Fifty years ago today, there was a massacre! Very terrifying and shocking to anyone’s heart and mind. Shame on humanity and democracy. One such massacre; Which was the first and most dreaded genocide after independence on the question of land rights. According to the official statement in which fourteen Santhal Adivasis were burnt alive and 36 people were badly injured.
However, Congress Adivasi leader Prithvi Chand Kisku, who was then MLC, alleged that the number of Santhal Adivasis killed was more than 14. According to him, “other than fourteen, the corpses of the slain Santhals were burnt by the feudal lords somewhere far away in the desert.” (Vikas Kumar Jha, Bihar: Rajniti Ka Apradhikaran, 1992, p. 179)
This massacre took place in Chandwa-Rupaspur village of Purnia district Bihar. Exactly fifty years ago today. In the month of November. The date was November 22, 1971, and the day was Monday.
The incident happened around three to four o’clock. When, on the guidance of Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu, the landlord of Chandwa, hundreds of assassins led by his son Pradyuman Singh and nephew Ramadhar Singh surrounded the Santhal settlement of Rupaspur village. Then taking sword, Gandasa, ax and attacked the unarmed Adivasis. They started firing indiscriminately at them.
Unaware of this killer plan of Dr. Sudhanshu, Santhal Adivasis tried to save their lives by entering their houses. Some people fought him with arrows. But all of them could not stand in front of the dreaded killers armed with dangerous weapons. The private army of zamindars, consisting of large and small landowners from upper and backward castes, killed dozens of people with bullets and cannons, burning many alive.
Those killed in this brutal massacre ranged from eighty-year-olds to men and women as young as three years old. The criminals of humanity did dirty work with women, then ran them naked and shot them.
This was the first mass genocide in the country and in Bihar after independence, on the question of land rights. The Santhal Adivasis were burnt alive by the landlords and landowners because they were not ready to give up their rights on the land which they had been cultivating for many generations. That land was made fit for cultivation and living and inhabited by their forefathers. Whereas, the landlords claimed that this land belonged to them. Which they have given to the Santhals as sharecroppers for cultivation. But now they want to become the owner of the land. They claiming it.
That is, the barbaric genocide of Adivasis that took place on November 22, 1971, was completely different from the Belchi, Pipra, Paras Bigha, Dalelchak Baghora and Bathani Tola massacres in Bihar after 1971. Because at the root of all this was the domination of feudal and upper castes discrimination, caste oppression, humiliation, and the question of agriculture labour wage. But, the question of Rupaspur-Chandwa was directly on the right of land.
If you think that Santals will continue to suffer such atrocities silently, then this is a delusion for you. Therefore, the administration and the government should be alerted before the Santal tribals lose their patience and get organized and take action.Satya Charan Besra, MP, Dumka (on the Rupaspur-Chandwa massacre, 23 December 1971
This question of the Adivasis of the Koshi region and Purnia area was very old. It had its roots in the history according to which the Adivasis had done the work of colonizing the marshy and wooded land of Koshi and making it cultivable. Which was occupied by small and big landlords, Hindu and Muslim landowners of the upper-backwards castes, by making of ownership during the survey settlement. As a result, the Adivasi people were now sharecroppers on their own created land and the feudal people were the owners.
The mastermind who planned the Rupaspur-Chandwa massacre was Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu, the landlord of Chandwa. The most eminent politician and litterateur of the fifties. Who had been the President of Bihar Congress and the Speaker of the Bihar Legislative Assembly. And, who was the chairman of Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad at the time of massacre. Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu, considered to be the Triveni of literature, society and politics, was the main architect of the Rupaspur-Chandwa Adivasi massacre.
“This was the first incident when the name of a veteran politician, who had held the post of Speaker of the Bihar Legislative Assembly, came up directly in connection with the Bihar massacre. Shortly before this incident, Dr. Laxmi Narayan Sudhanshu had stepped down from the post of Speaker of the Bihar Legislative Assembly. He was counted as the Speaker of the most powerful Vidhan Sabha. Dr. Laxmi Narayan Sudhanshu had also been the President of the Bihar Pradesh Congress from 1950 to 1952 during the Chief Minister of Dr. Shrikrishna Singh. In politics, he was one of Pandit Nehru’s favourite personage. But apart from politics, Dr. Sudhanshu also gave immense fame in the Hindi literary world.” (Bihar: Rajniti Ka Apradhikaran, p. 179)
AK Roy, a well-known Marxist leader and MP from Jharkhand, wrote a report after visiting the spot. According to this report also Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu was the mastermind of this massacre – “When I went for inspection on December 4, 1971 to Purnea hospital, Mr. Tala Hembram (who was injured) and Mr. Mohan Baski (who was shot at during the incident), both had told the names of Shri Laxminarayan Sudhanshu and his son Shri Padam Narayan Singh among the invaders. The district magistrate of Purnea had confirmed the presence of Laxminarayan Sudhanshu at the time of the incident and then later I learned that three Adivasi women had also told the name of Laxminarayan Sudhanshu to the Chief Minister.” (Filhal, Patna, January 1972)
Bihar and the country got the news of the Chandwa-Rupaspur barbaric Adivasi massacre three days later of the heinous crime. That too when the then Socialist Party and Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Assembly, Karpoori Thakur, exposed the matter through a press conference in Patna on 25 November 1971. Mr. Thakur’s statement was published in The Times of India titled ’14 sharecroppers allegedly killed by landlords’ men’ in which he gave full details of the incident, saying, “Similar incidents had occurred in 12 other places in the State and in every case the police and the executive remained silent spectators.” (The Times of India, 26 November 1971, p. 11)
