Caste war: Role of private armies
The arrest of Ranvir Sena chief Brameshwar Singh on August 29, 2002 in Patna has not affected the nefarious activities of the Sena in central Bihar.
The arrest of Ranvir Sena chief Brameshwar Singh on August 29, 2002 in Patna has not affected the nefarious activities of the Ranvir Sena in central Bihar. While in police custody, Brameshwar Singh, better known as Mukhia, had told a press conference that his arrest would have no impact on the functioning of the Ranvir Sena.
The Ranvir Sena has been involved in several massacres of Dalits in central Bihar. Pregnant women and children appear to be the Ranvir Sena's special targets, for it apparently views attacks on them as an easy means to check the increase in the Dalit population.
Police say more than 3,000 people have died in Bihar's caste wars and unofficially the number of deaths is put at twice that total. Caste violence in Bihar has acquired endemic proportions and it seems that the state is unlikely to emerge from this dismal scene.
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 center.
The Rajputs were the first 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 Azad Sena was formed by the Koiris to counter the rising power of the Harijans.
Alarmed by the Bara killing (in which several Scheduled Castes 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 conflict 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 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.
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 servicemen and paramilitary personnel. 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. The Ranvir Sena men killed 21 Dalits. 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."
Agriculture has been the most important source of livelihood in Bihar. Nearly 80 per cent of the State's population is engaged in agricultural pursuits. Hence there is an absolute necessity that the peasant class should be prosperous and content. But the ground realities are just the opposite -- taking the form of caste war to mitigate agrarian tensions.
The successive state governments have not implemented land reforms or minimum wages for agricultural labourers. The conflict that originates in these failures is particularly intense in Bhojpur district, where the CPI-ML is an important force and where it has, over the last three decades, aggressively taken up the cause of landless labourers.
Since 1978, the landless of this area have been demanding minimum wages. They have also threatened to confiscate surplus land and distribute it among the landless labourers. These results of these struggles are violence, leading to death and bloodshed.
Time and again it has been pointed out that the only lasting solution to the conflicts would be land reforms. The record of the successive State Governments in this regard is pathetic. The Ranvir Sena wants to stall land reforms and push the clock back on land redistribution that has already been carried out by a reluctant state, says social scientist and an expert on Bihar, Arvind N Das. Successive rulers of Bihar have aided it in this.
One of the declared top priorities of states has been to break up large feudal landholdings and divide the surplus land among the poor. Yet successive governments have lacked the political courage to do so. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which rules Bihar, rose to political prominence by championing the interests of traditionally repressed lower castes. But the RJD is also accused of inaction on land reforms and of covertly supporting the Ranvir Sena.
Das says the massacres have more to do with a sharpening agrarian crisis than with caste differences. "The downtrodden are saying no to oppression and exploitation," he says.
The State crime branch had made another startling revelation to the Government regarding huge quantity of licensed firearms being piled and used by the private armies of all hues. The liberal policy of granting arms licences within the State and also allowing people to retain arms on the basis licence procured from other States have created a new kind of problem.
The State police is totally incapable of handling the situation. The latest crime statistics reveal that on an average, 16 persons are killed or kidnapped or looted in Bihar every hour. The reasons for such a demoralising and incapable force are many.
The national average of the police-public ratio is about 1.3 policemen per 10,000 citizens. However, the availability of policemen in Bihar per 10,000 people is meager 0.9 i.e hardly a policeman for 10,000 people. Backward States such as Orissa and west Bengal have a much better police-public ratio as compared to Bihar.
It has also been alleged that there has been a nexus between the police and the Ranvir Sena in Naxal killings. According to a survey conducted by the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), "The police actively participated in the killings of seven people by the Ranvir Sena in Ekwari."
To strengthen the contention, PUDR has quoted the observations of the then Director General of Police recorded in the police document, "There was a tendency among the police functionaries to encourage the defence groups (Senas) to organise themselves in order to fight out the Naxalites… this was the very negation of police performance which resulted in the rise of different caste Senas in Bihar."
Intelligence sources points out that influential Bhumihars belonging to practically all the mainstream political parties support the Ranveer Sena. They receive financial and moral support from upper caste politicians of all political parties. In fact the Sena represents the aspirations of all elements fighting against the Naxalites.
The postulation is further strengthened by the recovery of a diary after the arrest of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeswar Singh. The diary contains the names and telephone numbers of several upper caste politicians, journalists and police officers, according to a report. The diary, which belonged to Ranvir Sena chief, along with a document explaining the Sena structure, was recovered from the office of an affiliated outfit, Akhil Bharatiya Rashtrawadi Kisan Mahasangh, at Exhibition road in Patna, from where Singh was arrested on August 29, 2002.
Former Bihar Chief Minister and president of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Laloo Prasad Yadav commenting on the arrest of Ranvir Sena chief in Patna, said, "The arrest could politically be a turning point since many of the politicians who had links with the organisation would now be exposed."
To combat the caste violence and the growth of caste based militia, efforts need to be made at both the macro and micro levels. Land reforms should be effectively implemented; the State police needs to be modernized; developmental programmes need to be implemented; and political parties should function autonomously of caste influence.
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