Eternal rebel: Nakshatra Malakar
(9 October 1905 – 27 December 1987)
Those who build bridges
will, as a rule,
be left behind
the armies will cross over
The Ravans will be killed
The Rams will be victorious
and the builders?
They will be known as monkeys in history
This re-rendition of the tale of “Maryada Purushottam” (Most Dignified) Ram may be referring to mythology, but it also succinctly exposes the racist, casteist and gender bias of our historiography. Moreover, this bias is very palpable in the way Indian freedom struggle has been chronicled. In Bihar, for instance, the history of freedom movement and post-Independence India reflects this bias very clearly. One glaring example of this is Nakshatra Malakar. He was one of the most prominent symbols of resistance to imperialism and feudalism in the state – so much so that he was jailed on nine different occasions during the British rule and was awarded life imprisonment in Independent India only because the feudal lords, the money-lenders and retrograde forces wanted him out of their way. Ironically, there is no book on his life, and no one ever tried to conduct proper research on him.
From the third to sixth decade of the 20th century, Nakshatra was the most talked-about person in north Bihar, with police looking for him in every nook and corner of the Purnea district. BMP’s 7th battalion, headquartered at Katihar, was raised to arrest him. Baluchi soldiers were called, and in all film theatres of north Bihar, advertisements were screened seeking clues leading to his arrest. An award of Rs 25,000 was announced on his head. However, the people did not reveal his whereabouts even in the face of physical torture by the police. Such was his popularity. He was the Robin Hood of the area – just like Karmakar, a character of Renu’s epochal novel Maila Aanchal. He looted the local feudal lords and policemen and used the money to serve the poor masses. He severed the noses and ears of police officers, informers, those who stole crops, rapist feudal and money-lenders. He freed many people from their clutches.
India has witnessed many movements aimed at ending social inequality – ranging from Buddha to Phule to Ambedkar to Periyar. Nakshatra was one in the series of these social reformers. In his penal code, severing the nose and ears of the criminals was the standard punishment. Probably, it was aimed at making that person face humiliation and contempt all his life. Moreover, that would deter others from indulging in immoral activities and oppressing the poor. There can be no better way of subjecting a wrongdoer to ridicule and contempt. That can be an interesting topic for any researcher. In his unpublished diary, Nakshatra has given a very colorful description of the incidents of his life. He also describes in detail how the joint front of the British officers and feudal lords were defaming him and his associates by committing loots and rapes. As he was a front-ranking worker of Congress, Socialist, and Communist parties, so the charges did not stick on him.
Nakshatra Malakar was born into a poor Mali family in Sameli village of Bihar’s then Purnea district in 1905. Now, that village is part of Katihar district. Sameli has given three unique personalities to Bihar. The first was Nakshatra Malakar, who devoted every minute of his 82-year-long life to battle feudal forces. The second was Anup Lal Mandal, known as the Premchand of Bihar. In the 1940s, Kishore Sahu had produced a film Bahurani on his novel titled Mimansa.
Moreover, the third was Jai Narayan Mandal, who made his name in the field of higher education and wrote satire, poetry, stories, and plays, launching an acerbic attack on caste-based inequality. Karpoori Thakur made him a member of the Bihar Legislative Council, but he died soon after that. All the three were well-known personalities of their time and in their fields.
There is no unanimity on the year of Nakshatra’s birth. Some say he was born in 1903. However, there are also many who insist that 1905 or 1909 or 1911 was the year he was born. Also, his family members are also not sure about it. As horoscopes of children born into lower-caste families were not prepared and their parents were often uneducated, the exact year of their birth was not recorded. Nakshatra’s birth date is also more or less an assumption. In the records of Bhagwati College, established at his house in Barari, his birth date is recorded as 9 October 1905. Also, this was recorded at the instance of Nakshatra himself. It is said that he passed away on 27 September 1987, aged 82. This fact also supports the view that he was born in 1905. His family members say that Vasudev Prasad Mandal, who was born in 1903, was two years younger to him. Both were very close to each other and had worked together for a long period. Vasudev Mandal was also present when the Daroga of Rupauli police station was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil by Nakshatra and his associates. Mandal later served as education minister in the Janata Party government.
