There exists a Hindu cremation ground on the south edge of “Manharwa Pokhra”, a large pond in Jatwaliya village under PS Kundwa Chainpur, Dhaka Block in East Champaran district of Bihar. While the pond is a place of religious significance for Hindus in this area, the cremation ground has served as the only eternal resting place for the dead belonging to all castes for centuries for the village having a population of around five thousand people.
Several works, under various government schemes, have also been undertaken in the past in the name of “maintenance and upgrade” of this cremation land. A statement reflecting the last few transactions related to the Shamshan Bhumi shows the government issued funds to the tune of Rupees 22 lakhs for upkeep of this Hindu cremation ground.
In a surprise move, however, the state government approved a project to construct a community building (Panchayat Sarkar Bhawan) on the same land claiming it is not marked as a ‘cremation land’ in government documents. Government officials, however, go silent when questioned as how several lakhs were issued in the name of Shamshan Bhumi for so many years.
The decision encroaches upon the rights of Hindus especially the poor who don’t own land and therefore denies dignity to their dead. We live in a country where many Dalit, OBC and even upper caste poor families are forced to bury their deceased by the roadside either due to discrimination or due to lack of land. In several parts of the country, poor Hindus sometimes have to keep their deceased relatives for several days until they can resolve where to bury or cremate them. This Hindu cremation ground has the distinction of accommodating the departed souls of all Hindu communities irrespective of their caste affiliations.
The ‘Panchayat Sarkar Bhawan’ project was approved in a clandestine manner with the consent of “aam sabha” that actually never took place. Protesting villagers, most of whom are not literate and comes from the poorest class, say they never signed any such document. Instead, their signatures and thumb impressions were fraudulently taken on a register for ‘free ration scheme’ by Mukhiya’s husband Chandan Kumar and his henchmen. Mukhiya’s husband is also the PACS chairman and ration dealer.
On August 16, 2020 thousands of villagers of Jatwaliya Panchayat assembled at the site and protested after some trees on the cremation land were cut by Chandan Kumar in order to pave way for the construction. Some people, who are leading the protest, were also threatened by Chandan to implicate them in false cases.
Several petitions to the district administration have evoked no response. The local administration, under the influence of money, is obviously helping him to threaten the protesters. On September 13, 2020 SDPO Sikrahana Shivendra Kumar, who came along the SDO Gyan Prakash not just abused the protesters but also threatened to raze a small temple structure built on part of cremation land if people didn’t withdraw their protest. In order to scare people a protesting former Army officer was manhandled by police and briefly detained before the agitated people got the veteran freed.
The desperation of these government officers can be gauged from the fact that the same day, the Circle Officer Reena Kumari, ostensibly on instructions of the SDO filed fabricated cases against protesting people. Both the SDO and the CO have the reputation of being highly corrupt.
To vilify the peaceful protesters, these officials who are hand-in-gloves with Chandan Kumar fabricated a false story of fight between two group of villagers and mischievously added names of some Dalits. Some gullible Dalit families have been promised that the Panchayat Sarkar Bhawan will be used by them as a shelter house for the goats and buffaloes they rear.
A similar attempt to change usage of the land in mid 1980s by former MP Motiur Rehman had resulted in widespread violence in this area as this is the only place for the Hindus to cremate the deceased members of their family. Rehman wanted Tazia processions by Muslims to be passed through the land which the Hindus vehemently protested and retained the sanctity of the land.
A survey of recent constructions of government buildings in this area has revealed startling facts. This is not the first instance of government usurping Hindu cremation land to construct government buildings. A Panchayat Sarkar Bhawan came on a Hindu Shamshan Bhumi in neighboring village Khadua despite people’s protests. Contrary to that the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U)-BJP government has spent hundreds of crores of money in fencing and beautification work of Muslim graveyards.
Hindus are being made to feel orphaned in their own country. They deserve to live safely and with dignity but thanks to the Bihar government landless Hindus, have no power, no dignity, even in death.