Friday, July 1, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Notes on Forbesganj Violence

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Khalid Anis Ansari <>
Date: 23 June 2011 12:17
To:,,, kashif-ul-huda <>, ratnakar
tripathy <>,, Shivam
Vij <>

Notes on Forbesganj Violence


The police firing and subsequent killing of five OBC Muslims in
Bhajanpur village in Forbesganj of Araria district in Bihar on June 3,
2011 has been analyzed in most reports in the public sphere through
the frame of 'communalism' and there has been little effort to grapple
with the other dimensions that the event entails. Increasingly, it is
being felt that the discourse around secularism/communalism is being
employed to reinforce the restorative politics of Indian ruling elite,
broadly the upper caste sections of all religious identities, and is
working as an instrument to subvert the counter-hegemonic peoples'
solidarity at large. While the normative understanding of secularism
is under pressure in almost all jurisdictions, for all practical
purposes secularism in India has been thoroughly trivialized and
reduced to the stand one takes with regards to the 'Indian Muslim'. So
any formation which takes a pro-Muslim stand, even for the sake of
public consumption, is paraded as secular. On the other hand those
formations that publicly interrogate or abuse the Muslim identity are
communal. Thus, the Congress Party is 'secular' even when there is
overwhelming historical evidence that implicates it in numerous riots
against Muslims in the post-independence period simply because it
never mouths anti-Muslim jargon. In contrast the BJP is undisputedly
'communal' because its growth as a political party has so far depended
on its anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The Changing Nature of Political Space

In the last two decades the political space in India has transformed
drastically. One of the most significant fallouts of the Mandal
moment, especially since the report included both Hindu and Muslim
lower castes in the OBC list, has been the fissure in the naturalized
notion of the Hindu and Muslim monolith. Consequently, while on the
one hand the Hindutva forces are facing sustained challenges in
manufacturing an overarching Hindu vote-bank, on the other the
enactment of the 'pasmanda' identity (OBC/Dalit Muslims) within Indian
Muslims has interrogated the notion of Muslim unity in interesting
ways. Hence, due to the counter-hegemonic identity politics of the
lower castes as opposed to the entrenched politics of religious
identity controlled by the upper caste elites, it has become
increasingly difficult to consolidate the Hindu or Muslim vote-bank.
The saffron brigade has so much weakened that it has to bank upon OBC
leaders like Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, that too from outside the
RSS-BJP fold, in order to conduct its politics. In a similar vein the
Muslim upper caste elite sections too are experimenting with the Peace
Party, by foregrounding a pasmanda Dr. Ayub, in North India.

Broadly, the constitutional and policy consensus on social justice
(affirmative action) and minority rights is under pressure from
various quarters. In this respect, the Mala-Madiga contradiction in
Andhra Pradesh or the enactment of mahadalit identity in Bihar
recently, the emergence of EBC/MBC (Extremely or Most Backward Castes)
politics, the challenges to minority religious identities from
pasmanda Muslims, dalit Christians or dalit Sikhs, and the growing
assertion of women generally, have all contributed to destabilizing
the dominant imagination of dalit, OBC or minority identities. While
on the one hand such fragmentation and multiplicity is a sign of
penetration of Indian democracy, on the other hand this
differentiation has to be arrested at some point and some broad-based
political principles need to be evolved that could enable subaltern
solidarities in order to tackle the increasing crisis of
representative democracy (the gap between the leaders and the lead).
In the absence of the latter the popular issues like corruption,
electricity, education, health, employment, etc. will eventually be
taken up by populist movements led by the elite which will only go on
to construct a false 'we' that reflects the most powerful. In recent
times both Anna Hazare's and Baba Ramdev's movements indicate towards
this crisis badly. Both movements have hijacked the peoples'
legitimate anger that could have been channelized in reforming the
actually-existing Indian democracy by debating on the pitfalls of
First-Past-the-Post electoral system (in contrast to a Proportional
Electoral System), Right to Recall, deepening of the Right to
Information, and other such relevant issues so necessary to unleash
the next phase of people-led democratization in India.

More pertinent to this essay is the manner in which the dynamics of
the changing nature of political space have parochialized the received
politics around the axes of secularism-communalism. If we look at the
moves by pasmanda politicians in Bihar then in the assembly elections
of 2005 they took a decision to reject Laloo Yadav led secular RJD
alliance and opted to vote for Nitish Kumar led NDA with the communal
BJP as an important ally. Nitish Kumar had later credited the support
of pasmanda sections for ensuring his victory. Obviously, the
preference of the pasmanda sections for a non-BJP government had not
dwindled but at the same time they had stopped thinking in terms of
the restricted options which secular-communal axis provided. Their
support to JD (U)-BJP alliance was mostly driven by the fact that
Laloo Yadav, under the influence of ashrafia politicians, had refused
to acknowledge them. However, at that point of time it must be
remarked that in the absence of non-BJP leaders like Nitish Kumar and
Sharad Yadav, the pasmanda sections would have probably never voted
for the NDA.

