Landless Farmers on Hunger Strike Attacked With Petrol Bomb in Bihar
In Runni Saidpur village of the Sitamarhi district of Bihar, 316 landless families have been living on 10.7 acres of land. These families mostly earn their livelihood through agricultural labour, and the population consists of several Dalit families. Fifty-one people from these families were on an indefinite hunger strike since January 11, demanding legal documents for the land they are residing on. Even after six days of the hunger strike, there was no response from the administration.
The response, however, has now come in the form of an alleged attack by the land mafia, as petrol bombs were thrown at these protesters, injuring several.
These 316 landless families have been living in small huts on 10.7 acres out of 17 acres of surplus land in the area since 2003. Led by local activist Devendra Jadav, they have been constantly fighting for the legal ownership of the land ever since, with the support of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU). After a long battle under the leadership of Jadav, the block Circle Office (CO) finally inspected the land, and it was decided that the families will receive ownership papers. However, after this decision was taken, the CO went on a long leave due to health problems, and the responsibility was shifted to the Block Development Officer (BDO), Saroj Baitha.
After this transfer of responsibility, on January 10, the BDO visited the area accompanied by 100 policemen. Allegedly, they were also accompanied by the local land mafia. The BDO said that he will conduct the inspection again, and then will take a decision regarding the ownership papers. The people protested against this, and during the visit, several local women were hurt.
This gave rise to anger among the protesters, and they decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike starting January 11. During the first six days of the strike, there was no response from the administration, until January 16 when the BDO called representatives from the area for a meeting. Just as the representatives were about to leave the protest for the meeting, they were attacked by the land mafia, and a petrol bomb was thrown at Devendra Jadav, which he narrowly escaped. But two of the protesters, Binda Sahni and a Dalit woman named Anari Devi, were critically injured, along with several others.
Talking to Newsclick, Awadhesh Kumar, the state secretary of CPI(M) Bihar, said, “They wanted to kill Devendra, since he had been spearheading the movement. Coincidentally, he escaped, but two women were critically injured and their lives are in danger.” He added, “This incident, along with the one on January 10, proves that the BDO is a corrupt man, and has ties with the land mafia, and he doesn’t want the locals to get their ownership papers.”
Both the injured women have been admitted to hospitals. Binda Sahni is in critical condition in Patna Medical College Hospital, having suffered major burns all over her body.
The hunger strike was stopped after this incident. A protest rally, with the call “Chalo Runni Saidpur”, will be organised on January 22. “We demand that the BDO be immediately suspended and arrested,” said Awadhesh Kumar. The demands of the rally also include proper compensation for the victims, and that the government bear the costs of the treatment.
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