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Causes of the caste conflicts

The ground realities in Bihar is that the peasants are not happy taking the form of caste war to mitigate agrarian tensions.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2003 14:19 IST

Agriculture has been the most important source of livelihood in Bihar. Nearly 80% 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 in Bihar are just the opposite -- taking the form of caste war to mitigate agrarian tensions.

Land reforms

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.

Dalits and the lower rung of backward castes, who constitute an overwhelming majority of agricultural labourers, remain completely assetless. According to a study by the AN Sinha Institute, Patna, roughly 61 per cent of the lower backward castes and 69.5 per cent of the schedule castes in Bihar's central plains are landless.

Even the Union Home Ministry team which visited Bihar after the Shankarbigha massacre could not avoid saying that in the State which had nearly 40 lakh landless labour and where nine lakhs acre of land still remain undistributed, the land reform needed to be followed up.

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 expert on Bihar, Arvind N Das. It has been aided in this by successive rulers of Bihar.

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, 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.

Under the Bihar Land Ceiling Act, a rural household cannot hold more than about seven hectares. But upper castes, specially Bhumihars are known to own far in excess, says Das. A Bihar government survey after a caste masssacre in 1999 in Jehanabad district found that most low caste families there were landless. In contrast, some upper caste landlords were found holding more than 30 hectares each, even as official records showed them owning half this.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, a particularly violent phase of caste violence in Bihar began in the early 1970s with a land-grab movement backed by left extremists. "Sharecroppers began harvesting crops on upper-caste land in Bihar's central districts as Naxalite cadres burnt grain storages and imposed economic blockades on hundreds of acres of land that landlords forcibly kept them from cultivating," notes the Watch report, Caste Violence Against India's Untouchables.

Inadequate police force

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 licence within the State and also allowing people to retain arms on 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 demoralizing 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.

It is pertinent to mention here that other backward States like Orissa and west Bengal have a much better police-public ratio as compared to Bihar.

It has also been alleged that there is a nexus between the police and the Ranvir Sena in Naxal killings. According 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 further strengthen the contention, the 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 organize 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."

Political patronage

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 strenthened 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.

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 that "the arrest could politically be a turning point since many of the politicians who had links with the organisation would now be exposed."

First Published: Jun 03, 2003 00:00 IST