Brahmeshwar Singh, alias Mukhiya, is said to have once publicly justified the killing of Dalit women and children. The self-styled chief of the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper caste landlords which unleashed terror in the 1990s killing fields of Bihar, was quoted as saying that Dalit children grew up to be Naxalites and the women give birth to them. Hence the final solution. ‘Mukhiyaji’, arrested in ’02, spent nine years in jail before getting bail in 2011. Strangely, he wasn’t even an accused in the 1996 Bathani Tola massacre, in which 12 Dalit women and children died, one of his outfit’s worst doings.
In 2012, the Ranvir Sena, a rag-tag, upper-caste militia group that left over 300 landless, desperate people dead in a series of massacres in the Bihar of the ’90s, may sound something of an anachronism. But as Mukhiya’s murder and the resulting violence proved, things haven’t changed so much from then in Bihar’s badlands.
The recent spark was the state’s decision in April to appeal the Patna HC’s acquittal of the 23 accused in the Bathani Tola case. Three of them had been sentenced to death by a sessions court. Brahmeshwar was quick to address a press conference and criticise the government. Not long after that, out on his morning walk, he was gunned down by unknown assailants. At the funeral, his Bhumihar supporters went berserk, even manhandling state dgp Abhayanand—himself a Bhumihar—who had turned up in civilian clothes.
Brahmeshwar Singh ‘Mukhiya’
Chief minister Nitish Kumar was away in Kishanganj on the eastern fringes of Bihar on his ‘seva yatra’. But it is presumed he knew about the police allowing Mukhiya’s supporters to lead the funeral procession from Ara to Bansghat in Patna. The decision was curious because the irate supporters had already vandalised the circuit house and torched several vehicles in Ara. As the procession reached the state capital, Patna shut down. The processionists held the city to ransom for over four hours. In the countryside, the violence continued for the next several days. Facing flak from all sides, Nitish finally ordered a CBI probe, but by then a JD(U) legislator and erstwhile Mukhiya aide, Sunil Pande, had been implicated in the killing.
Indeed, the killing and the caste polarisation that has followed is perhaps Nitish’s first serious political challenge since coming to power. The NDA government in Bihar is widely perceived to be dominated by the upper-caste Bhumihars, who also form the core constituency of the BJP. If the government is seen to be soft on Mukhiya’s successors—and if it indeed now fails to appeal against the acquittal of the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre—it could upset the social engineering blue-printed by Nitish Kumar.
Mukhiya’s men rough up JD(U) MLA Sunil Pande (in white) in Ara. (Photograph by Manoj Sinha)
Earlier, Mukhiya’s legions were working overtime to dispel any talk that the killing was the handiwork of disgruntled ‘insiders’, that it wasn’t the Naxals who had gunned him down and made him a martyr to the cause. But the arrest of criminal-turned-JD(U) MLA Sunil Pande has proved a dampener. Incidentally, Pande was one of the last people to have met and spoken to the slain Ranvir Sena chief.
While rumours abound about the running feud between them, Pande was quick to rebut everything. “Mukhiyaji and I are distant relatives. I went to attend a marriage and we exchanged a few words” is all Pande has been maintaining. He’s also categorical that caste wars have no place in Bihar today. “I am firmly with the NDA and share their vision for Bihar. If people are unhappy with the court’s verdict, they can always knock at the doors of the Supreme Court,” he says.
But there are others, like Pavan Srivastava from Ara, who believe “it was a fight for the assets of the Ranvir Sena, which had amassed a lot of money over the years. Mukhiya’s death has nothing to do with caste politics”.
That said, for targets of the Ranvir Sena, Mukhiya’s death and the acquittal of the massacre accused are firm setbacks—ones that threaten to turn the clock back. Kishan, one of the two witnesses to the Bathani Tola massacre, recalls how he jumped into a pit and watched his family being mowed down before his eyes. He lost two daughters and wife. A Class IV employee at the government health centre in Badhara block, 25 kms from the Ara district HQ, and the sole bread-winner of a family of four (he has re-married since), Srikishan fears for his life again.
Professor Ram Bali Singh of Patna University has more horror stories: “In front of my eyes, I saw my caste people being identified first and then beaten up mercilessly. They attacked men and women alike, not even sparing the children. One young boy was asked if he was a Bhumihar and when he said, ‘no’ they kept hitting him on his legs with sticks.”
