A glimpse into the police state of Bihar from Madhubani
Unable to enforce physical distancing in villages, policemen are selectively arresting people and allowing some shopkeepers to open their shops while slapping false cases against others
Villagers in Madhubani were restive.
Their relatives quarantined in a village school were complaining of poor food and facilities. Sanitary facilities were inadequate and unhygienic. Water was in short supply. Food was inedible. It was also very hot.
Residents of village Padma were equally incensed. The quarantined people were taking their bath in the village pond, they complained. The fishing pond was also used for other purposes like washing clothes and the remaining villagers too had their bath in the pond. With people suspected of carrying the virus and quarantined also bathing in the pond, would spread the virus, they feared.
The village head or the Mukhia felt it prudent to call for an “Aam Sabha” or a general meeting. The loudspeaker at the Hanuman Temple was used to announce to the people the date and the time the next day.
The meeting, however, threatened to end in a fiasco. An unexpectedly large crowd had assembled and it was proving to be difficult to ensure physical distancing. Tempers were frayed and relatives of those who were quarantined and the rest of the villagers exchanged first words and it seemed they would soon come to blows.
The meeting was soon called off and people requested to leave. It was when people were dispersing that police from Ladania PS arrived in the village. They had four petty shopkeepers of the locality in custody for the crime of having opened their shop despite the lockdown.
The shopkeepers in custody, seeing fellow villagers, shouted for help. Several people reached out and pleaded on their behalf. The SHO ignored the pleas. But when one of the villagers, who had returned from Delhi leaving a cushy job behind, stepped up to point out that those shopkeepers were not the only ones to have opened their establishment, the shocked SHO reacted angrily and asked the young man, “Tu Neta Banega?” (So, you are trying to become a leader?”
Villagers present on the spot recalled that ‘Prashant Bhaiyya’ pleaded with the police saying that the arrested shopkeepers were very poor and wouldn’t have opened their outlets if they had a choice. And they were not alone. There were 20 other shops which were open at that very moment. “So, either arrest all of them or let these people off”.
“I’m making the request because if you book these people, they will be forced to borrow money from money-lenders,” said Prashant with folded hands.
The SHO shook with rage and again asked contemptuously if the young man thought himself to be a ‘big’ leader. “If asking questions amounts to Netagiri and if this is the only response you have, I will record your replies to my questions.”
The SHO then stepped out of the police vehicle and slapped the young man hard. Other policemen rained blows on him with their ‘lathi’. The villagers intervened and asked the policemen to behave. Outnumbered and sensing the mood of the people, the policemen quickly drove away,
only to return with reinforcement.
The young man who had questioned police action was taken into custody and an FIR was lodged against him and 100 other unnamed persons for rioting, inflicting grievous injuries to the policemen and attacking public servants on duty.
The FIR curiously also invoked section 56 of the Disaster Management Act, which states: “Any officer upon whom the duty has been imposed by this Act refuses to perform his duty without the permission of his official superior or has other lawful excuse be liable for punishment which may extend to one year or with the fine,” applicable for public servants found wanting. Charges from Acts ‘in force only in the state of J & K’ before August 5 last year were also added.
While the young man, who came from a well-off family, managed to secure bail, the police raided the village at night after several days and arrested half a dozen more people in the same case.
Ironically, the four shopkeepers whose ‘arrest’ had led to the standoff remain at large.