after the Cobrapost revelations, a CPI(ML) activist of Bhojpur, Satish Yadav was killed by Ranveer Sena elements working for the BJP. The pattern of social and political killings by the survivals of the BJP-backed Ranveer Sena continues.
Finally, there are also questions for the media. Media channels usually lap up ‘terrorists’ confessing on camera, even when the said ‘confessions’ are obtained by police under duress. Why has no channel bothered to conduct a debate or discussion on the Cobrapost revelations, and few have played the footage of the Ranveer Sena terrorists boasting of the massacres on camera? Isn’t it news that a former Finance Minister used to ‘regularly visit’ the chief of a terrorist outfit and arrange funds for it?
One reason is of course the customary callousness of the corporate-controlled mainstream media towards rural India and Dalits’ issues. Another is the overwhelming domination of powerful castes in the media. And a third imperative is the reluctance to focus on stories that might embarrass the BJP that is currently the corporate darling. The media, much of which had accused rights groups of being ‘soft on terrorists,’ did not want to make an issue of terrorists naming prominent Indian politicians as their supporters.
When one looks back on the many caste and communal massacres that India has witnessed, one is struck by the systematic impunity with which powerful killers are able to shrug off the taint of blood.
The executioner’s hands are clean, his nails transparent.
The sleeves of each assassin are spotless.
No sign of blood: no trace of red,
not on the edge of the knife, none on the point of the sword.
…But, unheard, it still kept crying out to be heard.
No one had the time to listen, no one the desire.
It kept crying out, this orphan blood…
(In Search of Vanished Blood, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, translated Agha Shahid Ali)
The assassins walk about with spotless sleeves. The orphaned blood of the Dalits butchered by the Ranveer Sena cries out to us. Our justice system itself is in the dock, when killers and their sponsors mock it with open boasts of butchery.
Kavita Krishnan is a CPI – ML (Liberation) leader and Secretary of All India Progressive Womens’ Association (AIPWA)
Graphics by Ashok Bhowmick. Video from Cobrapost Website