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Mainstream, VOL L, No 28, June 30, 2012

Naxalite Violence: Causes and Remedies

Wednesday 4 July 2012, by A K Biswas

Part-I

Myth of National Growth

The country is in an enigmatic crossroad. It is difficult for the common man to comprehend the direction India is heading. To him, the euph-oria surrounding India’s economic prosperity coupled with the high rate of growth hyped in a sonorous pitch is a paradox beyond his appre-ciation or intelligence. This does not mean or presuppose that the country has not travelled along the road to prosperity or growth. It has indeed made substantial progress, which is eulogised globally but the blessings of the development have rarely fallen to the lot of the masses. The fruits of new economic order have, by and large, been siphoned off by the corporate world in collaboration with a small professional class from the world of technology, management etc. The gap between the masses and gentry, rich and the poor, privileged and deprived has widened vastly in a decade-and-a-half since India embarked on what in the 1990s was called LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation).

Millions of Indians living in the hills and forests, fields and factories are unaware how the life and living of a section of their country-men have undergone phenomenal transfor-mation. The masses, of course, are witness to changes wrought by a few miles of road, a few hours of supply of electricity, mobile connec-tivity, innumerable television channels beaming provocative advertisements to promote con-sumer goods. This largely remains beyond the boundaries of their approach, if not com-prehension. The fate or fortunes of the masses remain unchanged or irreversible despite shining India’s growth story driving the benefi-ciaries ecstatic. The common man is miserable and his future does not hold any promise of hope for growth or better life. His journey through dreary deserts continues aimlessly and endlessly.

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India, comprising Justices Aftab Alam and B.S. Chauhan, underlined the tragedy of Indian development. On July 20, 2010, in a poignant observation, the Bench rudely indicted our current state and status of development.

To millions of Indians development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of sustenance. It is cynically said that on path of “mis-development” almost every step that we take seems to give rise to insurgency and political extremism which along with terrorism are supposed to be the three gravest threats to India’s integrity and sover-eignty. Why is the state perception and vision of development at such great odds with the people it purports to develop? And why are their rights so dispensable? Why do India’s GDP and human development index (which is based broadly using measures of life expectancy, adult literacy and standard of living) present such vastly different pictures? With GDP at 1.16 trillion (of 2008) the Indian economy is 12th largest in US dollar terms and it is the second fastest growing economy in the world. But according to the Human Development Report, the HDI for India is 0.612 which puts it at the 134th place among 182 countries.1

Such a stinging indictment is unexpected from any responsible quarter. In the backyard of shining India, the country has enormous shame to hide beyond public eyes and the above indictment underlined the same. India’s rich and resourceful have black money in billions of dollars stashed away in foreign banks and no country can match this sordid record.

The seething discontent and hardship for sustenance, on the other hand, have driven a vast countryside into the battleground, with attendant consequences. The state machinery and masses are divided into irreconcilable rival camps. The frustration, helplessness and des-peration of the deprived have driven them to face bullets and bayonets from the police, para-military and even military. They are accused to have resorted to kidnapping, killing, extortion, and other forms of crime. India’s Prime Minister and Home Minister have con-demned them in unequivocal terms as extre-mists, holding them as posing the ‘biggest internal threat to the security of India’. The highest authorities’ language bears the stamp of unconcealed threats, temperament of intolerance and attitude favouring suppression. But they have received mixed responses from their countrymen. The voiceless and deprived Indians have reason to feel deeply aggrieved vis-a-vis the unfeeling rich and resourceful. Shining India’s dreams and designs are a pure mockery to them.

The government has lost its credibility to them in many critical aspects. The official claim for achievement in literacy is highly doubtful, if not ridiculous. The projection for the people living below the poverty line is neither above suspicion. The rulers’ promises and pretensions of public welfare do not inspire confidence in the common man either. When the Panning Commission declared that a man with an income below Rs 22 in rural areas and Rs 28 in urban areas is poor,2 many concerned people were wondering from which markets and outlets they could procure goods and services capable of keeping their heart and soul intact on a daily basis within that meagre sum. The Census data are subjected to convenient manipulation. But we use those nonetheless in the absence of any alternative.

