It was in the late '60s that that the lower caste peasants drawing inspiration from Naxalism, raised the banner of revolt against the traditional exploitation of the landlords. The upper caste landlords, who till now were brutal in their dealings, relied on newly formed private armies to counter the emergence of the new power centre.
The dominant castes of Bihar constitute around 13% of the state's total population. They are often called the forwards. They comprise the Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and Kayasthas.
The Yadavs, Kumis, Koiris and Banias are the dominant caste among what are called the backwards. They constitute around 19 % of the population. The other castes among the backwards include Nonia, Dhanuk, Lohar, Kumhar, Barhi, Nayi and Sonar. They constitute around 31.45% of the total population of state.
The Scheduled Castes are around 14% and Sheduled Tribes around 9% of the undivided Bihar. The most notable among the Scheduled Castes are Bhumij, Chamar, Dhobi, Dom, Dusadh, Musahar, Nat and Pasi.
Formation of private armies
The Rajputs were the first from among the upper castes to form the private armies. In 1969, the Kuer Sena was formed by them to crush the voice of landless workers and Dalits, who were now united under the Naxalite banner.
One significant aspects of the caste war is that it is not always the upper caste men who try to suppress the voice of the landless peasants. The dominant among the backwards (also called the intermediate castes) are more brutal in their dealings. The massacres at Belchi, Pipara and Parasbigha are case in point.
The '80s saw the formation of private armies belonging to almost all upper and intermediate castes. The formation of Kuer Sena was followed by the Brahmarishi Sena of Bhumihars, Lorik Sena of Yadavs, and Bhoomi Sena of Koiris.
The Brahmarishi Sena of Bhumihars is active in Jehanabad, Gaya, Nawada and Munger districts. The Bhumihars are regarded as caste different from the Brahmins, who consider the former inferior in the social hierarchy.
The Bhumihars, however, regard themselves as constituting a caste on par with the Brahmins, with the word Bhumihar meaning "owners and cultivators of land."
The lorik Sena of the Yadavs is quite active in the areas around Jehanabad, Patna, Nalanda, Madhepura and Saharsa. The Ahirs or Yadavs are an agricultural caste whose hereditary occupation is cattle raising. They tend flocks and herds, and though most are settled cultivators, some still roam about selling milk and ghee.
The Bhumi Sena is the private army of the Kurmis, whose main occupation is cattle raising. They make the Harijan landless peasants work at gun point without paying them the minimum wages.
The massacre at Belchi, Masaudhi Dhanrua and Paliganj by the Bhumi Sena are the fallout of this struggle. They are quite active in Patna, Nalanda and Barh districts of Bihar.
The Azad Sena was formed by the Koiris to counter the rising power of the Harijans. Although the Koiris are agriculturists, pure and simple, they are distinguished from the Kurmis and other cultivating castes by their skill in growing vegetables. They have stronghold in Gaya, Nalanda and Rohtas.
Alarmed by the Bara killing (in which several Scheduled Caste peasants were killed), the CPI-ML formed the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The basic objective with which the MCC was formed was to protect the interests of the poor and the Harijans.
But unfortunately, they have also not been able to keep themselves away from the caste war of Bihar. They are active around Bhojpur, Jehanabad, Patna, Palamu, Gaya and Aurangabad.
The '90s witnessed the formation of a Government headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav. The CPI-ML joined the mainstream politics in December 1992, after remaining underground for over two decades.
The CPI-ML's rise symbolized symbolized the active participation of the Dalits and poor in the electoral politics for their own mobility. According to Government officials, the influence of CPI-ML and MCC, which were earlier confined to central Bihar, has now spread to 43 districts of Bihar and Jharkhand.
The Ranvir Sena is known to have been patronized by well-to-do landlords belonging to the powerful Bhumihar caste of Bhojpur district since August 1994. Intelligence sources say influential Bhumihars belonging to practically all the mainstream political parties support the Ranveer Sena. In fact the Sena represents the aspirations of all elements fighting against the Naxalites.
Unlike other caste armies, Ranvir Sena extends help to all landlords irrespective of caste, to come together and fight the "Left menance." With its emergence, the conflict between the landowners and the landless has intensified.
Of late, the radical Left groups have increased pressure on landlords to raise wages. They punish those who resist their directive by forcibly harvesting the crop and also prevent the people from working on those fields.
The animosity among the feuding group is so intense that every action by one group is retaliated by the other vehemently, causing a never ending chain of bloody reprisals.
According to confirmed sources, the Sena goons received arms training from some former paramilitary personnel. In fact, the entire Bhojpuri speaking belt of (Arrah, Chhapra, Siwan, Gopalganj and Champaran) has the tradition of sending its young people to the Army and paramilitary forces.
While on leave, these personnel equip the Sena men with the latest techniques of warfare, keeping them far ahead of the Naxalites.
The Bathani Tola massacre of July 11, 1996 was a turning point in the State's troubled caste history. 21 Dalits were killed by the Ranvir Sena men. The then CPI-ML General Secretary Vinod Mishra declared an "eye for an eye" policy just after the Bathani Tola massacre. But the figures indicate that they have only been at the receiving end.
It is clear that the Sena has only one agenda, which is to eliminate the Naxalites from the plains of Bihar. A statement released by the Sena clearly announces its intention, "Being forced by the atrocities of CPI-ML, we the kisan putras (sons of peasants), have formed the Ranvir Sena. We have taken the pledge to clear the CPI-ML dogs from their roots in Bihar. We are determined to avenge every killing of peasants by assassinating a hundred Naxalites."