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Santosh Singh: Bihar caste wars

25 July 2012

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Indian Express

A lasting signature on Bihar’s most violent years

Santosh Singh : Ara, Patna, Sun Jun 03 2012, 22:40 hrs

To any old-timer, the earliest image of the Bihar caste wars is from 1977. Belchhi in Patna had seen 14 Scheduled Caste workers killed, and the enduring image is of a visit by Indira Gandhi, otherwise lying low since the post-Emergency defeat. She had to ride an elephant to the small hamlet of Dalits, the monsoon having waterlogged the approach road.

The caste wars Belchhi triggered would not stop until 2000, with 700 people killed in 91 attacks. And nearly half those attacks and deaths were in the last six of those 23 years, a period when the Ranbir Sena was at its peak.

The Ranbir Sena is now defunct but remains the name one associates with the worst of the caste wars. The period between 1994 and early 2000 saw the deaths of 337 SC members and Naxals, 50 of the Naxals by the police and the rest in 44 massacres. Naxals, in turn, killed 93 of the upper castes.

Members of the Ranbir Sena were charged in 22 of the massacres. It is said to have been founded by Barmeshwar Mukhiya, murdered last week, though he never took the blame. "It was the media and the police who called it Ranbir Sena. The organisation I formed was Rashtrawadi Kisan Sangharsh Samiti," Mukhiya, acquitted in 16 of the 22 cases before getting bail, said at a press conference in Patna last month.

His claim notwithstanding, an organisation that called itself the Ranbir Sena left its signature on the killings. Its letter-pad carried an image showing "blood-about-to-drop" besides a logo that said "virodh, adlav aur balidaan". Ranbir Sena diaries seized by police revealed codewords such as "A++" for group killings, "A+" for a family killed and "A" for individuals murdered.

Private armies

When the Ranbir Sena was formed in August 1994, there were land disputes all around between landlords and the working class. The CPI(ML-Liberation) was talking about class and the Maoist Communist Centre, now CPI(Maoist), was beginning to draw battle lines along caste and class. The Ranbir Sena was a culmination of the upper castes’ anger against the MCC whose cadres, they felt, were out to usurp their land.

Over a dozen private armies had surfaced and disappeared between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s. In 1978, OBC Kurmis formed the Bhumi Sena, whose areas of influence were Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad and Nalanda. The Kuwar Sena of upper caste Rajputs came up in 1979, its strongholds in Bhojpur (Ara) and Buxar. In 1980 came the Brahmarsi Sena of Bhumihars, allegedly responsible for massacres in Paras Bigha (Jehanabad) of 11 OBC members and Pipra (Patna) of 14 SC members. OBC Yadavs formed the Laurik Sena in 1985. There also were the Brahman Sena, the Satyendra Sena, the Srikrishna Sena, the Samajwadi Krantikari Sena and the Azad Sena of various caste groups; the Savarna Liberation Front and Searchlight did not last long. In 1986, then chief minister Chandrashekhar Singh banned all such private armies.

In 1987, the MCC was at its most violent, killing 52 members of the upper castes, mostly Rajputs, in the twin villages of Dalelchak-Bhagora in Aurangabad. Vinay Singh, who had lost 20 members of his family, had told this correspondent that because of it his village now exists only on paper.

The Ranbir Sena was formed at Belaur village in Bhojpur following a clash between a CPI(ML-Liberation) leader and a fellow villager. From this village, scene of many land disputes, it would go on to become "a killing machine". On July 11, 1996, alleged Ranbir Sena activists killed 22 Dalits at Bathanitola. It was the worst massacre in a year that saw nine. Most of those attacks were by upper-caste groups, one exception being a CPI(ML) attack at Nadhi village of Bhojpur, where eight landlords were killed.

A government ban could not stop the Ranbir Sena. The next year saw eight more massacres, the worst of these at Laxmanpur-Bathe (Jehanabad) on December 1, where 61 SC members were killed.

The RJD government was selective about the victims it reached out to. "Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi would visit mostly where Dalits were killed," said an old-timer.

In 1999 came the killing of 23 Dalits at Shankarbigha village of Jehanabad. MCC cadres, gaining in power by now, hit back by killing 35 landlords at Senari, Jehanabad. The last major strike by the Ranbir Sena came in 2000, when it killed 35 OBC and SC members in Mianpur (Aurangabad).

"The Senari massacre marked the growth of the MCC and the diminishing influence of the Ranbir Sena, whose activities started to ebb after Mianpur," says a police officer who has long worked in Naxal areas.

The leader

Mukhiya was in hiding between 1995 and 2002. The police often raided his village, Khopira in Sandesh (Bhojpur), returning without a clue to where he was. Mukhiya, whose surname derives for his having been Khopira’s Mukhiya for 17 years since 1971, was arrested in August 2002 from Patna and released on bail last July. He was denied an arms licence and had to move without protection over the last one year, when he organised half a dozen farmers’ protests over issues such as support price and irrigation.

Mukhiya, who unsuccessfully contested the 2009 Lok Sabha election from Ara from jail, had plans for 2014 too. A graduate and a keen reader, he would often quote Parasurama: "Aniti hi bastutah himsa hai" (wrong policies lead to violence). The violence that marked his life was reflected in his funeral too. Thousands of supporters held Patna under siege, torching vehicles and chasing policemen. "This was just a warning to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to tread cautiously (in maintaining caste equations)," one protester warned.

A helpless police chose not to try restraining the agitators. DGP Abhyanand promised action against the "hoodlums", though police have no footage of the rampage. A team of five will probe the murder.

The worst of the caste wars

1996

Nadhi(Bhojpur): 8 killed in CPI(ML) attack on upper castes/landlords

Nadhi(Bhojpur): 9 killed; attack this time by upper castes on SCs

Bathanitola(Bhojpur): 22 Dalits killed by landlords, the worst of that year’s many attacks

1997

Haibaspur(Patna): 10 killed in attack by landlords on SCs

Ekwari(Bhojpur): 10 killed in attack by upper castes on SCs

Khadasin(Jehanabad): 8 SCs killed in attack by landlords on SCs

Lakshmanpur-Bathe (Jehahanabad): 61 killed in attack by upper castes on SCs

Chauram (Jehanabad): 9 members of uper castes killed in CPI(ML-Liberation) attack

1998

Nagri(Bhojpur): 10 killed in attack by landlords on SCs

1999

Shankarbigha(Jehanabad): 23 killed in attack by upper castes on SCs

Narayanpur(Jehanabad): 11 killed in attack by upper castes on SCs

Usri Bazar(Jehanabad): 7 upper caste members killed in attack by CPI(ML-Liberation)

Senari(Jehanabad): 35 killed in attack on landlords, first strong sign of MCC gaining strength

Sendani(Gaya): 12 killed in attack by landlords on OBCs/SCs

2000

Afsar(Nawada): 12 upper caste members killed in attack by OBCs

Mianpur(Aurangabad): 35 OBCs/STS killed, the last major attack involving the Ranbir Sena before it went into the background

P.S.

Reproduced from Indian Express in Public Interest and for educational use