SENARI (ARWAL, BIHAR): At a young age of 14, Madhulika Sharma’s life changed on March 18, 1999 after her father, Awadh Kishore Sharma, and brother, Madhukar Kumar, were killed along with 32 others right in front of her eyes by the now defunct Maoist Central Committee (MCC) in Senari, Bihar. She can barely withhold her tears, clutching her three young daughters tightly.
On the fateful day, members of MCC had attacked the village in batches of 15, pulled out 34 people belonging to the upper caste Bhumihar randomly, dragged them to a temple nearby and carried out a gory massacre.
Sickles, sharp-cutting weapons, and piercing spades were used to mercilessly inflict wounds on neck muscles, carotid sheaths, arms and stomachs of these men and women.
After killing the people, the perpetrators raised slogans hailing the MCC, fired shots in the air and threw handmade grenades at two locations in the village. Two buildings were damaged in the blast.
While the lower courts had convicted the accused, the Patna High Court on May 21 this year acquitted 13 accused citing lack of substantial evidence, sending shockwaves and a pall of gloom across Senari in Bihar’s Arwal district, 60 kms from Gaya and 70 km from Patna.
The Nitish Kumar government has now moved the Supreme Court, challenging its decision. The appeal was filed by Bihar in the SC on June 29, reviving some hopes among the fuming villagers and bereaved families to see the justice again.
Speaking to the team of The New Indian at her home in Senari village, located in Bihar’s Arwal (then Jehanabad), Madhulika says:
My mother passed away soon after. In matter of no time, the entire family was gone. Not a day passes when I do not miss my family. I just want the courts to bring the guilty to book. I am a petitioner and I wont allow any mercy for them
“It came as a big shock when Patna High Court acquitted all the accused in the case. I could not believe how the courts could allow such dreaded killers to go scot-free. There is always a fear now that they may repeat the act,” she said, sharing her reason for filing a petition in the Supreme Court,” adds Madhulika who is a teacher at a local government school in the village with her three daughters. Her husband is a serving Naik in the Indian Army.
Her middle daughter Smriti, who studies in Banasthali School in Rajasthan, is steadfast on her mother’s resolve. She screams at those showing sympathy for the Left Wing Extremism (LWE).
“No one should go through it, it is very painful for a 14 year old child. My mother was 14 years old when this happened, it is very difficult for the entire family and the next generation also. I wish it doesn’t happen to anyone,” she quips.
Painful memories and deep loss
Tears roll down the cheeks of Radha Devi as she recalls the fateful day even after 22 years. Devi lost her husband – Awadhesh Sharma – to the same group of Maoists, then known as Maoists Communist Centre.
The MCC was active in Bihar in the 90s till early 2000 and now continues to operate under different pseodynyms and separate factions.
“I shudder in fear, recalling the incident, even today. The incident will haunt me till the day I die,” she said.
“At that time, my husband was working in the fields. I have three daughters. Two of them were already married, one of them was with me at home. I can still recall the shouts warning villagers of the Maoists advent to village. There was fear. Later, I heard that several people were killed and that my husband was among them. I have no idea from where was he caught.” Two of Devi’s daughters are now married. “But, they keep visiting me, only in fear” she shared.
Manorama Kunwar, who lost her two sons – Kamlesh and Vimlesh – in the 1999 massacre gets lost in the maze of wounds, still fresh in her memory. “It has been 22 years now, when both my children were butchered to death. The Maosists destroyed our lives,” she says. Living alone makes her life even pensive in the village.
The village mourns their children
The roads connecting the village are not in good shape. There is power, but the village still lacks a number of basic facilities. The administrative
Recalling the 1999 massacre and the government response, Baliram Sharma, another villager who lost his son Rajesh Kumar, says: “The Lalu Prasad government was in power in Bihar when the Senari massacre took place. No one from the government came to visit us.”
The attempt by villagers to flee, hide and defend is a hair-raising tale of itself.
Sharma says, “ I climbed a tree to save my life and saw my son being butchered to death.”
Though the MCC had said they would spare the children after identifying the cadres of Ranveer Sena (an upper caste militia), no one was spared. “I saw my son being butchered to death from the tree near my home, which I climbed to save my life. My son was only 22 years old then,” he said. Kumar has two other sons — one has a government job while the other works with a local contractor as a clerk.
A memorial & long fight for justice
Not the temple, but a memorial built in memory of those gone has become a pilgrim point for the villagers.
Pointing to this memorial near the Thakurbari temple in the village, Sharma remarks,“The names of 34 people killed in the massacre have been encrypted on the site. It even has the name of a Judge, PN Sharma, who had come to see the bodies of the villagers that included his family members. He died of a heart attack after seeing the bodies.”
To a question if the Maoists are still getting support, he replied:
Yes. The way in which the High Court acquitted all accused boosts the morale of the Maoists. Though the matter has been sent to the Supreme Court, we are not very hopeful as all the accused have been released from the prison.
To mark their release, the accused celebrated the event by performing rituals in May this year.
Nitish, another villager, who lost his uncle in the massacre says that the rituals at the Thakurbari temple had stopped after the incident. “The worship at the temple re-started in 2015, after a gap of 16 long years. It is only in the last six years that Baliram Sharma, who lost his child, gathered courage to visit the temple.
The acquittal of the accused has left the villagers stumped. “We are left with very little hope. Patna High Court order states that since the massacre took place in the darkness, the identities could not be ascertained. To my understanding that means the government is hand in glove with them and that the investigation report was weak,” he says.
Caste is a big factor in a village as remote as this. Madhulika’s daughters, who have seen their mother fight for justice, stand solid in support. Speaking to The New Indian, Sharma’s daughter, Smriti Kumari, a class 10 student of Banasthali School in Rajasthan says: “This was clearly a genocide and that makes it even more disgusting. An incident such as this has the power to affect generations to come. Like ours. What we are hoping for is a closure that would come once the accused are punished.”
The current law and order situation
According to Aditya Kumar, SSP, Gaya, the battle against Left Wing Extremists (LWE) is long from over.
“So when Jharkhand as a state was formed, the Maoists became active in Jharkhand adjacent to Gaya border. The area is mountainous and makes for topography suited for hiding. Maoists flourished here in certain pockets, especially in areas south of the Grand Trunk road. There still are a lot of Maoists activities going on in the area. They have mined the areas where there are so many booby traps. It is a challenge to conduct normal policing but the Bihar government is very determined to do it,” he says.
He mentions the recent police encounter against Maoists to press his claims.
“There was an encounter in which four Maoists were neutralised. Dangerous weapons recovered from them. We still have around 300 to 400 rough Maoists in this area. They are known to levy ‘tax’ for survival,” he adds.
(Rohan Dua can be contacted at [email protected] and AnandSingh can be contacted at [email protected])
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