200 BIHAR VILLAGERS IN 20-YEAR LEGAL TANGLE FOR 5-KG PADDY THEFT
Friday, 23 February 2018 | Faizan Ahmed | ARA (BHOJPUR)-
Twenty years is a long period. Not for the judiciary, but certainly for the poor villagers of Passaur. They are getting older, physically and financially weaker and badly tired due to court appearance. They lamented that the “crime”, one of the villagers had committed, and the case spiralled into a big issue with over 200 people embroiled in a series of police cases. Two people lost their lives in police firing and a couple of pregnant women allegedly died due to police beating.
The case dates back to February 19, 1998. And the crime of poor farmhand Veera Musahar of Passaur village was stealing 5 kg of paddy from the granary of rich farmer Ayodhya Singh. After a good thrashing the Mahadalit was handed over to police. But that was not the end. The incident rather triggered series of events and the case is still pending in the Ara district court for 20 years.
Unbelievable but true. The case of the theft of 5 kg of soiled paddy led to the violence in the village, police firing and counter firing causing spot death of two: Dineshwar Paswan and Godahan Musahar, arrest of more than 200 villagers and the unending court case. The incidents caused a deep chasm between upper caste farmers and Dalit farmhands which continues till date. Dalits, particularly Musahars, are denied working in those fields which they said is “soiled with our blood”.
A few km from Charpokhri police station across the acres of mustard fields on both sides and surrounded by the canals lies Passaur village having a population of about 5,000 with Dalits domination where uneasy silence prevails. No groups of villagers chatted under tree, no children play in ground and no lowing of cattles.
Sitting on haunches under the sun, Veera, 65, admitted stealing the leftover paddy and wonder if it was such a big crime. “I was beaten badly by the men of Ayodhya Singh and was handed over to police after some hours. Then I was sent to jail where I stayed for three days. Other incidents in the village happened when I was in jail,” he said in Bhojpuri dialect.
Co-villager Ramnath Musahar, 52, who spent 20 months in jail, accused police and local landholders of opening fire at the protesting Dalits who were up in arms over the arrest of Veera. Police, he alleged, accused Dalits of opening fire at police. “How ridiculous is this claim. We don’t have anything to eat how we can pose guns,” he countered and said only from Musahar tola 85 people were accused in the case.
The landholders as well as police, however, alleged the dalits were hardcore sympathisers of CPI (Marxist-Leninist) and were getting arms from the party. The CPI (ML) is a force to reckon with in Bhojpur region.
Guljari Kuwar, who lost her husband Dineshwar Paswan, said when police charged everybody was running helter skelter and in that course her husband who was tying a cow to the peg was hit by bullet. Subhagi Ram claimed his pregnant wife Banwaria Devi was dragged out, beaten and cops punched her belly with their boots. She died. One more pregnant woman, whose name could not be recalled by the villagers, was too allegedly treated similarly and she met the same fate.
Ayodhya Singh was not available in the village but his son Dabloo Singh claimed that after the theft of grains they handed over the thief to police but the dalits ganged up and started firing. “We are not involved in these cases and it is between police and dalits,” he said.
Singh claimed that after the cases were filed the dalits refused to work on their fields. “We would bring farm workers from other places but when the crop was ready the armed dalits would come in the night and cut our crops and take away. This happened for over ten years and our condition was so miserable that we were on verge of starvation. But now villagers are working on our farms and peace prevails,” said Singh as his cousin Binay Singh showed the place where he said firing took place for over five hours and in this cross firing then DSP Sanjay Lathekar, now a senior official with CRPF, was caught.
The spot seems to be haunted one with only a crumbling structure standing and debris strewn.
Singh’s claim that his family had nothing to with the case proved false after going through the FIR register at Charpokhri police station. The SHO Kunwar Prasad Gupta said the first FIR was lodged by Ayodhya on February 19, 1998 and another by Janardan Singh next day. Two FIRs were instituted by police against about 200 villagers. He said some arms were seized during raids on the houses of dalits. Village chowkidar who was witness to the events said now more than half of accused persons and half of witnesses are no more.
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