By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
On May 24 morning, when villagers were went to the field to defecate in the open, they were shocked to see two bodies on the road. It was a brutal murder. The head of the one of them was severed from the body. The other man was lying unconscious on the other side of the road. There were some hockey sticks lying on the ground.
People immediately rushed to the home of the person who was brutally murdered, Banarasi Mushahar. Sunil, Banarasi’s son, and other family members rushed to the spot. They were crying and weeping. The village sarpanch had already informed the police, which came from the local police chowki of Narayanpur. Mushahars are a tribal-turned-Dalit community found in the eastern Gangetic plain and the Terai.
The police arrived at around 9 am and did panchnama of the body and took it for post-mortem, while the other man, Ram Preet, was sent to the District Hospital in Padrauna for treatment. His condition was serious. He was arrested as accused after the hospital released him. Padrauna is a city and district headquarter of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. Its ancient name was Pava, where Lord Buddha is known to have taken his last meal.
The police officers came to the “conclusion” that Ram Preet, also belonging to the Mushahar community, and his friend Banarasi had drunk tadee (traditional toady) and got into fight on a certain issue, ending up in a fight, wounding each other. The fight turned violent. Banarasi got killed, while Ram Preet was injured, hence was taken to the hospital.
Banarasi’s job was to guard the 10 bigha agricultural land of a local businessman Ram Kumar Jaiswal – something he was doing for the last seven years. He had entered into a seermani agreement with Jaiswal. Seermai is an unwritten arrangement in which, in lieu of guarding an agricultural lot, the owner, or the zamindar, would hand over a small portion of land to do farming to earn a livelihood. In lieu of seermai, Banarasi was given one bigha land.
All that is known about what preceded before the tragedy is, on May 23, Bansidhar and his friend Ram Preet, after picking up their dinner bundles from their home, had gone to guard Jaiswal’s field. The villagers recalled, a group close to village Pradhan Keshav Yadav next to Jaiswal’s land, was tilling land with tractor, even as loudly playing music and DJ. Those who were running the tractor belonged belonged to the same village Koilaswa – which became famous in the early years of this century, for hunger deaths and brain fever, termed termed as Japanese encephalitis.
Talking with me, Banarasi’s wife, Raj Mati Devi accused the police of not being fair in the case. She said that the police reached the “conclusion” in this case on the basis of a ‘story’ cooked up by the village chief Keshav Yadav, ignoring family members of Banarasi and Ram Preet. The police did not bother to find out as to why Banarasi became a victim.
Banarasi was a respected person of the Mushahar community. Earlier, he used to run the village ration shop. Mushahars are known to face deep contempt from the so-called dominant caste forces, who have always wanted to use them as slave labourers. A Mushahar running a public distribution system (PDS) shop was unacceptable to the powerful dominant castes in the village.Yet Banarasi ran it for seven years, till one day Keshav Yadav, who was not the pradhan then but just a panchayat member, lodged complaint against him in the district alleging ‘corruption’. The shop was looted in broad daylight. Nobody helped Banarasi. He was dejected but wanted to come out clean. He was doing everything to fight the case.
Banarasi put a small piece of land, owned by him, on ‘rehan’, a local barter system, in which you give part of your land for cash, and once you return the cash, land comes back to you. He failed get back the ration shop, which went to a person belonging to a person belonging to the dominant upper caste Yadav community.
Banarasi knew it well that being Mushahar his journey was tough and people would not accept him. Mushahars are supposed to be just labourers. Having failed to get back the PDS shop, Baranasi decided to do do seermai agreement for Raj Kumar Jaiswal’s agricultural land. He worked hard on the plot of land given to him, cultivating crops and planting trees to earn a livelihood.
Rajmati Devi complained, immediately after the murder of her husband, the landowner Jaiswal refused to help the family. He did not pay anything. The family does not have access the land Banarasi was guarding any more, or to the one bigha land which he was cultivating.
Banarasi’s son Sunil said, his father, though older than Ram Preet, was much stronger in physique and it was unlikely that Ram Preet would kill him. He wondered, how was it that his father’s body was found on the road near the school, while Ram Preet was lying badly injured in a different direction across the road. Sunil said, there were hockey sticks on the road, wondering who had brought these, as neither of them had then when they left their home. If these two had fought, those tilling the nearby field till late at night would have heard some noise, and would have intervened. But this did not happen. The police was uncooperative and did not visit the Mushahar basti, nor did it meet anyone of them to hear their grievances.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ny0ZSXeSi7QSunil said, if they had fought, why wouldn’t have reached the public road to kill each other when they were drinking at a ‘secure’ place on Jaiswal’s plot, which Banarasi was taking care of. He believed, it was a conspiracy to kill Banarasi, and the conspirators had not been identified.
Meanwhile, Banarasi’s family tried to meet local officials and politicians, but they were told that due to corona restrictions, this not possible. The local police chowki person sent them to the main police thana, but this did not help. Reaching Padrauna, the district headquarters, was simply unaffordable. Meanwhile, Ram Preet is in the jail. His family said that he must be given an opportunity to speak in the court and tell the truth. No chargesheet has been filed. They don’t know what is happening.
The two Mushahar families are in bad shape. They don’t have any land. The big landowners don’t give them work, so life has become even more difficult. The police needs to investigate the case properly, speak to the respective families and take their grievance seriously.
Indeed, Banarasi’s murder does not seem to be as simple as it is tried to be made out. It is seems to be clear case of caste crime, yet the Mushahar community is being intimidated so that it continues to live in permanent fear and does not ask any questions. Indeed, the real culprits should be arrested under the scheduled caste-scheduled tribe prevention of atrocities Act.
*Human rights defender