A two-day visit to Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of Bihar are enough to reveal the ugly truth that Nitish Kumar is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Bihar joins the group of BJP-ruled States, undistinguishable from the others despite the fact that it is only a partially BJP-ruled State.

Since his decision to form a Government with BJP support after ditching his alliance partner the Rashtriya Janata Dal, that was responsible for making him Chief Minister in the first place, his Government has done everything to earn its laurels as a member of the Group despite his goody-goody, mealy-mouthed announcements of schemes and policies to help women, minorities, mahadalits.

His dispensation in the State has emboldened feudal, upper-caste landlords and mafia after many years of Mandal-dominated politics. While they have never been dealt with firmly and decisively, even by Governments led by Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar in the decades after 1990, they have not had the kind of free run and sense of complete impunity that they enjoyed earlier and seem to be experiencing now.

What we saw in Madhubani and Muzaffarpur was proof of this. I went to both districts because of vicious attacks on Scheduled Castes belonging to the most backward and deprived community of Musahars and on young women. The State unit of the CPI(M) had been quite active in its interventions and invited me to visit the affected villages.

In Madhubani a huge protest rally was organized in Khatauna block in support of 105 Musahar families whose homes were demolished by the administration and its JCB machines on July 1. Local CPI(M) leaders and supporters went to the spot immediately and organized a dharna of the affected families in the Block premises. The administration was forced to open the adjacent government school and provide a makeshift shelter for the homeless people who had lost everything to the JCB’s predations, even their clothes. It had to agree to providing rations for them and, after a few days of protest, alternate house-sites and compensation.

The dharna, however, continued and we attended the rally. The unbearable heat and humidity could not deter more than 2000 people from participating in the rally – only about 700 of them belonged to the evicted families. The mood was angry and determined and the participants repeatedly re-iterated the fact that they would leave the place only when they had a home to return to.

After the rally, the entire crowd marched in a procession to the village, Mogala, where the demolition had taken place. It was a terrible sight. It was not mud and straw huts that had been destroyed but small brick and plaster homes in which Musahar families had lived since 1985-86. They had been given the land for house-sites by the State Government. It was part of many parcels of land acquired by the Government from landlords who held land in excess of the ceiling regulations.

Indira Awas Yojana houses had been built on this land, hand-pumps had been installed by the administration and all the homes had electricity connections. The old landlord, however, had been persistent in his attempt to re-occupy his land and, in recent years, he had been able to win over people in the administration and judiciary, probably with money power. As a result, the Government’s efforts to protect its own land weakened considerably and finally disappeared and he was able to get a Court Order in his favour. The Court ordered the administration to remove the Musahar homes immediately. Which is what it did.

The Musahars, however, not only started the dharna at the block, they were also vigilant to see that no one approached the land on which their broken homes stood. The CPI(M) was able to convince the administration not only to try and arrange alternative house-sites but also to regain possession of what was its own land.

The mood of the people when they returned to their old homes was jubilant. Very soon, a young boy climbed onto the broken roof of one of the houses and planted the red flag there. People started looking for their belongings in the rubble and to straighten doors, pick up tin sheets and gather scattered bricks. They were convinced that they would return to their old homes.

Later, they returned to the dharna spot.

We spoke to the District Collector who assured us that he would not allow the claimant to take possession of the land and had made an application for restoration of the Title Suit to the Government I the Civil Court. He was sure that they would win the case. We told him that even he started building new homes the next day, it would be more than two years before they could be occupied and, in the meantime, the homeless families could visit their old homes, repair them and stay there from time to time. For so many people to live in the school which had no windows or doors or toilets would be to invite sickness and different kinds of trouble.

One way or the other, this battle of the poorest and most down-trodden section of society that had to face a brutal and unexpected attack, will definitely end in victory for them. And the Red Flag.

