Police Excesses and the Conspiracy of Silence in Bihar

Any police action in Bhagalpur is bound to bring fresh into the mind the sad memories of the infamous October 1989 Bhagalpur riots in which the rampaging police revolted against the Prime Minster of the country – now late Rajiv Gandhi – to rescind the transfer order of the then superintendent of police,

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Any police action in Bhagalpur is bound to bring fresh into the mind the sad memories of the infamous October 1989 Bhagalpur riots in which the rampaging police revolted against the Prime Minster of the country – now late Rajiv Gandhi – to rescind the transfer order of the then superintendent of police, K.S. Dwevidi. What happened after that is known throughout India and abroad. It proved a Waterloo for the Congress in Bihar.
A small replay of the same naked barbarism was enacted in Kahalgaon block of Bhagalpur district on January 18-19. This time the unruly police of the Nitish Kumar government not only opened indiscriminate fire on the agitating crowd belonging to the cross-section of the society because they were demanding electricity but also indulged in selective targeting of Muslims a day later.
While four persons, including one Muslim, were killed in the firing in Kahalgaon township, where the National Thermal Power Corporation plant is situated, on January 18 one Muslim, Mohammad Khairuddin alias Khairu was killed and another, Mohammad Aslam, was seriously injured when the police broke into the houses of Muslims, pulled out men, women and children, while they were watching the television or busy in some other work, beat them publicly on the streets and in the case of Khairu and Aslam shot them. While Khairu died on the spot, Aslam is battling for his life in the hospital.
While Sahara Bihar and ETV Bihar telecast the video-recording of the incident for full one day neither any champion of human rights nor any Muslim organisation deemed it fit to take notice of this beastly act and put the government in the dock. The unanswered question is: If citizens cutting across the caste and community lines were involved in a month-long protest agitation over the poor power supply, which ultimately led to the firing on January 18, then why is it that only Muslims were singled out for this mistreatment a day later, that is, on January 19. The tragedy is that this happened in the small town of Kahalgaon in Bhagalpur district, when the additional director general of police, Abhayanand and the state home secretary, Afzal Amanullah, the two blue-eyed boys of chief minister Nitish Kumar – not to speak of other officials – were there.
This is not the first example of police excess under the Nitish Kumar government. Last year the police opened fire in Madhubani district on the flood-hit people demanding relief killing at least one of them. At many places during the heydays of flood the starving mass of people were brutally thrashed by the men in khaki simply because they sought relief from the government.
The opposition parties in Bihar used to dub the 15 years of Lalu-Rabri regime as the jungle raj. Whether it was so or not is subject to debate, what can be said with fair amount of certainty is that Bihar is today in the grip of police-raj with police and ruling party goons being given free hands to crush all the democratic voices.
In the last two years, not to speak of common citizens, even the media persons, elected representatives, doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers all have been brutalised by the police, most of them on the streets of the state capital. In Patna alone journalists were ruthlessly lathicharged by police and the goons of the ruling Janata Dal (United) on September 17 and October 31 last.
Extra-judicial killings – no not only by mob but by the police – have become the order of the day. If Aurangzeb alias Saleem, a rickshaw-puller accused of snatching chain, was towed behind a police motor-cycle and dragged for several furlongs in Bhagalpur last August – this incident was also shown by television channels – in Patna a woman, Reshma Khatoon, was killed and his body dumped in a sack at a place not even a couple of kilometres from chief minister’s residence. And when the media on October 31 reported that this was the handiwork of Anant Singh, a ruling party MLA very close to Nitish Kumar, they were publicly thrashed by his henchmen. The police only looked the other way round.
When the public protest over Reshma’s killing and subsequent assault on the Press turned out of control, five days later the same police swung into action and said that the body in fact was not of Reshma but of Kajal, a girl from Bihar Sharif. Though by then the state government ordered a CBI inquiry, no probe whatsoever was done into the killing of the woman – whether she was Reshma or Kajal.
There is no denying the fact that be it law and order, police highhandedness or power condition, the situation in Bihar has turned from bad to worse. The beleaguered chief minister Nitish Kumar now puts all the blame on the Union government though be it law and order or supply of electricity they all are the state subjects and the Union government has nothing to do with it. Instead what the current state government is doing is that it is wrongly taking credit for all the central government works, such as the construction of National Highways, rural roads under Prime Minister Gramin Sadak Yojana, etc.
The irony is that Nitish Kumar, instead of seeking public apology for the police firing and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim locality a day later, went on blaming the Centre for the crisis on the plea that the NTPC plant in Kahalgaon was not giving power to the local people. What he failed to explain is as to how can the NTPC be blamed when it is up to the state government to distribute power to the people of Bihar?
Providing power supply is state government’s duty. If it cannot produce, it can take electricity from the central pool or buy from neighbouring states, which has surplus power. But neither the central government nor the neighbouring states is responsible for the distribution of power among the people. And if the central government is responsible for the power-shortage in Bihar then it should not be Lalu Prasad or Rabri Devi who should be blamed for the similar crisis between 1990 and 2005. Even in those years the power crisis was not so acute as now and that too in the winter when the consumption of electricity is low.
Before coming to power two years back the NDA promised to produce electricity within six months from its own two generating units in Kanti in Muzaffarpur and Barauni in Begusarai districts. Today 26 months later why is it demanding power from the Centre?
The issue is not just the absence of electricity in Kahalgaon, but the manner in which the citizens’ movement is being tackled all over the state. It is not only in Bhagalpur that the people have gone on warpath over power shortage. In about two dozen towns and cities of the state they have taken to street.
The only difference is that Kahalgaon only exposed the manner in which the Nitish government is functioning. Two days after the firing the Sub Divisional Officer, S.K. Srivastava, who was immediately suspended after the incident, was on the gun-point threatened by the police to accept that he had ordered firing on the crowd. He faxed a letter to the Bihar Administrative Service Association seeking its intervention as it was actually the district magistrate and SP, who, according to him, were responsible for whatever happened on January 18 and 19. The junior officers have only been made scapegoats.