In terms of discourse, the pasmanda have claimed that they are one of
the indigenous bahujan sections of India who in historical times
converted to Islam due to various reasons. However, caste
discrimination continued to be practiced against them within the
Muslim body politic even after conversion despite the egalitarian
teachings of Islam. Consequently, there is a serious discomfort in
pasmanda discourse with the minority tag as it is seen to be inhabited
predominantly by the upper caste ashrafiya sections who utilize it to
bargain for privileges from the state. The overall focus is on
discounting the emotive issues and addressing the basic issues of
bread-and-butter by democratizing the state and community structures.
In strategic terms the pasmanda sections are keen to develop a
horizontal unity with the lower caste sections of the so-called
majority (and other minority) communities. Afterall, if caste is the
primary basis of Indian society then the concept of 'minority' and
'majority' is irrelevant because no caste in India is numerically so
strong that it may claim to be a majority community. Hence, the
pasmanda movement is fast rendering the hegemonic Muslim-centric
secular politics irrelevant and forcing us to rethink secularism in a
new light. In liberating themselves from the minority psyche, the
pasmanda movement is also attempting to liberate the country from
religious conflicts which have so far frequently rocked India. It is
in this context that we will read the tragic incident that happened at
Forbesganj recently.

Forbesganj Violence: A Brief Recapitulation

As we mentioned earlier the lower caste pasmanda muslims, the victims
in this incident, had greatly facilitated the formation of JD (U) led
NDA government in Bihar in 2005 as well as in 2010. It is no wonder
then that the entire opposition politics in Bihar and the 'secular
parivar' sees the event as an opportunity to beat the NDA with the
secular stick so as to send a strong message to the pasmanda social
block that their security is guaranteed only in a non-NDA regime. It
also goes without saying that the interests, electoral and otherwise,
of the Congress and its cronies goad them to capture the entire
Forbesganj episode in a monochromatic frame: the epic battle between
the BJP, the eternal communal evil and the Muslim, the good and
hapless victim. This version of the event is further reinforced by the
involvement of a BJP politician in the actual facts of this case and
the visit of the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar from BJP to the spot
five days prior to the event. While one cannot discount this take
considering the brutality of violence that foregrounded the deep
rooted hatred of the perpetrators of the violence for the victims, one
will also have to explore other dimensions of the issue for the truth
of social events is seldom one-dimensional.

The background of Forbesganj incident in short is that some sixty
years ago the villagers of Bhajanpur and Rampur, the twin adjoining
villages predominantly populated by socially backward pasmanda
(OBC-dalit) muslims, donated their land, money and labor to build a
road that reduced the distance from their villages to the main
Forbesganj market from eight to one kilometer. ANHAD has reported that
in 1984 Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority acquired 105 acres
of agricultural land from the villagers which was meagerly compensated
resulting in the pauperization of farmers from small land holders to
agricultural laborers. Very recently, in 2010, the Bihar Cabinet
approved an industrial unit for the manufacturing of starches from
maize to M/S Auro Sundaram International Company. Incidentally, one of
the directors in the Board of this company is the son of a BJP
politician. The road that the villagers had themselves built on their
land with their money and labor was given away to the company. This
was understandably resisted by the villagers. On June 1, 2011 in a
tripartite meeting between the company, the villagers and the
administration, the villagers showed their accommodative spirit by
agreeing to forgo their right over the village road provided an
alternate road was built. The three parties agreed to this. However,
on June 3 the company, in connivance with the local administration,
breached the compromise formula and without providing for the
alternate road began to raise a wall on the existing road.
Consequently, the villagers after returning from the Friday prayers
protested against this breach of trust. The administration in
collusion with the Company opened indiscriminate firing on the hapless
villagers. A reign of terror was let loose on the poor villagers by
the police. Five people were killed including a pregnant woman and
fifteen persons were grievously injured. A petty police official
kicked and danced on the injured and unconscious body of a young boy.
The still alive boy was sent for postmortem where the doctor noticed
life in the body. However, he later succumbed to the injury.