The Chief Minister opened his mouth on November 28, six days after the incident, only after pressure from Karpoori Thakur’s press conference and CPI’s announcement of withdrawal of support to the government. At that time the Chief Minister of Samvid (Joint Legislature Party) of Bihar was Bhola Paswan Shastri. Shri Shastri belonged to a Dalit family and belonged to Purnea. He entered legislative politics by winning from Dhamdaha (Rupaspur-Chandwa is under Dhamdaha block) assembly constituency in 1952 and was a minister in all subsequent Congress governments from Shri Krishna Singh ministry. In his statement to the press on 28 November 1971, the Chief Minister had said only this, ten Santhals were shot dead and four burnt alive in a “very inhuman, brutal and gruesome incident” that took place at Rupaspur-Chandwa. The government will never fail to punish the perpetrators of the genocide.” (Bihar: Rajniti Ka Apradhikaran, p. 179)
Chief Minister Shastri could not say anything more than this. Because whether the politicians of the upper castes of that time, be it the Dalit Chief Minister Bhola Paswan Shastri or the well-known Hindi writer of backward society, Phanishwarnath Renu, all of them were very close friends of Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu. Therefore, neither Laxminarayan Sudhanshu, nor even a single accused involved in this first massacre after independence over the question of land, got any punishment. Because, the government, police-administration, media and courts all belonged to him.
Nevertheless, when there was a lot of uproar on this in both the houses of the country from Bihar, Laxminarayan Sudhanshu was arrested for a nominal amount. He was ‘under house arrest’ on 8 December 1971 at his residence in Patna. Later, he and all the accused in the massacre, including son Pradyuman Singh, were released on bail. The court case went on for 16 years and finally the Patna High Court in its judgment dated 9 December 1987 observed that “In a criminal trial the prosecution is not bound to prove the motive in every case. But in a case like the present one, the natural question arises as to why such [a] barbarous and heinous crime was committed against poor Santhals. This question remains unanswered in the present case.”, acquitted all the accused criminals of Rupaspur-Chandwa. (Shankar Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, legitquest.com/case/shankar-kumar-singh-v-state-of-bihar/F1EA1, 09-12-1987)
Eminent sociologist Prof. Anand Chakravarti remarks- “To my mind, this statement, while censuring the prosecution for implicitly suggesting that the Santhals of Chandwa-Rupaspur had been attacked for reasons that are unclear, also obliterates in one stroke the entire history of struggle by their fellow Adivasi bataidars against the maliks in Dhamdaha for their land rights. … The High Court judgement in the Chandwa-Rupaspur case (9 December 1987), setting aside the conviction of the accused in the trial court, is the first instance of a monumental failure of the criminal-justice system in post-Independence Bihar to compel the strong to be accountable for a mass crime against the weak.”
The Chandwa-Rupaspur issue had arisen twice in the Lok Sabha. The first time on 29 November 1971 and the second time on 23 December 1971. The issue was raised in the Rajya Sabha through a calling attention motion on 1st December 1971. Adivasi and Dalit members in Parliament on all three occasions demanded immediate amendment and strict implementation of the Land Reforms Act to prevent such massacres, fair investigation by CBI and parliamentary committee. But the then Home Minister KC Pant had rejected the demand of the members saying that it was a state matter.
Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha on this- “This is a State subject and accordingly it is not easy for the Centre to interfere with these matters. …I only want to say that an inquiry is proceeding. So far as I know, it is going on all right. There is no complaint now. There were many complaints in the beginning. It is going on all right now. We are keeping in very close touch and, should it become necessary, the Centre can step in also. This type of crime must be condemned in the strongest possible words.” (Lok Sabha Debates, 23 December 1971)
We lost in Purnea court. Lost in Patna High Court. But we never lost on the ground and the land.A Santal Villager, Purnea
However, even after 50 years of the Rupaspur-Chandwa massacre, the issue between the Santhals and the landowners remains unresolved. Even after this incident, violent clashes continue on the question of land. Adivasi people, who have been facing feudal violence for more than a century, are not ready to give up their land ownership and shareholding rights. Their demand is that under the Bihar Tenancy Act, their rights on the land should be strictly implemented.
But it is clear that no government in Bihar in the Dabangs Raj is ready to put their hands in this ‘Birni ka Chhatta’. The current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had formed the Bandopadhyay Commission for land reforms in 2006. After the study, the commission made several recommendations. But Nitish Babu put the report of the commission in cold storage, saying that “balancewa bigad jayega”.
Therefore, the Adivasis of all the districts of North Bihar including Purnea of Koshi zone are still suffering from violence, but they too are not sitting silent. Even though the government of Bihar and their land laws do not support the Adivasis. Even though Bihari society, its Chief Minister and media consider Dr. Laxminarayan Sudhanshu great, not the martyrs of Chandwa-Rupaspur. Celebrate the birth anniversary of a murderer. But Chandwa-Rupaspur is settled in the hearts of the Adivasis. They have not left the land. All of them are still plowing the land created by their forefathers. And they fighting continues.
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