Muzaffarpur’s name is now inextricably linked with the horrific sexual assault suffered by young girls between the ages of 10 and 15 in the so-called ‘Rescue Home’ run by an NGO. 40 girls have been rescued from the home and incidents of rape against 34 have been established in the medical examinations. At least 3 have had to undergo abortions and 4 are pregnant. Most of these girls suffer from psychological and mental trauma and disability. While some of the accused who are connected with the administration of the home, the Director is absconding. He is believed to be ‘close’ to the local BJP MLA who apparently owns the ‘home’ premises.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the husband of JD(U) Minister for Social Welfare, Manju Verma, is being widely accused of having visited the home regularly to participate in the abuse of the inmates. The State Government has not shown any willingness to proceed against political bigwigs accused of being perpetrators of unimaginable crimes and because of the uproars that have ensued it has had to refer the case to the CBI. What is needed, however, is to rescue all such ‘Rescue Homes’ from the NGOs running them and to bring them under Government control with proper monitoring systems in place.

Muzaffarpur has also witnessed a brutal destruction of Musahar homes and one of the most ghastly incidents of rape and murder of recent times. Saraiyyan is a area just outside the city. Here, 12 acres of very fertile and now extremely valuable land had been for house-sites to 50 Musahar families in 1982. Here too, Indira Awas Yojana homes were built, hand pumps installed etc. The family of Devanand Thakur, a big and powerful landlord claimed that they were the tenants of the original owner and filed a case to gain possession of the land.

Of course, they could use money and muscle power to get a favourable decision in 2008 but it was only after a more favourable political climate was created in the State that they used all means possible to secure the administration’s help to get the land cleared. On 17th July, police from 5 thanas along with a DySP, several JCBs and goondas owing allegiance to the Thakur family attacked the Musahar homes.

The poor women who were there threw themselves in front of the JCBs but they were beaten and kicked by the Deputy Superintendent of Police SP Jha. The goondas started setting fire to some of the homes while the others were being demolished. Many people had to be hospitalized after the brutalities they endured. Despite everything, however, they are not budging from the place.

While we were talking to the people here we were given information that left us speechless with horror.

We had decided to visit the home of the parents of Nasreen (10 years) and her brother Azhar (8 years) who had both been killed very brutally on the July 22 . Nasreen had been raped before being murdered. Azhar had been blinded in both eyes before being throttled to death.

We were told by a press reporter that Lalla Thakur and Vikas Thakur, son and grandson of Devendra Thakur were responsible for the atrocities inflicted on the two children. Neither of them had been arrested.

We reached Nasreen’s parents home, walking through fields and slush. It is a kuchha hut. The family is extremely poor and belongs to the Fakir community, traditional beggars who are actually Dalit Muslims but have not been officially recognized as such. Nasreen’s mother, Baby Khatoon, told us that 10 days before her children were killed, she had taken her goat out to graze. Lalla Thakur’s poultry farm, the scene of many assaults, is situated just beyond here basti. When her goat ate a few leaves, he pounced upon her and beat her up after throwing her to the ground. He warned her that if any members of her family were seen in the area with animals, they would be killed. On the 22nd, Nasreen and Azhar were walking towards the fields when they were carried away to the poultry farm by Lalla and his son, Vikas. A neighbor of Nasreens’s family, Farid and his son were also there. It was then that the savage attacks on the children were carried out and their dead bodies were found in the river nearby.

Nasreen’s grandfather told us that he has been threatened by Lalla and others who are pressuring him to withdraw the case. When we told them that we would do everything to help them, Baby Khatoon replied “Hamein madat naheen chahiye. Sirf insaaf chahiye.” (We don’t want any help. We only want justice.)

We spoke to the District Magistrate demanding immediate action. Later in the evening, Farid was arrested but Lalla and his son are still at large.

Such incidents are now recurring all over the State. There is tremendous anger and disgust amongst large sections of the people. To give voice to this, the Left Parties have given a call for a Bihar Bandh on August 2.

(Subhashini Ali is PolitBureau Member, CPI(M) )