Naval Kishore Kumar, Hindi editor of Forward Press, has been getting threats from the supporters of Brahmeshwar Mukhiya. Ravish Kumar, senior executive editor of NDTV, was at the receiving end of similar threats last month. He focused on these threats when on 25 May, he sat down to anchor his much-acclaimed TV programme Prime Time. He told his viewers that he had received thousands of abusive and threatening phone calls between April 25 and 26. We came to know in this episode of the programme that independent journalist Rana Ayyub was also being abused by trolls. According to Ravish, those threatening him are Modi supporters and consider themselves protectors of the Hindu religion. But our investigation revealed that those issuing threats to Naval professed allegiance to a particular caste and not a particular religion. Many of those who threatened Naval also claimed that they had abused Ravish Kumar.
Also see: Ravish Kumar gets death threats
Ranvir Sena is an organization of Bhumihars, a feudal caste of Bihar. This caste has long been fighting to attain the status of Brahmins, but the Brahmins are not ready to treat them as their equals. The caste, into which a great personality like Sahajanand Saraswati was born at one time, is today hanging like a “trishanku” in the caste system and is known for its daring and aggression.
In the 1990s, Brahmeshwar Mukhiya, who came from this caste, founded the Ranvir Sena. Led by Mukhiya, the Sena (army) committed a series of massacres in the Dalit-OBC localities of the villages in Bhojpur, Gaya, Jehananad and other districts of Bihar. The Sena murdered around 300 people in these massacres. Mukhiya, who was the chief conspirator behind all these massacres, remained underground for years. The police announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head. Eventually, he was arrested from Patna’s Exhibition Road on 29 August 2002 and released on bail nine years later on 8 July 2011. He was an accused in 22 different criminal cases, involving 277 murders. He was acquitted in 16 of these cases for want of evidence and was on bail in the remaining six. During the hearing of one of these cases – Bathani Tola massacre – the police told the court that Mukhiya was absconding even though he was in jail at the time. As he was declared an absconder, he could not be sentenced in the case. Later, he got bail from the High Court in this case, too. Some unidentified persons murdered Brahmeshwar Mukhiya on 1 June 2012. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating the murder.
Naval has been working on the Ranvir Sena for a long time. He had done the only available comprehensive video interview of Brahmeshwar Mukhiya – and that too using his laptop’s camera. During the interview, taken at the Punaichak locality in Patna, he turned the camera of the laptop towards himself while asking the question and turned it towards Mukhiya, when he answered it. You can see the kind of passion and commitment that is needed to do journalism with so limited resources. The interview was published in the March 2012 print issue of Forward Press and is available on our YouTube channel.
After Mukhiya’s murder, his supporters ran amok on the streets of Patna. Dozens were hurt and government property worth crores was destroyed in the arson unleashed by them. But despite that, the newspapers of Bihar could not gather the courage of calling a murderer, a murderer. They were busy glorifying him. They were describing him as a Gandhian, a nationalist, a great peasant leader and what not. This attitude of the newspapers filled the Dalit-OBC communities with dread.
At the time, we carried Naval’s account of the incident as our cover story. The story, published in the July 2012 issue, was titled “Whose magic bullets took the life of the butcher of Bihar?” In the same issue, we published an article by Dalit author and thinker Kanwal Bharti titled, “Why mourn the death of a murderer?” We thus gave a voice to the feelings of the Dalits and the Backwards and sent out a clear message that we couldn’t accept the murderer of the poor and the wretched as an ideal. The issue drew wide response and readers distributed photocopies of the two articles in large numbers.
On 27 May, the supporters of Brahmeshwar Mukhiya issued threats to Naval Kishore Kumar over the phone all through the night. This was in reaction to the comment posted by him on his Facebook page as well as to a news story sent for publication in Forward Press.
About a fortnight ago, an officebearer of the Akhil Bharatiya Rashtravadi Kisan Sangathan sent a picture of Brahmeshwar Mukhiya’s statue to him, saying that they planned to install it at Khopira, the ancestral village of Mukhiya, in Bhojpur district. The function was scheduled for 1 June. The Akhil Bharatiya Rashtravadi Kisan Sangathan is a new avatar of the Ranvir Sena. It was founded by Brahmeshwar Mukhiya himself on 5 May 2012, a few days before he was murdered. His son Indrabhushan is the supremo of this organization.
Organizations like Ranvir Sena keep sending information to journalists so that they can remain in the news. A large number of journalists working for different newspapers owe complete loyalty to the Ranvir Sena while organizations like the Sena, which thrive on their negative image, keep provoking the journalists opposed to them. It is a win-win situation for them. The more you oppose them, the more they gain.
See how it works: Many criminals of Bihar who used to urge journalists to describe them as “Bahubalis” in their stories are now MLAs and MPs. Some of them have been convicted and jailed and now their wives are in politics. Thus, negative news is also good news for them. That is why the likes of Ranvir Sena keep journalists like Naval, who criticize them, posted of their activities. Their supporters will in any case publish news of their activities. But if their opponents oppose them, they get double publicity.
Also read: Ranvir Sena and Bihar’s newspapers
That is the reason the news about the planned installation of the statue of Brahmeshwar Mukhiya was conveyed to us. Now, if we opposed it, they would gain, and even if we chose to keep mum, their supporters would of course publicize the event in Bihar’s newspapers.
