Comrade Rameshwar Yadav : Legendary Leader of the Bhojpur Peasants' Struggle

‘Dukhiyan ke Tu Dukh Mitwal Veer Putra Doman ke’ (Brave son of Doman, you alleviate the sorrows of the oppressed)

The introduction to Comrade Rameshwar Yadav alias Sadhu Ji in Flaming Fields begins with these words. Legendary figure of the Bhojpur peasants’ struggle Ramnaresh Yadav was born in a middle farmer’s family at Ekvari in Sahar, Bhojpur. After studying up to 7th Class, he left school and at first joined a dance group. But his hatred towards upper caste landlords turned the spirited Rameshwar into a rebel and he joined a gang of dacoits, as a result of which he had to undergo a long jail sentence. The waves of the peasants’ struggle in the latter half of the 60s brought a great change in his life. He came into contact with Master Saheb (Jagdish Prasad) and became the most prominent leader of the Bhojpur peasants’ struggle. Known as Sadhu Ji, Comrade Rameshwar was martyred in an encounter with the police at Sona Tola in Sahar on 14 January 1975.

A Village Turned into a Torture Camp for the Poor

‘Bhojpur Mein Naxalvadi Andolan’ tells us, “Ekvari, situated 16 miles from Ara city, is a lively village with a total population of 15,000-16,542 consisting of different castes. 1045-1200 families reside in this village. Bhumihars are maximum in number, with 265 families. Next are 110 bania families, 105 Musahar families, 52 chamaar and dusaadh families, 40 Yadav families, 52 Jhater families, as well as some othr families. The soil of Ekvari is very fertile and is valued at Rs 10,000-12,000 per bigha. A bigha of land here yields 35-40 maunds of paddy. The labour wage rate is the same as in most villages in Sahar: 3 seers of raw rice and the evening meal during crop harvesting time; one load of paddy per every 21 loads of paddy; the ploughman gets 10-12 katthas of land and 2 seers of rice per day. Prior to the drive by the enemies of class, there is no proof of any struggle for wages. There is also no mention of any hartal or strike. On the contrary, the oppression of the lower castes and the arrogant behaviour of the Bhumihars was a painful reality of Ekvari. Rape of lower caste women was a social evil which the people accepted as their fate.

Motherless Childhood

In 1942 when the entire country was echoing with slogans for the British to ‘Quit India’, Rameshwar was born to a poor farmer Doman Yadav in Ekvari. His mother died when he was still a small child. Bereft of a mother’s love and care in childhood, he became an self-willed and self-reliant child. The Bhumihar landlords of the village were very angry with the uncompromising behaviour of this son of Doman Ahir. They used to tell his father, “Doman, your son walks too proudly. He doesn’t bend his head even in our presence.”

His father sent him to the Ekvari school but he could find no interest in school studies, and he left school after the 7th Class. From childhood, seeds of hatred towards feudal forces took root in his mind. One day there was a small theft in the school. Rameshwar was falsely accused of this theft. He was scolded and even beaten in school. His father had to pay a heavy fine for fear of the feudal forces. When he came home, he was again beaten. This incident left a deep impression on young Rameshwar’s mind. Even after he was grown up, he could not forget this incident. He was also critical of his father’s submissiveness.

From Dance Group to Dacoit Gang: An Uneven Journey in Life

But as he was a good student, one of his teachers, Damodar Singh, loved him very much. It was this teacher who taught him how to play the harmonium, an art which drew him gradually into the dance group run by Dinanath Mahapatar. He had a very good voice and his singing used to mesmerise the listeners. After some days he ran away from home without telling his father, and started working for a trader in Dildarnagar (Uttar Pradesh). His father traced him and brought him back home.