A few recent incidents have forced on the Indian polity to engage critical time and attention of the people at large. In April 2012, the Maoists kidnapped a ruling BJD MLA, Jhina Hikaka, a tribal leader, in Orissa. To secure his release, the State authorities were compelled to release extremists lodged in the State jails. In synchronisation with the kidnapping of the legislator in Orissa, the Collector of Sukma, Alex Paul Menon, IAS, of Chhattisgarh, was kid-napped by the Maoists. He was released after 12 days on May 4. Menon was not the only high official to be kidnapped. An IAS officer and Collector of Malkangiri, Vineel Krishna, was kidnapped by extremists in February 2012. The IAS Officers’ Association had rallied behind the Sukma District Collector, seeking his release. Release of these two Collectors besides the ruling party MLA could be secured by freeing an undisclosed number of extremist leaders and cadres by the respective State governments. On January 5, 2005, the extremists killed K.C. Surender Babu, Superintendent of Police, Munger district, by a landmine blast when the Bihar cadre IPS officer was returning to his head-quarters from a sur-veillance of the areas under Naxalite influence. The other daring operation was carried by the Maoists on November 13, 2005 when they raided the Jehanabad Jail in Central Bihar, the breeding ground of agrarian extremism. The raiders secured the release of over 340 cadres along with their little known leader, Ajay Kanu, under detention.3 This action was televised by some of the private TV chan-nels live. The viewers got some insight into the Maoists’ matchless strategy, precision and action. Their determination and commitment were in full bloom at Jehanabad. By and large, emaciated, illiterate and almost ignorant people, who have joined the extremists, are the pillars of the Maoist movement.

Part-II

Greatest Internal Security Threat of India, Who?

INDIA’S Rural Development Minister sometime back delivered the Sardar Patel Memorial Lec-ture, which was both interesting and frustra-ting, if not ominous. He explained ‘the Maoist Issue from Tirupati to Pashupati’ in a conven-tional frame, expected of or befitting the estab-lishment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s oft-quoted observation—that the Naxalite move-ment is the greatest threat to internal security—occupied the core of the Rural Development Minister’s speech. Jairam Ramesh observed that “[........] the Indian state has confronted many groups in the past that reject its very basis and rationale. And in many cases, these very groups that have fought the might of the Indian state for years have finally come around and become a peaceful part of our polity.” The Indian autho-rities’ fear springs basically from perception that “.......it is unequivocally clear their objective is the violent overthrow of the Indian state and that their basic ideology is a complete rejection of parliamentary democracy as enshrined in our Constitution.”4 This perceptive position drove the government to launch action to crush the forces wedded to the philosophy of destabilising democratic norms and polity with whatever might necessary. Coming as it does from the highest pulpit of the national authorities, the prognosis, utterances and assurances would be sonorous to the proprietary vis-a-vis the proletariat and nail deep confidence in the former and fear or trauma in the latter.

To buttress his point, incidentally, Jairam Ramesh referred to Jharkhand’s Palamau. “I might recall here that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Kameshwar Baitha, a top Naxal leader, contested and won on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ticket from Palamau in Jhar-khand.” But does he know (I assume he does) the travails of Kameshwar Baitha’s odyssey from his humble home in distant Palamau’s dense forests to Parliament? Though wildlife has become rare in the forests of his native place, beasts are aplenty roaming there. The story behind Kameshwar’s flight to the Capital’s highest temple of democracy might help us understand the reasons for the Naxalites’ or Maoists’ ever-expanding influence. Kameshwar, a Dhobi (or Dhopa), is a Scheduled Caste in Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. As a student he was not noted for his merit as for his selfless and unrequited voluntary services. A good Samaritan, he was, therefore, loved by everybody around. Kamesh-war had cleared his matriculation examination but was not ferociously ambitious for college or university education. So he did not go beyond his village in pursuit of higher education. He, however, smilingly attended to the errands of villagers and be away from home for days together.

Beasts in pleasure-hunting no threat to Internal Security!

