Madhubani: Caste clash between Brahmin and Rajput groups over control of pond leaves 5 dead
Bihar Police on Wednesday arrested Pravin Jha alias Ravan for allegedly killing five members of a Rajput family in the state’s Madhubani district on March 29, reviving memories of caste conflicts that were common in the state till even two decades ago.
Jha, 30, who was captured on Wednesday, was heading a private armed force called Ravan Sena, said Darbhanga range inspector general of police Ajitabh Kumar. The conflict, ostensibly over fishing rights, is believed to be the flash point in a simmering dispute between two upper castes, Brahmins and Rajputs.
Five persons, including a Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, were killed by Jha and a group of 50 armed people at Mahmudpur village under Benipatti police station on March 29 in a fight over fishing rights in a local pond. The incident took place when people were celebrating Holi, when Jha and the group of men carrying firearms and traditional weapons like swords came near the house of one Ranvijay Singh and started firing indiscriminately. They also attacked people with swords, according to the first information report (FIR) filed by the family of the deceased.
Police said the dominant Rajput community of the village controlled the pond, something that did not go down well with Jha and some Brahmins in the area.
Kumar said: “On March 29, the group led by Pravin Jha opened fired on the family of Ranvijay Singh over an ongoing dispute over fishing from a pond between Mahmudpur and Gebipur villages. In the brutal attack, Ranvijay Singh and his cousin Virendra Singh were killed on the spot. Three other family members, Rana Pratap Singh (assistant sub-inspector in BSF), Amrendra Singh (inter-state cricketer) and Rudra Narayan Singh, succumbed to their injuries a day later. Another injured person, Manoj Singh, is currently admitted to the Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital.”
Preliminary investigations by the police have revealed that the pond is owned by Sanjay Singh (brother of Ranvijay Singh), but that another group from Gebipur wanted to capture it. On November 20, two separate cases were lodged against Sanjay and Mukesh Safi (close associate of Pravin Jha) after the two groups clashed over the fishing rights. They filed cases against each other. Sanjay is currently in jail for cases under the SC, ST Atrocities Act as Safi belong to the Scheduled Caste community.
Kumar said a case has been registered against 35 persons, including 18 Brahmins and 13 Rajputs, and dozens of unidentified accused. “So far, 14 accused have been arrested and sent to jail while one prime accused Navin Jha is still absconding,” he said.
The incident has brought to fore the rivalry between the upper castes in Bihar. The state had witnessed more than six dozen caste-related massacres in 1990s but most of them were confined to central Bihar.
There are scores of private armies raised by upper castes such as Rajputs and Bhumihars in Bihar — Ranvir Sena, Lorik Sena, Bhumi Sena, Kisan Sangh and others. The Ravan Sena of Benippati was raised in 2018 and is only the second militia of the Brahmin community; it used to operate largely in Madhubani. “Of late, it has become active on social media in some pockets of Gopalganj as well,” said a police officer on conditions of anonymity. Villagers said that Jha, who sported a big moustache, preferred the name Ravan.
The other Brahmin sena, the Parshuram Sena, formed by dreaded gangster Santosh Jha, who broke away from CPI (Maoist) in early 2000, is believed to largely focus on extorting money from road projects. It has allegedly killed over a dozen engineers and supervisors in the last one decade. Santosh Jha, a sharpshooter, was serving a life term for the murder of two engineers and was being tried in about 20 criminal cases when he was shot dead on the premises of a lower court in Sitamarhi on August 28, 2018.
According to his Facebook profile, Ravan was preparing to contest panchayat election and had already declared himself as Mukhiya or headman. Police officials in Darbhanga range said that the Ravan Sena chief was a former district president of Bajrang Dal. “After he floated Ravan Sena, it started playing an active role in local politics,” they added. The Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Viswhwa Hindu Parishad and affiliated to the RSS, the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Bajrang Dal district convener Aditya Kumar denied that anybody by the name of Pravin Jha was associated with the Dal. “He took part in 2017 Ramnavmi procession as a commoner. It is just possible that he might be using the name of Bajrang Dal to establish supremacy in the area,” said Kumar.
A legislator of the ruling Janata Dal (United), Sanjay Singh,who visited the village after the killing as a member of the party’s fact-finding team, described Jha as a “ruffian, who indulged in extortion”.
Madhubani SP Satya Prakash said only two cases were lodged against Jha in the district. “We are interrogating him for more details about him and his aides.”
Rival parties alleged that Jha was also into bootlegging in the state where there is prohibition. “The locals informed us that he is also involved in illegal trade of liquor,” said RJD MLA Chetan Anand. However, the police said that no case related to this has been lodged against him.