How best to manage the Bhumihar backlash? That’s the question now playing on everyone’s mind in Patna, even more than who was behind Mukhiya’s killing. It may be an inside job by disgruntled sections of the Sena, but with elections on everyone’s mind, playing up caste issues is always a win-win thing. Even as we write, attempts are on to turn a marginalised, has-been Brahmeshwar Singh into a a larger-than-life martyr. His supporters’ grief has even found expression on social networking sites like Facebook, where attempts are being made to create fresh schisms in an already caste-riven state. For Nitish Kumar, it’s a litmus test—his handling of the situation will either cement his claim to be a natural leader or tear up his ambitions to be a national player.
By Panini Anand and Anuradha Raman in Delhi and Dola Mitra in Ara
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Rajesh @ Phoenix >> Unless their hegemony is broken Bihar cannot progress. This also a fact that they cannot be diminished and dispersed like Brahmans in Tamil Nadu.
Your comparision (of Bhumihars with Tamilnadu brahmins) is itself flawed. Bhumihars claim to be descended directly from Parashuram and they consider themselves to be self sufficient brahmins, in that they dont traditionally go and conduct priestly services for other communities (like regular priestly communities used to do across India), the are more of a landowning/landlord/zamindari caste. So in that they are comparable more to Vellalars,Naickers and other such communities in TN. The reasons for the rigidities in caste system in Bihar cannot be discussed in one para but one of main reason is - Bihar, unlike most other states in India, did not have a strong provincial leadership right from 1100 AD and it was always ruled as a province from Delhi (during Muslim rule), and Kolkatta (post mughal rule) and so the bhumihars were not accountable to any local rulers.
The simple fact is Bihar is one of most populated states in India, with nearly 100 million people - putting it in league of states like UP, Maha, WB and AP. All these mentioned states have one big industrial zone (Noida, Mumbai/Pune, Kolkatta,Hyderabad/Vizag). But Bihar has none. Except some tiny states of NE India, Bihar is only big Indian state with near zero industrialization. The way to break caste rigidity in Bihar is urbanization/industrialization and creating Bihar's own Gurgaon/Noida. Once that is done, the underclass will have alternative employment.. just like it was Detroit which really freed the Blacks of USA in early 20th century and reduced race discrimination, only industrialization will change things in big way.
Need to see if Nitish does intend to do that.. If he does, then he will be in league of greatest leaders in India.
The real tragedy is that Ranbir sena goons are role models in the Bhumihar community. Political leadership irrespective of parties stand by feudal-criminal elements. Much of Bhumihar intellectuals are sympathetic. That targeting women and children as policy does not bother them a bit. This is collective mindset and it is worse than islamic fundamentantals who see no problem in targeting civilians in the name of Islam.
In Bihar Bhumihars constitute 5% of the population and enjoy disproportionate clout. Unless their hegemony is broken Bihar cannot progress. This also a fact that they cannot be diminished and dispersed like Brahmans in Tamil Nadu. In short term caste war in Bihar is inevitable unless Bhumihar leadership gets enlightment.
Sanket Biswas >> The war of succession in the militia will intensify with time as its wealth is lucrative. Many more like the slain chief may fall to bullets of their killers. Time will say.
Mark my words.. the old order will vanish faster than what we oldies think.. This is 2012,FB and MMS rules the minds of young folks and as development work spreads across the previously underdeveloped Indian states, such millitias will have no use - except to help academics to do doctorates and make art films and win awards.
USA is a good example of how massive economic development has wiped out race riots completely in last 2 decades.
Anwaar >> If Nitish comes out on the side of upper-caste bullies, he could become as untouchable as Modi.
These upper caste bullies ruled the game and did their tyrannical work when the most touchable, lovable, secular badshah aka social justice hero Laloo ruled the state uninterrupted for 15 years !
And the bully happened to be killed right when NDA was ruling and so far there has not been much mass reprisals. Shows again that it is not NDA which is untouchable, but it is the pseudo progressive UPA/Left supporters who are the untouchables. Development is the real antibiotic that must be administered to the TB called Caste violence .
KishoreDasMunshi >> bjp showed its true regressive colors when its minister compared mukhiya with Father of the Nation Gandhiji.
A few BJP leaders @ Bihar dont represent the party just as Das Munshi does not represent 90 million bengalis or say 250 million dalits/adhivasis of India.
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