Rich, wealthy and dominant classes of people (Bhumihar and Rajput) from Central Bihar’s Gaya-Jehanabad Aurangabad-Arwal districts would go for mrigaya, that is, annual hunting expedition in the forests of Palamau. The village of Kameshwar Baitha fell within their hunting zone. The poachers spent nights in camps there. To spice up camp life, the hunters routinely sent for girls from the adjoining areas. Hardly anybody would dare to challenge or defy their lewd commands. The voiceless and the weak Dalit and/or tribal girls were the soft targets of the beasts. Once the unwelcome visitors chanced to see Kameshwar’s sister. His mother received a message to send her teenaged, unmarried daughter at night to their camp. At this critical juncture, Kameshwar was away from home. His widowed mother was crestfallen. She did not know what to do or how to react. Nor was there anybody she could consult in the crisis threatening the family’s honour and dignity. Distraught and up against an insurmountable wall of adversity, his poor mother attempted suicide; fortunately though, her attempt failed. Kameshwar returned home a few days later to learn all about what his mother underwent in his absence. He straight went to the village headman, a Rajput landlord, and requested him to give his gun. Unsuspectingly, the landlord handed over his loaded DDBL gun, thinking that the young man was up to some fun in the jungle. His total confidence in Kameshwar did not provoke any suspicion about his motive or intention. Armed with the gun, he straight went to the poachers in the camp and shot dead a few of the beasts. He threw away the gun right there and fled. Nobody knew where he had gone. The police, however, arrested the owner of the licensed gun. The landlord was prosecuted and sentenced to serve several years in prison.

Kameshwar returned much later to his village—may be a decade-and-a-half had glided down in the meanwhile. He was, by then, a high-ranking Naxal leader. He rose to command the entire south Bihar and Jharkhand. He did not look back since he left the village. Kamesh-war was under detention in the Baxur Central Jail, Arrah in 2005 when the Bihar Police was pretty nervous that the Naxals might raid the colonial-era prison to free him from detention.

The sister of Kameshwar, we can imagine, was not the only target of the poachers. Tribal girls besides Dalits living there were exposed to the danger from the poachers. Of course, any observer would not miss that the dignity of Dalit and tribal girls is outraged by their coun-trymen anywhere and anytime and the victims have no hope of justice. While we discuss the genesis of Maoism or Naxalism, we must bear this aspect in mind.

And nobody ever expressed anguish, showed agony or was shocked that any Tom, Dick and Hurry from the Hindu social upper layer could outrage, at will, the dignity and sanctity of the human personality of innocent women as well as men belonging of the disadvantaged sections with a sense of total impunity anywhere and at any time on hundreds of occasions. These demons pose no threats to the internal security of the nation!!! Their depravity still does not attract adverse notice. No men or women from the minority community, particularly Muslims or Sikhs, even if similarly indigent, are exposed to outrages as the Dalit or tribal communities are. The rapists and attackers are selective and feel instinctively safe that the victims would be denied justice in any case.

Another Dhobi as a Naxal leader commanded the north Bihar region in the early 2010s. He was Ram Pravesh, strangely a caste man of Kameshwar Baitha. Ram Pravesh earned the wrath of the Madhuvan Babus (as the British bureaucracy referred to the Rajput zamindars of Madhuvan in Champaran, Bihar). They did not quite relish that a lowly Dhobi next door had passed a Bachelor’s degree examination! He was called to their home and, instead of a word of appreciation, roundly slapped and kicked. His physical torture was accompanied by invectives befitting the occasion for his ambition of a government job. Undeterred, he went ahead and obtained an MA degree too from the B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur. His tormen-tors had no reason to be mollified. An appoint-ment letter for the accursed Dhobi youth was not delivered by the all-Rajput staff members of the local Madhuvan Post Office.5 With no hope for redress of grievances, the young man straight joined the extremist forces. Under his leadership the Madhuvan Police Station, block and circle offices and two branches of nationalised banks, besides the local MP’s house as well as his petrol pump, were raided at mid-day on June 23, 2005 by a team of Naxal cadres. The MP was a former Minister in the State Government for a long period. The local people, almost one and all, alleged that he had lined up men and officers belonging to his (Rajput) caste in State or Central Government offices located in Madhuvan for the facility of ensuring his unchallengeable authority and sway there in his constituency.

Part-III

Is the Dhobi a Criminal Caste?