After returning to Ekvari, Rameshwar continued to remain very restless. He had no interest in looking after the fields or the oxen and buffaloes. He always had belief in himself and believed that one must make one’s own way in life and not walk in the footsteps of others. He left Dinanath’s dance group. His hatred of feudal forces drew him towards dacoits’ gangs, because he noticed that even the Bhumihars were afraid of the dacoit chief. He joined the gang of dacoit chief Ramghulam Singh in Baruna. His life as a dacoit was full of dangers. He frequently travelled from West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh in this phase of his life. He was once caught in 1955-56 but he escaped, snatching a rifle and killing a policeman in the process.

The police raided his home, put a lot of pressure on his father and confiscated his house and property. Rameshwar finally surrendered after requests from his father. After a long trial, he was sentenced in 1960 to life imprisonment by Additional Sessions Judge Vishwanath Prasad. Tales of his bravery and large-heartedness during his life as a dacoit are part of the folklore of the region.

A Great Change: Revolutionary Warrior Sadhu Ji

Even in jail, his rebellious spirit was not crushed. He was transferred to and from Ara, Buxar, Bhagalpur, and Daltonganj jails. It was during his jail term that there occurred a great change in him. Inside jail he studied the Gita as well as Communist literature. He even requested money from his father to buy books. When he was released from jail, he did not come home directly but spent some days giving discourses as a Sadhu. He grew a beard. Big crowds used to gather to hear his discourses. Finally, he reached Ekvari but was hesitant to go home. His father came to the outskirts of the village and brought him home.

Even after this, he rarely stayed at home but spent most of his time talking with friends and roaming around. Jagdish Master and Rameshwar started to be seen together often. On the occasion of Ambedkar Diwas on 14 April 1970, he addressed the meeting at Ramna Maidan and advised the people to be wary of ‘Gandhi’s chelas’. On hearing the news of his release from jail, dacoit chief Ramghulam came to see him and told him, “Rameshwar, come, let us make an even stronger gang”. Rameshwar immediately replied, “No, Ramghulam, I now want to make a strong Party. A Party such as there is in Vietnam”. Thus Rameshwar freed himself of the bogey of his past. When he left his past life, he also tried to bring his dacoit-friends on to the road of social change.

Amidst talks of the Naxalbari revival in the District and after the wiping out of Jagdish Singh, the police were convinced that Jagdish Master and Rameshwar Yadav had joined this movement.

The Naxalbari Spark

During those days, news of the successful Naxalbari peasants’ revolution in West Bengal reached this area. Ramnaresh Dusadh, an Ekvari communist, was strongly attracted to this movement. His close friend Jagdish Mahto was also drawn to this movement. They started organising and training the oppressed and backward caste youths of Ekvari. For 2 years they remained in search of like-minded friends. Their quest was successful when they met Rameshwar Yadav, a man who had returned to Ekvari after serving 12 years in jail for murder. This ex-dacoit had now transformed himself, and the two developed a deep bond of friendship. They decided to dedicate the rest of their lives to bringing about social change.

Rameshwar Yadav, Jagdish Master, and Ramnaresh Dusadh became inseparable friends. Around this time, the Bhumihars of Ekvari badly beat up Chandrika Dusadh and Gora Chamar because the zamindars felt they were becoming ill-behaved and not subservient enough. Jagdish Mahto and Rameshwar sided with these two and opposed the injustice done to them. The Bhumihar women made fun of them and said, “If you lack firewood for Gora’s funeral pyre, we can help you by giving our petticoats”. As a result of their siding with the oppressed, the Bhumihars slapped a case against them under Section 107. The situation became intolerable to Rameshwar.

His father was constantly telling him to leave the ‘warpath’ and shoulder the responsibilities of running the home. But Rameshwar answered, “Listen, old man, these Bhumihars will not leave me alone; they will not allow us to live in peace. Their intention is to implicate me again, but this time I will not go to jail”. After a few days, Jagdish and Rameshwar went to court and filed an affidavit relinquishing all claims to their land and saying that they were leaving the materialistic life and becoming Sadhus; they said that they did not know if they would live or die. Jagdish Master resigned from his post as teacher at the HD Jain School in Ara.