The Question of Developmental Violence

Since the occurrence of this macabre incident the secular brigade has
been campaigning and working overtime against the state government
which is a joint collaboration of JD (U) and the saffron BJP.
Political figures like Ram Vilas Paswan, who once sang the song of
Muslim CM so much that Bihar slipped into the hands of NDA, and Laloo
Prasad Yadav, who enjoyed power for fifteen long years by flaunting
the so-called MY (Muslim-Yadav) equation, are still to visit the spot.
What is striking is that the entire campaign of the opposition
parties/voices is being run around the anti-minority character of the
state government with no mention of developmental violence whatsoever.
The opposition parties have conveniently chosen to underplay the link
of this event with the chain of developmental violence in other
jurisdictions (Singur, Nandigram, Bhatta-Parsaul, etc.). In our view,
this is yet another example where the dominant discourse of
communalism feeds into a hegemonic identity politics than informing
any processes of a counter-hegemonic peoples' solidarity. Very
recently, we witnessed the strange use of the discourse of communalism
again when the Congress suddenly discovered that Baba Ramdev was an
RSS agent and the news that RSS was conspiring to burn the camp in the
midnight hours and foment nationwide riots was broken not by the
government and intelligence agencies but by a famous Muslim secular
operator. While we have no sympathies with Ramdev's or Hazare's
movement but the way the discourse of communalism was skillfully
employed to polarize public opinion on this issue and further to elide
the problems with actually-existing Indian democracy from the public
discourse was indeed remarkable. In a similar vein, in the case of
Forbesganj violence the fact that the land and road of the village
were forcibly grabbed by the capitalist raiders has been reduced to a
non-issue and the religious identity of the victims (why not caste?)
has been continuously foregrounded. The spree of land grabbing of the
poor and the marginalized by the powerful corporate and business
houses in India and the crushing of subsequent peoples' resistance
with brutality by the state in collusion with capitalist raiders has
become the order of the day. It would be too simplistic and
opportunistic to define the Forbesganj violence in terms of religious
communalism alone.

Foot Soldiers in, Masterminds out!

Moreover, the state government has lodged a murder case against the
petty police official who danced on the unconscious body of the young
boy. The state government has been forced to do this because the video
clip of Suneel Kumar Yadav, the police officer in question here,
kicking and dancing on the body has been uploaded on YouTube and a few
TV channels have been broadcasting this continuously. It is indeed
incomprehensible that while Suneel Kumar Yadav has been slapped with a
murder case, no case has been lodged against the senior
police/administrative officials or the company management who were
present on the spot and who bear primary responsibility for the
firing. But there is also a historical and sociological background to
such selective action by the state machinery. Nitish Kumar, who
succeeded Laloo Yadav with the support of the BJP, also ordered
enquiry into Bhagalpur riots earlier. While the report of the
Bhagalpur riots enquiry commission instituted by Nitish Kumar is not
known but what is fairly clear is that the entire blame was sought to
be imposed on Kameshwar Yadav, without mention of any action against
the masterminds of the riots. The news portal had
reported on April, 13, 2010 that: "The only thing the Nitish Kumar
government could do is to get Kameshwar Yadav, a local goon, arrested
and jailed. However, the big fish in the Bhagalpur riots are still
free…" [].
In another related judgment fourteen persons were convicted of rioting
and murdering Muslims at Sabour near Bhagalpur. Of these fourteen
persons twelve were reported to be belonging to the lower-caste
kushwaha community. The same news portal had reported on September 2,
2010 about the award of rigorous imprisonment for attack on a police
party during the days of Bhagalpur riots. The news report has
reproduced the names of all the ten accused and all of them are OBCs
There is remarkable consistency in these cases where the masterminds
of violence against minorities are never brought to justice and it is
only the lower-caste foot soldiers from the majority community that
are routinely axed. Neither Laloo Yadav nor Nitish Kumar could muster
courage to lay their hands on the masterminds of the riots. The dalits
and OBCs are selectively punished in symbolic actions to appease the
hurt feelings of the Muslims and ultimately to get their votes.
Moreover, this selective handpicking of the accused belonging to the
dalit-OBC sections for punishment also symbolically subverts the
attempts of horizontal consolidation of lower castes across religious
affiliations. This becomes an important dimension as since the
inauguration of Pasmanda Movement in the post-Mandal phase the
attempts of lower castes to make inter-religious horizontal unity has
gathered momentum.

The Silence of Pasmanda Politicians

Lastly, the reluctance of Pasmanda political leaders in different
political parties to come out openly against the killing of their
brothers and sisters in Forbesganj throws up another crisis of Indian
politics (though a few pasmanda figures like Noor Hasan Azad, Dawood
Ansari, Hishamuddin Ansari and Mohd. Hasnain did visit the spot and
spoke against it openly). The political line of respective parties
which is nothing but the dictate of the party boss has a stifling
effect upon the leaders of subaltern groups. The politicians belonging
to subaltern groups prefer to show their allegiance to their party
boss rather than to their caste or community in whose name they get
the political opportunities in the first place. Even where the party
bosses themselves belong to subordinated groups they prefer not to
rake up radical issues and generally align with the status quo. For
example, the main opposition party of Bihar, Laloo Yadav led RJD, is
still not recognizing the victims of Forbesganj violence as belonging
to the lower caste pasmanda muslim group. They are still comfortable
in playing the old minority card and do not wish to subvert the Muslim
monolith. While the pasmanda are claiming that they are primarily
Bahujan, the RJD and other secular parties are still pushing them into
the quagmire of Muslim politics and learning nothing from the debacle
of 2005 and 2010 in Bihar. The RJD is still under the impression that
the Pasmanda movement is at the best an aberration and that majority
of Pasmanda populations are still under the influence of religious
Muslim leaders. In time it is hoped that with the increasing
sedimentation of the pasmanda discourse they will be forced to do a
reality check once again.

[The authors can be reached at and]


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