HOW come two of the top Naxal leaders in Bihar and Jharkhand hailed from the same caste back-ground? An inevitable question arises: Do they, by the way, suffer from criminal propensity? The coincidence is strange and stark. During the colonial era when crime data were collected, collated by caste and officially published, the Dhobis, it was found, were one of the most peace-loving and law-abiding communities of eastern India. They were almost free from crime vis-a-vis many higher and respectable castes. A table (Table-1) relevant for the discussion is presented below.

Table-16

(Showing the proportion of selected castes in jail to the free population of those castes according to the 1872 Census)

Serial # Proportion of caste men in jail in 1872
1. Of the Kayasth, one in 1404 was in jail during 1872
2. Of the Rajput, and Chhetri one in 1425 was in jail during 1872
3. Of the Brahman, one in 1808 was in jail in 1872
4. Of the Goala, one in 2085 was in jail in 1872
5. Of the Babhan, one in 3751 was in jail in 1872
6. Of the Dhobi, one in 4312 was in jail in 1872

Comparative analysis shows that for one Dhobi serving a jail sentence, more than three Kayasthas, three Rajputs and Chetris, 2.5 Brah-mans, two Goalas and more than one Babhan were in prison. The Dhobis, in contrast, had the least criminal propensity. The high proclivity to crime of certain castes of India’s upper social hemisphere in the year when the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 was enacted, tells a story which is rarely discussed and/or least suspected in acade-mic circles or in the media. I will refrain from directing my attention to that aspect as it is not relevant to the issue under our discus-sion. I must not, however, forget to note that the Bengal Administration Report 1872 further dis-closed that for 2738 Chamars and Mochis, one was in jail. His image, though far more clean, respectable and dignified than the superior breeds, for example, Kayastha, Rajput or Brahman, the Chamar suffered unreasonable indignity through the widely propagated proverb of north and eastern India. In Bengali and Hindi, theft is described colloquially as chori-chamari; the latter is a derivative of Chamar. How did it originate and who were behind the linguistic mischief?

One might have noticed that the lowest social order, that is, the Scheduled Castes along with the tribal communities have been sucked into the vortex of extremism. They represent the rank-and-file of the cadre of the red brigade. The leadership of the movement, on the other hand, has mostly, if not wholly, passed into the upper-caste hands, which, we may apprehend in the backdrop of a divisive and fragmented society, may ultimately undermine or derail the move-ment in the remote future. This is what caste is all about. The leaders from the upper social hinterland have not suffered what the proletariat have been subjected to in every sphere of life. Under the overpowering socio-cultural-econo-mic environment encompassing every branch of life, a genuine question remains unanswered: why should the same class of leaders at all be so eager to change the gigantic superstructure and norms that yielded immense benefit and dignity to them for generations?

Part-IV

“Corn can’t expect justice from a court composed of chickens.”
— African Proverb

The massacre of Dalits and minorities of Bathanitola in Bihar stands out as a shame for India’s criminal administration. Twentythree accused of the massacre were acquitted by a Division Bench of the Patna High Court on April 16, 2012. The Ranveer Sena, a private army of feudal (Bhumihar) castes, killed 21 innocent men, mostly women and children, in this village of Central Bihar on April 11, 19 per cent. The incident occurred in presence of a large police contingent in broad daylight. But the police did not intervene. The grim character of the mass-acre is underlined by the fact that amongst the victims of the Ranveer Sena were three toddlers (one of them only three months old), six children, 11 women. Fur-ther, three police eye witnesses to the massacre deposed in favour of the killers in the trial court. In 2010, the District and Sessions Court, Arrah held 23 of the Sena men guilty, three of whom were sentenced to death. This verdict has been overturned by the High Court, raising serious concern in the minds of all right-thinking people. They went to the extent of saying it was a judicial massacre of the victims. The trial took sixteen years to award punishment whereas in the case of the massacre of the Ranveer Sena men, the trial was fast-tracked and punishment inflicted in four years!

