For the past fortnight, Koriyawan Garh, a tiny village of 170-odd households along the Masaurhi-Naubatpur road near Patna, has been on constant vigil. At all hours of day, women and children keep an eye on the entrance routes to the village. By evening, the men leave their homes to hide in places offering cover — fields, canal embankments, rivulets or orchards. Occupants of nearly 40 per cent of the houses have fled.
Fear is running through Koriyawan Garh since May 10 when villagers and policemen clashed during panchayat elections, leading to the polls being cancelled and leaving two policemen injured. In the FIR filed subsequently, police named 80 villagers and 800 “unknown” others, enough to leave the village of 2,000 panicky. Only four people have been arrested so far.
Officials in the state admit they can’t remember such mass action against an entire village, at least in the recent past.
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Located in the Masaurhi subdivision, 35 km from Patna, Koriyawan Garh is marked by a population mostly comprising EBCs and Scheduled Castes. Villagers include largely daily wagers or petty farmers owning small patches of land.
The day of the panchayat polls, the villagers say, the clash started after police started beating up or pushing women around at the polling booth. Police retaliated by firing in the air.
Since that day, whenever a police jeep is seen approaching the village by “spotters” appointed at the entrance, either a boy runs around the village spreading the news or it is shared quickly on mobile phones.
Sushil Kumar, a farmer, says they are running out of money. For the past week, villagers have not been going to sell vegetables either, he says, after four people were arrested harvesting their crops. “Vegetables in the field will rot,” he says.
Sitting on the cemented road outside her house, Parvati Devi lashes out at police for entering their house for raids without notice. “Is it how police should behave? If anyone has done anything wrong, he should be identified and arrested. Some of us were bathing when police conducted raids on May 12,” she says.
Radha Devi shows her ransacked house, including a shattered television set, and alleges, “We had sold onions and had Rs 10,000 in cash that day, which has been missing since the raid. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar should expect us to vote for him when his police behave like this. Angrezon ka raaj chal raha hai kya (Is this British rule)?”
Santoshi Devi alleges valuables have gone missing from her home since the raid. “Police came looking for my husband Sanjay Paswan. When they left, I found my gold and silver jewellery worth Rs 50,000 missing. Where should I lodge a complaint when the Masauri police station has foisted a case on the entire village?” she says.
Harivansh Ram alleges police team took away two motorcycles and two cycles from his home. “We have seen police acting like this for the first time,” says the 50-year-old.
Kunti Devi shows her visually impaired son, 10-year-old son Pawan. “See the bruises on his body. Police did not spare even my boy who can do no harm to anyone.”
While many occupants of pucca houses have left, those living in mud ones have stayed back, afraid of theft. Nawal Kishore, a villager, is among those who has gone away. Villagers say his son Ranjan, who lives in Surat and has not come to the village for a year, was named in the FIR.
There are nearly a dozen such people named in the FIR who claim they were not in the village that day. Raj Kishore says his son Prem Ranjan lives in Gujarat and has not come home for two years either. Sachin Kumar, who studies at Patna and has also been named in the FIR, says, “I came to the village after learning I am also named.” Kumar says he won’t present himself before the police just so to get arrested. “The comnunity has to find a way out.”
Patna SP, East, Sheoli Dhurat denies there was “unusual” action by police. “It was an attack by a big mob. An FIR is registered against unknown persons in such cases.”
Adds Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal, “Those not named in the FIR should have no reason to fear. Action would be taken only if a person is identified as an offender. Our focus is to look for 80 named people.”
Asked if filing an FIR against 800 unknown villagers was not a case of police exceeding their brief, the district magistrate says, “We will ensure the innocent do not suffer. Since a mob has attacked a police team, such harsh action was taken. But villagers whose names are not in the FIR can return to the village and sell their vegetables. We will also look into alleged case of police excesses.