Patna: Janaki Paswan, a frail old man belonging to the dalit community, from Belchi village in Patna, is vocal about his wanting to oust Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the Assembly elections this time. The lone surviving witness to the infamous Belchi massacre, in which 11 lower caste men were killed by a private militia of powerful landed Kurmi farmers in 1977, Paswan is still living in fear of the Kurmis, who enjoy socio-economic and political power thanks to Nitish Kumar who is from the same caste.
Four decades after the incident, Paswan said that if Nitish Kumar remains in power, his castemen will never allow any development in their village due to their enmity with the dalits of the area. He is also disappointed over the lack of employment and price rise. Expressing his fears, the 80-year-old man told NewsClick, “Nitish ka jana tai hai. Nitish agar power mein rahega to hamra dard Kum nahi hoga. Hum chahenge ke uska haar ho. Nitish ki sarkar badalna chahiye (Nitish’s removal is sure. If he remains in power, our problems will never be resolved. We want him to lose this time. The government should change).”
Siting on a plastic chair surrounded by his teenage grandchildren outside his daughter’s house, he added in the local Magadhi dialect, “It was a Kurmi private gang that massacred the poor men including four of my family members and others. Nitish as CM give a sense of power to his caste men who hate us and do not like us because we challenge them.”
Despite his old age, Paswan retains his fighting spirit. He can still recall how he escaped to survive from the clutches of the Kurmi armed gang of Mahavir Mahto on that fateful afternoon in May in 1977. “I watched everything silently by lying flat on a nearby thatch roof of a neighbour as they shot, chopped and killed 11 poorest of the poor in the maize fields and then tossed them in a burning wood fire to eliminate evidence.”
He added, “It was horrible, we had never expected that something like this could happen. I smelled the burning flesh of those killed in broad daylight and thrown in fire.” Forty-three years after, the fear is still alive as he said, “Dar to abhi bhi lagta hai,hum garib hai (we are still afraid, as we are poor)
It was only after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s visit that the families of the victims of the massacre received some compensation in the form of an acre of land, he said, adding that however, even that land is now gone as the river has claimed it.
According to him, n the last 15 years since Nitish Kumar came to power, the villagers have repeatedly raised the demand for construction of new buildings to shift police station and block offices but nothing has happened so far.
Not only that, Paswan said that the headmaster of the government-run middle school in the village, who belongs to the Kurmi community, discriminates against the dalit children. “This teacher treats our children as untouchable and discriminates against them to discourage them from attending classes. We have demanded time and again to transfer the teacher but district administration ignored it,” he said, adding that the school was constructed on the 1 katha land donated by him to educate children from marginalised dalits.
Ravindar Paswan, who recalled that he was barely 16 or 17 at the time of massacre, had also witnessed the entire episode from a thatch hut of a Musahar family. He was attacked and badly thrashed by an armed gang and seriously injured but survived as he was helped by a Musahar woman. “As I was a minor child, my father did not give my name as witness in the case,” he said as an explanation. He too joined Janaki in voicing their opinion against the Nitish Kumar government.
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It was through Janaki’s witness statement that the main accused of the massacre were hanged to death while 14 others were awarded life imprisonment. As such Janaki’s words carry respect among more than 200 Paswan families here. “We want to change the Nitish government. This government has discriminated against us and left us in a lurch,” Upendar Paswan, a villager said.
Not just Paswans, other villagers are also determined to vote Nitish Kumar out of power. “This time people will change Nitish’s government,” Hiramani Ram, who belongs to the Ramani community, said.
Rekha Devi, from the Ravidas community, said the mood in the village is to change the government.
Meanwhile, the other side of Belchi, populated by the Musahar community is reluctant to express anything. “We stand with other villagers,” said Jamun Manjhi, an old Musahar man who remembers Indira Gandhi’s visit to the village.
Belchi falls under the Barh Assembly constituency which went to polls on October 28.
All Photos by Mohd. Imran Khan