The Hindu, a widely circulated English daily, editorially commented that “The acquittal of 23 people convicted by a lower court in the grue-some Bathani Tola massacre case is a shocking indictment of the country’s criminal justice system. The mass murder of a group of 21 Dalits and Muslims, most of them women and children, by the notorious caste militia, the Ranveer Sena, took place in Bihar’s Bhojpur district in 1996 in broad daylight [..........] The judgment of the two-member Bench of the Patna High Court is a lengthy condemnation of the manner this ghas-tly crime was investigated and prosecuted—a process it felt was so full of infirmities that ‘un-fortunately…[those] who actually perpetuated the crime, got away with it.’ […........] the tragedy of Bathani Tola exposes the elitist biases of the country’s media, which has paid scant attention to this miscarriage of justice.”7 The Union Home Minister wondered why there was no public outcry over the High Court’s pervert verdict.

It seems that the Division Bench found faults in the state machinery more than looking into the merit of the case involving deaths of so many innocent lives. The State has certainly failed to ensure punishment of the murderers and deliver justice to the victims. Undercurrents of conflicting interests have taken their toll which has benefited the Ranveer Sena, their patrons and followers. The media, that vacu-ously claims to be independent as the keeper of the conscience of the nation, has succumbed to the manipulations exercised by vested interests. Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, observed at Patna sometime back that the media in Bihar is not free.8 In fact, the national media too has not edified itself with glory by maintaining an enigmatic silence over the verdict. The countrymen may agree with the stinging warning of Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

But this is true where equality and brother-hood are cardinal principles of life in every sphere. India does not believe in it save and except for sloganeering to camouflage the dark intentions of its the upper social strata, the rich and resourceful. They obtain justice by influence and money. We must admit and recognise that the Patna High Court’s Bathanitola verdict is an ominous signal. It would be interpreted as the red carpet for the return of the Maoists to stand by the side of the Bathanitola victims and their fellow citizens. Victims of social, political and judicial injustice belonging to the pariah and disadvantaged are many and the masses have no avenue to redress their grievances.

The firepower and ferocity of the Ranveer Sena and its sympathisers against Dalits came to a sudden end by the close of the last century in central Bihar. This was by no mercy of effective action by the government. To speak candidly, the superior abilities of the Maoists/ Naxals to counter the Ranveer Sena indeed achieved this and the first decade of the 21st century has not yet seen any bloodbath. Their muscle overpowered, the mighty private army of the feudal class appears to have gone under hibernation. However, after over a decade, the Division Bench verdict gave the Ranveer Sena and its proponents a cause celebre. Social injustice, exploitation and deprivation are the seeds of extremism, the euphemism for Maoism or Naxalism. Every victim of social injustice, humiliation, exploitation or deprivation is a potential extremist, who has the solitary avenue—Maoism—to embrace for redressal of their grievances. Indians cannot reform them-selves—their prejudice against the underdogs is their unshakable and inalienable self. Their ire is provoked by any trifle factor, which only a Hindu is capable of. Here I cite one such instance of prejudice:

On December 2, 2011, the BBC World News broke the story of the murder of Niraj Kumar from Radhaupur village in Basti district, Uttar Pradesh to millions of homes globally. Ram Sumer and Jawahar Chaudhary had sons named Neeraj and Dheeraj. The former was an untouchable whereas the latter belonged to the upper caste. According to the police, their names “have long been an issue between the two families.....” The Dalit father was asked to change his sons’ names which went unheeded. This was perceived as a show of defiance, which was neither pardonable nor tolerated. In rural India this is uncommon. The Dalit violated Manu’s code which laid the foundation of inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Therefore he was punished with death to uphold the sanctity of the perverse scripture.9 India has not walked past and left Manu behind yet. His codes are still a manual of daily life for the Hindus. So men like Niraj Kumar would never expect justice from Indian society. Their violators, ironically, are not viewed as a threat to the internal security of India but those seeking redress, on the contrary, are by the code of the authorities. The States and places—from east to west and north to south—that have failed to stamp out injustice for the underdogs would, whether one likes it or not, be engulfed by the virus of Maoism. It may be only a matter of time.

