By M. Reyaz, TwoCircles.net,
It’s been over two years to the brutal police firing at the protesters in Forbesganj as they were demonstrating against the blockade of the only connecting road to their village with the block office, market and Idgah on June 3, 2011. TwoCircles.net was the first to report the police firing and it was largely because of our sustained reporting that the state and civil society had taken cognizance and several political leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav and National Minority Commission Chairman Wajahat Habibullah had made visits to this hamlet.
However, with the passage of time, like so many other instances of police brutality, this too seems to be going in oblivion, with nothing really changing on the ground. TCN team visited the Araria district in Bihar and spent few days in the Forbesganj block, under which Bhajanpur village comes. We tried speaking to the victims and their kins and tried to gauge the mood and also if they got any rehabilitation packages.
Government school in Bhajanpur.
For the Bhajanpur village and the proposed factory site on the other side of the highway in Forbesganj, life appears to have halted. The work at the proposed site was suspended following the police firing and villagers have continued using the same road that passes across the land and for which four villagers including a pregnant woman and an eight month old boy laid down their lives.
Hope of compensation/justice dwindling:
Kins of those who died, as well as those who were injured complain of not getting any compensation from the state government, except the family of the infant who was killed. Bihar government had made it clear that any compensation could only made after the report of the judicial probe, that has not yet completed, though it was earlier supposed to submit its report in six months time.
Family members of the four who had died, however, confirmed that they got Rs 1 lakh from the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, another one lakh from Lalu Parsad Yadav, and about seventy five thousands in total from several other political leaders and civil society members. Those injured had received 10 thousands each. Some of those severely injured received treatment at Kolkata and AIIMS in Delhi at the expense of some individual leaders or civil society groups.
8 year old son (now 10 year old) Manzoor was hit by a bullet in neck, but luckily he survived. His treatment is still on and the injury has affected his nerves as well, from which he has not completely recovered yet. His angry father Maulvi Ali Rasool Ansari, the imam of the mosque in the village, says he will not compromise at any cost and that he wants justice. He says he got not compensation from the government, not even for treatment of his son.
Maulvi Ali Rasool Ansari and his son Manzoor.
Eight months old Naushad Ansari, son of Taheena Khatoon and Siddiq Ansari was in his mother’s lap as she was apparently returning from the market. Naushad was hit with two bullets in his back and the infant died. His mother who too was hit by a bullet in her hand and she underwent treatment in local hospital and later in Kolkata. However, her hand is not fully functional yet. Naushad’s family was the only one who received Rs 3 lakh compensation from the state government. However, the family complains that the entire money was exhausted in the treatment of the mother. When TCN first approached, a frustrated Taheena Khatoon refused to talk saying people come, ask us about our problems, and we keep waiting; nothing has changed for us. The next day, however, with the help of our local guide, we succeed in making her talk. She narrates the whole event and says that her wait for justice is becoming difficult and painfully lengthy.
25 year old Raees Ansari was hit by a bullet in his chin. Even after multiple surgeries at a government hospital in Patna, he has not recovered fully and has difficulties in talking. When TCN visited Bhajanpur, he had gone out, but his wife and mother spoke. Besides compensation they said they need the road that they have been using for years now and for which so many people were injured and killed.
Angry with Bihar government:
The anger of these villagers against the state government is quite naturally still very high, although over two years have passed. Everyone TCN spoke to confirmed that no representative of the state government or then ruling JDU-BJP alliance ever visited the village to provide the ‘healing touch,’ not even the Forebsganj MLA Padam Parag Roy ‘Venu’ or Araria MP Pradeep Kumar Singh, both whom are from the BJP. It should be noted here that Saurav Agarwal, son of a local BJP MLC is one of the partners in the proposed factory.
In fact when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was on a visit in the district, there were speculations that family members of the victims might be invited to meet him. However, the CM did not give the villagers any hearing.
Police had already filed an FIR against over 4000 unknown people in connection with the agitation, clashes, burning and destroying properties two years ago. However, the biggest shock came in the month of April earlier this year when local police published arrest warrants in two Hindi dailies against 50 villagers that included six dead persons, 14 members of the victims’ families and 23 witnesses who deposed before the inquiry commission and also included their names in the court complaints.
Family members of Raees Ansari, his mother, wife and children.
Villagers as well as civil rights activists see it as a ploy to pressurize the villagers and force them to agree to some kind of compromise. Villagers confirm that the police have become excessively vigilant after the firing and that they have to face unwarranted harassment. Several villagers claim that FIRs were registered against them and their names figure out in the list of arrest warrants even though they were not present at site of demonstration at that time.
Sub-Divisional officer or other district officials did try to intervene. Villagers say they were even offered building roads, and other infrastructure in lieu of agreeing to amicable settlements, but so far villagers are not ready to accept any offer unless guilty police personnel are punished.
This TCN correspondent was in Forbesganj, the day JDU ended its 12 years alliance with the BJP. A local JDU worker was now hopeful that the Bihar CM might get benevolent and help resolve the impasse and provide compensation as it would be good gesture towards the community.