The killing of an upper caste landlord allegedly by his local rivals, who belong to the other backward classes (OBC) category, in Gaya district of southern Bihar, on May 11, appears to have sharpened the caste divide in the area and split even state politicians on ‘forward versus backward’ caste lines.
Following the killing, upper caste villagers of the region were said to be organising themselves to take on their OBC rivals, causing tension that has persisted even after six days of the incident.
The ongoing conflict started with the lynching of Vikas Singh, 50, a Rajput landowner of Pipra village under Dumaria police station of Gaya, following a dispute with Mahabir Prasad and some other residents of OBC-dominated Mandar village under Imamganj police station, just over a kilometer from Pipra.
Since the May 11 incident, politicians of the area have arrayed themselves on one side or the other. While BJP MP from Aurangabad, Sushil Kumar Singh, a Rajput, has backed the Pipra villagers, JD (U) and RJD politicians have come out in support of the mainly OBC residents of Mandar.
According to former MP from Chatra, Nagmani, who visited the Mandar on Sunday but not Pipra, the dispute arose when Vikas objected to a yajna that Mandar resident Mahabir Prasad, who (like Nagmani) is a Dangi (OBC), had organised near the village.
The yajna spot is located close to land owner by Vikas, son of Mayan Singh of Pipra, said Nagmani.
The ex-MP said the dispute took an acrimonious turn, following which Vikas opened fire from his licenced rifle at Mahabir but the bullet hit his college going granddaughter. “Angered by this, a mob assembled on the spot rained blows and brickbats at Vikas, resulting in his death and set his jeep on fire”, he said.
On the following day, an armed group of Pipra residents, ransacked homes at Mandar and set shops on fire, in retaliation of Vikas’ killing.
Disputing Nagmani’s account of what had happened, Sweety Singh, wife of deceased Vikas, claimed the organisers of the yajna invited him to attend the ceremony and then killed him under a conspiracy. “When my husband arrived at the venue, one Satyendra Kumar snatched his rifle and fired shots that hit the girl. Then,they thrashed my husband to death”, she said, seeking a CBI probe into the incident.
While former chief minister and Imamganj MLA Jitan Ram Manjhi, leader of NDA constituent Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular, met deceased Vikas’ father Mayan Singh at his Gaya town home, Manjhi’s Imamganj rival, former assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary of JD (U), visited Mandar.
BJP senior leader Sushil Modi and party MP Sushil Kumar Singh also called on Mayan Singh. On the other hand, JD (U) MLC Upendra Prasad visited Mandar. But he, too, like the assembly former speaker, avoided visiting nearby Pipra.
Whereas Manjhi and Modi said Vikas’ killing raised questions about the law and order situation and governance, the JD (U) leaders held the ‘lax’ police administration responsible for the incident and urged the villagers to resist the “onslaught of the feudal lords” of the area.