Jagdish Mahto

Victims Unknown
Born Ekwaari, Bhojpur, India
Died 1972 (1973)
Known for Unknown
Criminal penalty Unknown


Jagdish Mahto was a naxal leader who led the Bhojpur rebellion of 1970s in a landlord-dominated "Ekwaari" region of Bihar. Mahto was also known as "Master Saheb" among his villagers. He was a member of Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, an organisation which was leading Naxalite insurgency against Government of India. He also fight against the upper-caste landlords for the cause of lower-caste people.


Jagdish Mahto was born in Ekwaari village. He was a member of Koeri community. Mahto established a newspaper called "Harijanistan" (Dalit land) in order to voice support for the rights of the Dalits. Shri Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha, a former Minister in Government of Bihar is son-in-law of Master Jagdish Mahto.

Prior to his involvement in the Naxalite movement, he was teaching science at HD Jain College, Arrah. In the later part of his life he had some political connection and he became inspired by the writing of Karl Marx. Later he was became an Ambedkarite when he came across the philosophy of B. R. Ambedkar. Mahto was a staunch supporter of the rights of the Dalits. He was also against the privileges that the upper castes enjoyed, which was ascribed to their birth as "twice born"(dvija). In 1967, when Bengal and Punjab witnessed Dalit upsurge and popular movements, Bihar was quiet and there was no reaction from the oppressed sections of the society. Scholars ascribe the prevalent landlordism and dominance of upper castes as the reason behind fear of lower castes to rise their voices. The first spark of Naxalism evolved in "Mushari", but it was soon extinguished by the feudalistic forces.

Communist upsurge under Mahto

In the 1967 election, Mahto was supporting one of his friend who was contesting on the ticket of CPI and was pitted against a candidate supported by local Bhumihars. When Mahto went to the polling booth a Bhumihar youth was not letting anyone cast their vote. Mahto resented and was beaten badly by other Bhumihars. He was admitted to the hospital where he had to remain for several months. After being discharged, Mahto decided to initiate the movement once again which was extinguished in 1930 without any result. During this period, Mahto came in contact of Charu Mazumdar who had led a communist uprising in Bengal and had travelled to Bhojpur delivering a powerful speech to crush the enemy, i.e. the landlords.

In the meantime, Mahto formed an alliance with the other like minded youths like Ramnaresh Ram and Rameswar Ahir and they assembled their supporters under the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation. They began organising murders of landlords and their henchmen. By the end of 1970s a large number of landlords were killed. The question was not only of economic reforms i.e. the "banihari"(unpaid labour), which Dalits did to their masters but was also of honour or the "ijjat" as there used to be unrestricted and arrogant access of the Dalit women to the landlords. The Dalits who were mostly landless labourers were fighting under Jagdish Mahto for their honour.

Participation in revolutionary uprisings across Bhojpur

  • Ayar Rebellion of 1972

The Ayar village of Jagdishpur was a stronghold of Rajput landlords, and Thana Singh, a big landlord, who had numerous cases of atrocities against the Dalits, particularly the Musahars and Chamars of the village. Two-thirds of the land of the village was controlled by these landlords which included Charichan Singh, Madho Singh among others. The rebellion against the poor condition of the lower caste was stirring in the village since 1957, but it was suppressed by the landlords through the use of brute force. In 1962, in the ongoing skirmishes between the lower castes and the landlords led to death of peasant leaders Shivratan Yadav and Bhikhari Yadav and the atrocities against lower-caste women continued. According to Kalyan Mukherjee, the village was unpopular among the Dalits to such an extent that no Dalit family of another village would like to had marriage relations with the inhabitants of the village. The trigger to revolt was the sexual harassment of the wife of Ramayan Chamar, who used to work as agricultural labourer in the fields of Charichan Singh, by the sons of her landlord. Ramayan's complaint to Charichan Singh led to his physical assault by the men of Charichan Singh. The disgruntled Ramayan joined the "Jagdish Mahto group", also called as Ekwari ke Master Saheb ka group. In the retaliatory action by Mahto who was invited by Ramayan Chamar in the village along with his armed group led to the assassination of the Thana Singh and another landlord called Hari Singh was injured to be killed later by the rebels.

Activism and anti-landlord activities in Bhojpur

On 14 April 1970, Mahto along with Rameswar Ahir and Latafat Hussain organised massive rally and candle march in the support of Harijanistan, a separate territory to be inhabited by the lower-castes. The rally was supported by a large number of landless labourers and backward-caste peasants. Mahto also ran a drive against the untouchability in the villages of Inrukhi, Baruna and Koshiyar. The anti-landlordism however, prevailed in the village of Ekwari, situated few kilometres away from Arrah. The village of Ekwari was known for its fertile land and feudal dominance of the upper-caste who exploited the lower-caste. The women of the lower caste were raped with impunity to such an extent that it was accepted as social norm. The Naxalbari revolt in West Bengal motivated Mahto and his friend Ramnaresh Dusadh, who were joined by a bandit called Rameswar Ahir to lead an armed uprising against the exploitative Zamindars. In a bid to search like-minded youths for rebellion against the upper-caste landlords, the three men came together and organised the youths belonging to lower-caste for armed rebellion. The trigger to their activities was the assault on Gora Chamar and Chandrika Dusadh by the landlords, who were also implicated in the fraudulent cases. A group of Koeris and Dusadh under Jagdish Mahto met the Sub Divisional Magistrate and the police office was established in the village to tackle future skirmishes. Rameswar Ahir, who joined Mahto in the struggle against the tyrant landlords started his career as a communist rebel by leaving all claims over his land and joining underground society of communists along with Mahto. On 23 February 1971, a big landlord named Shivpujan Singh, who was accused of a rape with a Harijan women in Inrukhi village was brutally assassinated by the Mahto group. The assassination followed the murders of a number of other tyrant landlords, namely Jagdish Singh, Dudheswar Singh, Mangal Singh and Paramhans Singh. The attempt by some of them to organise a counter revolution against the communists under Mahto failed by organised crackdown on them. These incidents popularised Ekwari as the "Naxalbari of Bhojpur". Mahto and his wife had went underground and by 1971, the Ekwari village was divided on class line between two groups, one containing the influential landlords and the other containing poor peasants and the Dalits.


A commemorative stone of Jagdish Master at Ekwari village in the Bhojpur district of Bihar. The stone also mentions names of his associates and, Rameswar Ahir and Ramnaresh Ram, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly in Bihar.

Mahto was killed after beaten up to death by a Musahar mob who confused him to be a "Dacoit" (bandit). Before dying Mahto is said to have spoken to one of his comrades that though he was dying but the upper caste landlords won't dare to touch Dalit women in future.

According to Arun Sinha, Mahto was never given the respect due to him by the upper castes. Even his wife was defamed as a prostitute and the pro capitalist administration tried to negate the issues at naxalbari hiding it from the rest of the country.

In an interview with the media outlets in Delhi, Ramnaresh Ram, the associate of Mahto reiterated the conflict that was taking place for many decades in Bhojpur between landed gentry and the subordinate tenants. The caste strife came to an end in later years owing to the killings of the core naxal leaders and retirement of their subordinates.

In popular culture

Jagdish Mahto became a notable figure among people of Ekwaari and several books were written to commemorate his struggle against the landlords for the cause of poor and the deprived. Some of the biographical accounts of Mahto are, Bhojpur Mein Naxalvadi Andolan’ (Kalyan Mukherjee and Rajendra Yadav), ‘Master Saab’ (Mahashweta Devi), ‘Raktim Tara’ (Suresh Kantak), and ‘Arjun Zinda Hai’ (Madhukar Singh).