I told Naval that he should not waste his time doing this story. Instead I asked him to commission some freelance writer or journalist based in Bihar to do a story that is critical of this statue installation. He rang three people but each of them refused. One of them said that he lived in a locality populated by Bhumihars and so writing such a story would be risky a proposition while another quoted paucity of time. It’s a fact that since Nitish Kumar became chief minister, the lumpen elements of Bhumihars have been greatly emboldened. Even earlier, his government was described as a “crown for a Kurmi, the rule of Bhumihars”. Now, I am told that the crown and the rule both are in the hands of Bhumihars.
When no one from Bihar agreed to file the story, Naval said he would write it himself. From 2012 onwards, we have published many stories on Ranvir Sena, including an analysis of the shameful attitude of Bihar’s newspapers towards the Sena, hence, I again asked Naval not to do that. But the news of Mukhiya’s statue being installed perturbed him. That was natural for a journalist who was closely acquainted with the horrific butcher of humans that Mukhiya was.
That could be the reason he posted the news on his Facebook page. The Ranvir Sena’s men then created a ruckus over the use of some so-called derogatory words for Mukhiya in his post. Soon, there was a deluge of abusive and threatening comments on his Facebook page. So far, more than 200 phone calls and upwards of 2000 Facebook comments have been made. We understand the need for restraint in the use of language, but here, we are talking of a person who justified the gruesome murders of even little children.
Also read: Threats over the phone continue unabated
I talked to many of the people abusing Naval Kishore Kumar over the phone. I also visited his Facebook Page see who these people were. Most of them are unemployed youth. They have enough to eat and drink courtesy of their ancestral property but have been unable to win society’s respect. They simply do not have the capability and the skills necessary to make a mark in this competitive world and their ego does not allow them to take up any work involving manual labour. In Indian society, fractured along caste lines, with traditional occupations assigned to each caste, they cannot enter the world of business and trade because it is very difficult for members of other communities to compete with the Vaishyas, the caste dominating this field.
That leaves them with the option of getting government jobs. That is their ultimate dream. But they hold Babasaheb Ambedkar responsible for their inability to fulfil their dreams and they expect that the politicians of their caste to put an end to reservations. They are angry with the leaders of their community and very distressed. They were hopeful that reservations would end after Modi came to power at the Centre. But they are not rabid supporters of Modi as Ravish Kumar said in his programme. As they do to leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, they pour scorn on “backward” Narendra Modi on their Facebook walls. They might be using Hindutva as a shield, but their real objective is upholding and enhancing the pride of their caste. Ravish Kumar did not discuss this aspect of the issue in his programme. Besides Ranvir Sena, they are also linked to organizations like Shiv Sena, Hindu Seva Samiti, Gau Raksha Samiti and Bhumihar Regiment. They would go with any political outfit – whether the Congress and or the BJP – that can restore their feudal pride. If you visit their Facebook page, you will get to know how weird their ideas are.
In May 2017, I had a brush with similar organizations. At the time, I was doing a story on the burning down of a Dalit localility at Shabbirpur, in Saharanpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Workers of organizations like Karni Sena and Pratap Sena were whipping up passions against Dalits and OBCs using Phoolan Devi’s murderer Sher Singh Rana as a prop. The mindset of these Rajput youths was the same as that of the Bhumihar youths associated with the Ranvir Sena.
Operation Bhumihar of ABP News
Some of you might remember that in October 2015, ABP News telecast a programme titled “Operation Bhumihar”. Abhisar Sharma, a journalist, reported from Ghosi in Jehanabad that in the 67 years since Independence, Bhumihars had not allowed the Dalits and OBCs of the ten villages around Ghosi to vote in elections. This programme had sent a section of the Bhumihars in Bihar into a tizzy. Unprintable abuses were hurled at Abhisar. He was described as a snake in the grass.
Read this interesting post about Operation Bhumihar
The abusers of Abhisar Sharma, Ravish Kumar and Naval Kishore Kumar come from the same group. Of course, the internet speed has gone up by several notches between 2015 and 2018. The Jio mobile phone service launched by the Reliance Group and the tremendous growth in the reach of WhatsApp has brought about a sea change. In the case of Naval, we discovered that those making threatening phone calls were linked to each other through WhatsApp groups. They were also posting the audios of their abusive phone calls and expletives on WhatsApp groups to prove their “valour”.
Be that as it may, we have lodged complaints with the police regarding Naval’s case. The number of phone calls has dropped. Let us see what happens next. These kind of threats and abuses are not new for Forward Press. We have been receiving threatening emails off and on. But, yes, we are facing this kind of organized attack for the first time since the Mahishasur-Durga controversy in 2014.
I would like to ask the nationalists raining abuses at Naval whether they are aware that Naval is not only a journalist but also a sensitive poet. Do they know that he wrote the words of the song presented by the Indian contingent at the Commonwealth Games held in Australia earlier this year?
Naval’s song represented India before a global audience and did us proud. Do they know the image of India Brahmeshwar Mukhiya has presented to the world? Do they know what all has been published in newspapers all over the world about his satanic deeds?
Translated by Amrish Herdenia
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