On 23 February 1971, the dead body of Ekvari feudal landlord hit-man Shivpujan Singh was found to the south of a nearby canal. Shivpujan Singh was a loyalist of the landlords and always had a roving eye for the Harijan women. Just a few days earlier, he had raped a dalit woman from Inrukhi village and looted her ornaments. He was also part of the gang which beat up Chandrika Dusadh and Gora Chamar. This incident greatly enthused the poor. On 30 March 1971, 35 year old zamindar Jagdish Singh with a holding of 25 acres was eliminated when he was returning from his fields. After the killing of Shivpujan Singh, he had taken on the responsibility of organising and mobilising the landed Bhumihars. Feudal chief Dudheshwar Singh (Dudhar Singh) was killed on 9 June 1971, and a few days later Paramhans Singh was killed. From 23 February 1971 (Shivpujan Singh) to June 1976 (Mangal Singh) more than 15 feudal lords and their hit-men were wiped out. Gradually, the fame of Ekvari as the ‘Naxalbari of Bhojpur’ spread. Chawari, Ahile, Banshodihri, Madhopur, Baruhi, Sona Tola (Sahar), Pawana, Chilhaus, Fuladi (Sandesh), Pandedih (Piro), Ayar, Lalganj, Barnaon (Jagdishpur), Kesath (Nawanagar) and other places became centres of struggle.

On 14 March 1974, an armed police force was attacked in Chilhaus (Sandesh) and 3 rifles and 20 cartridges seized. During this attack, Sadhu Ji’s arm was injured.  

14 January 1975: Martyrdom Day

Police Superintendent YN Shrivastava led a strong raid to capture him in Karnaul-Chandi village, but did not find him there. It was the day of Makar Sankranti. The police were confident of finding him at Sona Tola. They stopped their jeep near the canal at Dhamaniya village and ran through the mustard fields towards Sona Tola with their rifles at the ready. Sadhu Ji was lying down on some straw in a hut about 500 yards from the Tola.

The police caught him and asked the villagers to identify him. The people tried their best to hide his true identity. One woman went as far as to tell the police that he (Rameshwar) was her husband, worked in Assam, and had come home for the holidays. During these enquiries, Rameshwar remained silent. After a few minutes, he removed his wrist watch and handed it to a woman. The police took him in their jeep towards Gadhani.

From the jeep he looked around at all the fields. It was the day of Makar Sankranti. The yellow flowers of the mustard crop covered the ground. His hands were handcuffed and his stomach was suffering from cramps. He was looking tired and weak, but something was kindling in his mind. As they came close to the Dhamaniya culvert, everything started looking familiar to him. About 20 years ago, the police had caught and taken him away from this very culvert. That time also, his hands were handcuffed. But this time he was not a guilty criminal. He trembled with a great anger and told the driver in a stern voice to stop the jeep. The jeep slowed down, and the police constables were wrestling with him. Despite their protests, he got down from the jeep. He refused to go any further, and instructed the police to shoot and kill him.

The police were constantly trying to drag him back to the jeep and he was constantly resisting them. Again and again he said, “I am not a criminal. Shoot me, but I will not surrender…Yes, I am the Rameshwar you are looking for”. The police again ordered him to sit inside the jeep. An angry Rameshwar hit out strongly with his handcuffed hand.

The police officer then shot at him twice. Rameshwar fell to the ground and a thin stream of blood started flowing from under his eye. His life’s journey ended at that all-familiar Dhamaniya culvert. The police returned to Sona Tola. This time they caught a 35 year old youth named Amavas Ram. Amavas’ father was already in jail on the charge of killing a feudal lord Jhoolan Singh at Berath village in March 1974. The police beat him up brutally in the name of ‘enquiry’, and finally shot him dead at 8 pm.