Took part in Salt Satyagraha as a teen and spent six months in jail.
Nakshatra’s father Labbu Mali, a poor man, had married twice. He had two sons – Jagdev and Dwarika – from his first wife, Saraswati. He married Laxmi Devi after the death of his first wife and had two sons – Bauddha Narayan and Nakshatra – and three daughters – Totri Devi, Satyabhama, and Vidyotma – from her. He shifted base from his ancestral village Sameli and settled down at Barari – also in Katihar district. It was bigger than Sameli and was a block headquarters. His family made a living through their ancestral profession. They grew flowers, worked at homes of the people during festivals and supplied garlands of the flower to temples. Inspired by his elder brother Bauddha Narayan, Nakshatra participated in the salt Satyagraha called by Mahatma Gandhi. The British tried to stop the Satyagrahis by stationing pickets at different places in north Bihar but could not. Nakshatra was arrested for being a prominent participant in the satyagraha.
Disillusionment with Congress
The leadership of the anti-British movement in the Koshi region was in the hands of the dominant, feudal class of the area. They had joined the struggle because they wanted that they should be in the dominant position in the new dispensation that replaces the British. The Gandhian movement was firmly entrenched in the Koshi region, but its leadership was in the hands of the exploiters and the oppressors. The women and girls were not safe. The retrograde character of the Gandhian movement in the area led to Nakshatra parting ways with it.
Tikapatti was the main center of salt satyagraha, and Vaidyanath Chaudhary was a prominent leader of the area. He was one of the founders of the Congress in Purnea. One day, the goat of an old woman entered the field of Vaidyanath’s younger brother Ambika Chaudhary. She was asked to pay four times the price of the goat as fine. On Nakshatra’s intervention, the fine was reduced slightly, but she was not pardoned. When he asked Vaidyanath Chaudhary to intervene in the matter, the latter refused. This incident led to his disillusionment with the Congress, and in 1936, he joined the Congress Socialist Party.
Jaiprakash Narayan renamed Nakshatra Mali as Nakshatra Malakar
He joined the Summer School of Politics organized at Sonpur. According to Renu, that month-long training camp was a unique concept. Jaiprakash Narayan was the principal of the school and persons like Minoo Masani, Narendra Dev, Achyut Patwardhan, Sahajanand Saraswati, and Ashok Mehta took places. Students from middle to postgraduate classes took part in the camp. Since Nakshatra was just literate, he was not given admission. When Jaiprakash came to know of it, he called Nakshatra and was very impressed. He gave him a new name, Nakshatra Malakar and got him admitted to the school.
There, one day he saw that there were separate arrangements for meals for the workers and the leaders. This enraged him. He asked JP about these double standards but could not get a satisfactory answer. He then told JP that Socialism could not be ushered in through such double standards. So he slowly lost faith in Socialism too. After the camp, he was given the responsibility of mobilizing the mill workers in the area. He assembled the employees of Katihar Jute Mill and organized a big meeting of the union of the laborers of the mill along with his elder brother Bauddha Narayan. Both were jailed.
Led an armed struggle
Nakshatra had arms-manufacturing units at Sameli and Tikapatti. It is believed that he had links with the Nepali revolutionaries and the Swadeshi Andolan of Bengal. Maybe, he was also involved in exchanging arms with them. At Dewanganj near Virat Nagar in Nepal, revolutionaries formed ‘Azad Dasta’ in the presence of Lohia and JP and decided to stage an armed revolution. Arms were supplied from Gwalior too. Nakshatra had associates in every village, and with their help, he conducted guerrilla warfare against his enemies and took his mission forward. The revolution of 1942 began, and soon Bihar came under its sway. Katihar was one of its epicenters. The revolutionaries blew up the Rupauli police station and Nakshatra, and 36 other revolutionaries were made accused in the case. Six revolutionaries lost their lives in this movement. Many revolutionaries turned prosecution witnesses. Had they not been neutralized, most of the accused would have been sentenced to death. Nakshatra counseled every witness, and those who did not fall in line were killed.