The Bathanitola verdict of the Patna High Court falls in the category of anti-Dalit syndrome which is a long tradition of the Indian judiciary. The system fails to deliver justice with fairness and integrity for the socially deprived and disadvantaged. The instances are glaring. Citation of a few will suffice. The Madras High Court verdict in the Kilvemani massacre of 1969 is a case in point. The High Court found it “astonishing and difficult to believe that rich men, owning vast extents of land, one of whom even possessed a car”, could be “guilty of burning alive 42 Dalits”. The High Court did not rely on fact or evidence but went by ‘belief’, a catastrophe India alone can breed and nurse.

In Rajasthan, on the other hand, Bhanwari Devi, a potter woman, was gang-raped. During the course of the case, five judges were changed, and the sixth judge in November 1995 ruled that the accused were not guilty. The district sessions judge pronounced that “upper-caste men could not have raped a Dalit”. This is the bottom-line: miscarriage of justice for the victims is inescapable or inevitable, if and when (s)he is a Dalit. Attitudinal hostility and perception of the judicial officers dispensing justice seals the fate of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, which is now nothing more than a dead letter. The conviction rate under this Special Act enacted by the Parliament of India is mere two-to-three per cent. This should have been a shame for those who preside over the courts across the country. On the contrary, many are found to advocate its repeal as it has failed to redress the grievances of the target groups. Besides, political and social hostility, apart from administrative apathy, is too prominent against the Act.

Every incident of injustice to the socially deprived and discriminated gives birth to rebels, or protestors or extremists. Apathy to prevent injustice alienates the victims. If a class, group or community feel aggrieved by injustice, they stand alienated. Alienation leads to disunity and disintegration. Those who loudly advocate for national integrity and solidarity are eager for a cosmetic make-up. They do not aim at social reform which is much more difficult to accomplish. A just society can usher in social reform. India cannot boast of a just society. The failure to provide justice lies at the root of extremism. Let us not befool ourselves by our myopia to see and locate the real reasons in this behalf.

FOOTNOTES
 
1. The Times of India, July 21, 2010, p. 8.
2. Since revised to Rs 35 and Rs 66 respectively in 2012.
3. This breathtaking raid, which started around 10.30 pm or so, was televised by some of the private television channels live from Jehanabad.
4. Jairam Ramesh, ‘From Tirupati to Pashupati’, Mainstream, vol. L, no. 1, December 2011, p. 24.
5. During the British era, influential landlords secured posting of officers belonging to their respective caste in their estate. This seems to be an accepted practice. ICS officer and reputed Bengali litterateur Annanda Sankar Ray writes that Barendra Brahman zamindars of Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh) had an agreement with the Railway authorities in the nineteenth century that the Station Master of Mymensingh station would be a Barendra Brahman only. This agreement was honoured by the British authorities unfailingly till the last day of their rule. The Susang zamindar, on the other hand, preferred an exclusively Brahman munsiff in Durgapur court falling within his estate. This zamindar, also a Barendra Brahman, enjoyed the third position in the order precedence of the Government House in Calcutta. “A week before partition, I was leaving Mymensingh for Howrah on transfer. As the train steamed into the station there were loud bomb blasts on the platform. I gathered that those were gun salutes in honour of the first ever Muslim Station Master of Mymensingh. All his predecessors were Barendra Brahmans in fulfilment of a contract with the then Maharaja of Mymensingh in the nineteenth century [.......] There was another Maharaja, the Maharaja of Susang, whose terms included the obligation that the munsif of Durgapur must be a Brahman.” ‘An Old Story’ in The Statesman, Festival, 1991, Calcutta, p. 51. These feudal lords nonetheless received loudest appreciation as patriots and secular leaders of colonial Bengal!!!
6. Report on the Administration of Bengal, 1872-73, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1873, Calcutta, pp. 132-133.
7. The Hindu, April 25, 2012, editorial captioned “A travesty of justice”.
8. The Chairman, Press Council of India, Justice Markan-dey Katju sometime back observed in Patna that press freedom in Bihar was under curb.
9. “The name of a priest should have (a word for) auspiciousness, of a ruler strength, of a commoner prosperity and the name for a servant should breed contempt.” Penguin Classics, p. 20. Manu’s Laws are silent about those outside the four-fold caste. They are the untouchables per se.

The author is a former Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. For comments and observations, if any, please contact him at atul.biswas@gmail.com

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