Indira Gandhi, Elephant Ride, Bihar & Dalit Massacre : Story Of A Comeback
The ouster of Indira Gandhi in 1977 and the formation of Janata Party led government at the centre resulted in renewed social and economic tensions in Indian society. The cleavages, which were invisible, came out in open. On 27th May, 1977, occurred what can be termed as one of the first major massacres of Dalits (lower castes) in Bihar.
‘A terrorist gang of neo-capitalist Kurmi caste people’ ( a term used by the India Today at that time) massacred eleven villagers, eight Dalits and three Sonars (goldsmith), in Belchi village of Barh in Bihar on 27th May, 1977. The gang was led by Mahavir and Parsuram. Singhwa (25), Sadhu Paswan (28), Naval Paswan (25), Raja Paswan (17), Keshav Sonar (25), Uday Sonar (21), Awadesh Sonar (19), Bhatu Paswan (19), Devki Paswan (20), Ram Paswan (30) and Shivan Paswan (28) – were tied separately, and carried to a nearby maize field where the pyre had already been lit. One by one, they were shot at point blank range and thrown into the flames.
The massacre grabbed the headlines and the government was criticised for its callous handling of the affairs. If it was not enough, at Biharsharif, hardly a few Kilometers from Belchi, communal violence flared up in July, 1977. At least four Muslim men lost their lives at Bihar Sharif.
Bihar, which led the movement to oust Mrs. Indira Gandhi, gave her the first opportunity to stage a comeback. Without wasting much time, Mrs. Gandhi landed in Patna on 13th August, 1977. Accompanied by Members of Parliament (MPs) Dr Jagannath Mishra (former chief minister), Kedar Pande, PCC chief, A.P. Sharma, Dilkishore Prasad Sinha, Bhishma Narain Singh, and Pratibha Sinha, Mrs. Gandhi took car to reach Biharsharif, where she met families of the four Muslim men killed in communal violence two weeks back.She first went to the shrine of Makhdummul Mulk Shah Yahya Meneri, offered prayers there, met the bereaved families.
Many people believed that Mrs. Gandhi wouldn’t be visiting Belchi since, due to heavy downpour, roads were full of muddy water and unfit for the cavalcade. A determined Mrs. Gandhi changed from car to a jeep tugged by a tractor at Harnaut so that it could travel through muddy roads but even the tractor got stuck. From there she got down with her saree rolled over ankles started walking through a road full of mud and water. Senior leaders were reluctant but seeing the former Prime Minister leading the way they also started walking.
In the meanwhile someone arranged an Elephant, Moti, for her to ride. People asked if she could climb an elephant which had no seat (howdah). She replied, “It is good that I am riding an elephant after a long time.” For the next three and half hours she rode an elephant without a seat, with Pratibha Sinha, to reach Belchi. Family of the affected lower caste people asked her to ensure justice where she replied that she wasn’t there to make speeches but whatever had happened is not good for the integrity of the country.
On the way back to Patna, she again took the same route on elephant till Harnaut and a car afterwards. On the way she kept stopping to meet village women, who garlanded her and presented her with eatables. People raised the slogans, “adhi roti khayenge, Indira ko laayenge” (We will eat half bread, but bring Indira back). At Bakhtiyarpur, she stopped to address students before reaching Patna where she met a hospitalised Jayprakash Narayan (JP). Interestingly, JP, who led the movement against her, blessed her for a better future.
Bihar which brought Indira down wrote her comeback.