A famine gripped the area where Nakshatra lived and worked in 1947. People had not a grain to eat. The local Shylocks and traders hid vast quantities of grains in their godowns so that they could sell them later at higher rates. People were dying while godowns were overflowing with food grains. There was one such godown at Dholbajja. Nakshatra first requested the owner to open it for the people. When he did not agree, the godown was looted. The incident terrified the zamindars of the nearby areas. The godowns of many zamindars were looted, and the food grains were distributed among the people. Hundreds of false cases were registered against Nakshatra. Renu, talking about this incident, wrote, “He wrote to the party that its leaders should come and ensure that the people get food grains. However, the party did nothing except passing resolutions. That man was not the one to sit quietly. He started breaking into granaries and getting the food grains distributed.” (Renu Rachanavali, vol 4, p-414).
Did not settle for independent India
When the country became free, everyone was hopeful that things would change. However, there were some who realized that this Independence was phony. Ambedkar, in his address to the Constituent Assembly, underlined the socio-economic disparities in the country. The Congress knew that Malakar was a great organizer and tried to strike a deal with him. He was told to work for the Congress and was assured that his financial needs would be taken care of. However, he did not budge. He did not surrender when his entire family lived in perpetual fear and when his father, mother, elder brother and children died for want of treatment. How could he have bowed down then? He was so committed to the emancipation of the people that despite facing dangers to his life, he never compromised with the interests of the masses. There was hardly any jail in Bihar where he had not spent some time.
On 30 August 1952, he was arrested by the police from Chandpur village of Kadwa. He was framed and was awarded life imprisonment. A rousing welcome was mounted for him when he was released in December 1966 after spending 14 years in jail. He joined the CPM and fought elections as its candidate from Forbesganj in 1985. He was pitted against Sarju Singh of the Congress. The people’s power failed to get the better of money power, and he lost. He also served as the president of the farmer’s wing of the Purnea district unit of CPM and as president of Katihar district freedom fighters association. He also led a movement called ‘Ab nehar todege Katihar ke kisan.’
He led the struggle for land
Nakshatra always stood with the underdogs and fought incessantly for the respect and rights of the oppressed sections of society. Sipahi and Tatma Tola came up in Purnea due to his efforts and 14 bighas of land donated by Mol Babu, the zamindar of Rupauli, was distributed among Paswans (a Dalit community). Around 300 acres of land between Bakhri and Sameli, owned by Darbhanga Maharaj, was lying fallow and was the grazing ground of cattle of 10 surrounding villages. Some zamindars fraudulently got its ownership transferred in their name. They sowed crops on the land. Nakshatra, along with 300 poor laborers, herded cattle into the land and the entire crop was destroyed. The property again reverted to the people. It is said that he had received a letter from the Soviet Union stating that the government of that country wanted to felicitate him. However, as he was uneducated, he could not go.
He pooled 90 acres of land through donations and established Bhagwati Mandir College in his village Barari. The registry of the land says that he was the chairman of the committee that owned it. Even in the evening of his life, he performed a rare feat. Bhuvna Lake, spread over thousands of acres of land, lay seven km away from Purnea town near Harda village. Since the time of the British rule, Nakshatra had been pleading with the government that a canal should be dug to divert the water from the lake to the Kari Koshi River near Katihar. That would make a vast tract of land available for cultivation.
The lake was a quarter mile wide and 18 miles long. He appealed to the Congress government too, but nothing moved. On 1 May 1967, he mobilized an army of poor laborers and farmers for digging up the lake. Zamindars complained about this to the government. The district magistrate and police SP reached the spot to stop the digging. However, they had to withdraw on seeing the determination of the laborers and farmers. A canal was dug and was joined to the Kari Koshi near Katihar. Water flowed into Kari Koshi and from there into Ganga near Bhawanipur. The land submerged by the lake was distributed among the farmers and laborers who had dug the canal. Even today, that canal is known as Malakar River.
On 27 September 1987, he died at his home due to kidney failure. He could not get any medical help. A legend of his times, who devoted his life to the service of the downtrodden, could not even get admitted to a hospital. By ignoring his contribution, the casteist academia is again murdering him. However, a perpetual rebel, a people’s hero never dies. He is like the pole star, which shines forever.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia, copy-editing: Lokesh
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