The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lives lost in trying to change lives

Shabdo (Gaya), Jan. 25: Sarita lost her father when she was six years old. Yesterday, Sarita’s son, Puru, lost his mother at the age of six.

Sarita — who studied sociology at Patna University — was an unusual young woman. And Mahesh — who trained to be an aircraft maintenance engineer — an unusual young man.

Women and men of their age — both were in their early thirties — and academic background do not usually turn up in a nondescript, and dangerous, southern Bihar village to dig tube wells and teach community farming.

And then die of assassins’ bullets.

Sarita’s bullet-riddled body was found last evening lying on the side of a road and Mahesh’s in a ditch.

“The two young social activists had to die because they had taken on the land mafia and the vested interests. We have identified the gang,” said the DIG of Gaya division, Pius Amrit Kumar Beck.

In their work for the Institute of Research and Action, an NGO, they had ruffled many feathers.

Inspired by the Sarvodaya movement, they decided to turn Naxalite-ruled Shabdo, under Fatehpur block of Gaya, into a model village to end the culture of violence.

In the past two years, they succeeded to a great extent — Sarita making the sacrifice of spending time away from her young son and husband Pushpendra, who live in Patna.

Mahesh Kant, originally from Haryana, has a brother who is a builder, also in Patna.

Shabdo today has a community hall, a fishing pond, a sprawling cattleshed, and power and telephone connection.

A gang led by Budhan Mahato and Sadhu Mahato, both Yadav caste dons, had forcibly occupied about two acres of land from 40 Dalit families in the village. Archana Kumari, a member of the Mahila Mandal in Shabdo, said: “The Dalits (of Musahar caste) appealed to us. We decided to fight and the land was freed for the poor Musahar caste a year ago. So the gang targeted Sarita and Mahesh.”

“But Sarita said she did not mind dying. ‘How long can you carry on under police protection'’” Archana added.

Over the past seven days, they had been touring the area — travelling through some 40 villages where their network had spread — planning a literacy programme. On Sunday evening, they had dinner after a meeting with villagers and left for the guesthouse where they were staying with a promise to return in the morning when a tube well would be dug.

“But she did not. She would not ever,” said Suchit Bharati, a villager, as she broke down.

Unidentified gunmen shot them around 7.15 pm when they were going to their destination on a motorbike. The villagers heard the shots and reached the spot to find the two dead.

Around 70 km from here in Gaya town, the Kanpur IIT engineer, Satyendra Dubey, was shot dead for protesting against corrupt practices in the Prime Minister’s dream highway project.

In Gaya and Patna, where the two were cremated today, the murders triggered protests. Jabir Hussain, the speaker of the Bihar Legislative Council, said: “The killing of the two young social activists is a shame.”


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