The assassination of Brahmeshwar Singh alias Mukhiya, founder of dreaded and ruthless private army of upper caste Bhumihars, raises the fears of revival of “Barbaric Bihar’.
If Ramadhar Singh, chief of Diamond Sena opted for career of small-time arms smuggler and Baiju Yadav, commander of Lorik Sena became member of assembly on RJD ticket; Brahmeshwar Singh’s killing has effectively ended rumours of Ranvir Sena metamorphosing into a socio -cultural organization of Bhumihars.
Though the assassination seems more of a result of old rivalries and factional warfare and linked with his recent acquittal in Bathani Tola massacre in 1996, the almost spontaneous violence of Mukhiya’s supporters and imposition of day-long curfew in his home town in the wake of his killing also indicates the pervasiveness of caste politics of revenge and hatred in Bihar.
And the way political parties and supporters of Ranvir Sena have demanded CBI inquiry into the killing, it is clear that caste Senas especially Ranvir Sena have enjoyed the status of de facto paramilitary arm of the government and patronage of major political parties in Bihar . The same political parties have remained silent on the recent acquittal of those accused in the Bathani Tola massacre in 1996 in which 21 dalits were slaughtered by gangs of Ranvir Sena.
A PUDR document titled “Bitter harvest” in the 1990s had documented the cozy relationship of top leadership of Ranvir Sena with leading political parties especially the BJP and Samata party in Bihar. It is also well known that Jehanabad faction in Bihar Congress openly supported caste based militias for partisan and political purpose in the past. So arson and loot in Ara town by his caste followers for retaining the political legacy of Ranvir Sena is no surprise. The gunning down of master mind of various blood –thirsty massacres including most gruesome Laxampur Bathe massacre in which 62 dalit men, women and children were butchered ruthlessly in December 1997, also violently reminds us about the fragile foundation of Nitish Kumar’s Sushashan and Naya Bihar.
In retrospect, Nitish Kumar’s decision in 2006 to scrap Amir Das Commission, set up to probe Ranvir Sena’s role in Bathe massacre and alleged complicity of several big politicians with the Sena, has come to haunt him!. Brahmeshwar Singh, released from the prison due to lack of evidence in April , would have lived longer if state government had brought master mind of Bathani tola massacre to justice! In other words, the life and times of Ranvir Sena is embedded into the politics of Mandal, Mandir and Naxals in Bihar. As Bihar gradually entered into its most turbulent phase of politics of social justice in the 1990s, state power first hobbled and then surrendered to the war of varchasava between warring classes and castes ; this set the background for the birth of Ranvir Sena in Bihar.
Evidence suggests that most of the major Senas that arose in the late 1970s and disintegrated by the late 1980s comprised the upper castes and the rich backward castes. For instance, Kuer Sena( Rajputs), Sunlight Sena( Rajputs), Bhumi Sena, (Kurmis) Lorik Sena( Yadavs) , Kissan Sangh( Yadavs), Brahmarsi Sena, and Bhumihars) Swarna Liberation Front or Diamond Sena,( Bhumihars) primarily emerged as violent voluntary and participatory organizations of Junker-type landlords-turned-capitalist farmers, the kulak-type substantial erstwhile tenants and the upwardly mobile economic and social groups among the Rajputs, Bhumihars, Yadav, Kurmis and other upper caste and backward caste agriculturists in Central Bihar especially in the region described as “ flaming field”.
This is the same region which is notorious for caste atrocities by upper castes landlords, agricultural dynamism and also birth of Naxal movement in the pre-Mandal Bihar. There have been some smaller Senas too in Bihar. The smaller Senas such as, Amar Sena, Ganga Sena, Parsuram Sena, Ajad Sena and Sri Krishna Sena were extremely limited and primarily operated as village-level defense units against the Naxalite uprisings. These small Senas were often proxy arm of the local state power especially policy administration to maintain so-called “rural peace” in the Naxal affected areas Belaur in Bhojpur is the birthplace of Ranvir Sena.
The founder of Ranvir Sena, Brahmeshwar Singh alias Mukhiya ji as the locals call him, is a local (gramin) of Belaur. The first massacre by Ranvir Sena took place in Khopirya on 4 April 1995 in which Ranvir Sena killed three lower castes; however, the first major massacre by the Ranvir Sena was committed in Bathani Tola in the Bhojpur district on 11 July 1996 in which 19 lower caste supporters of the Naxals were killed. Ironically known as Gandhi among his followers in Central Bihar and bloodthirsty (khooni)) among lower castes, Brahmeshwar Singh exercised tremendous influence in his region.
At the age of 55, he carried a reward of Rs 5 lakhs on his head before his sensational arrest from Patna in 2003. He was wanted in dozens of murder cases, including the killing of two persons at his native Khopirya village in Bhojpur in 1994. The police almost caught him twice, in 1998 and 1999, but released him due to lack of proper identification. Some unofficial sources, however, say that he was released at the instruction of top politicians in the state. According to one account, he post- graduated in political science from Patna University. Earlier, he had graduated in science from the H.D. Jain College in Ara, where his younger son also studied.
Brahmeshwar Singh was unanimously elected village chief (Mukhiya) of Khopira in 1971. His elder son worked with the Border Security Force in Kashmir and his wife and only daughter lives in Khopira, where he owns about 60 acres. His extended family also lives with him. ‘I do not get to meet my family since I am involved in humanitarian work’, he once famously said. Despite media portal of his image as a landlord, Brahmeshwar Singh always claimed that he was a man of modest means as he had taken a loan of Rs 50, 000 from the Punjab National Bank (Udwant Nagar) and another loan worth Rs 26,000 from the local ‘Cooperative Samiti’.
His hatred for lower castes was quite evident when in 2004 when he along with 97 prisoners and supporters of Ranvir Sena went on a strike for a separate kitchen for upper caste jail inmates in the Ara district jail. It is also worth remembering that Brahmeshwar Singh had contested parliamentary elections from Ara in 2004 while he was in the jail. Pitted against his bête-noire legendary Naxal leader Ram Naresh Singh and Lalu Yadav’s protégée Kanti Singh, Brahmeshwar Singh secured 1, 48,957 votes and held the third position.
The origin of the Ranvir Sena is shrouded in myths and legends.
According to local narratives and evidence, Ranvir Sena is named after a Bhumihar warrior Ranvir Choudhary who, in the late nineteenth century fought against local Rajput landlords and established the supremacy and honour of the Bhumihars peasants in the region. Bhumihars in Belaur in Ara district have built a temple in the memory of Ranvir Baba. Many in Belaur village believe that if they chant Ranvir Baba’s name, they cannot be defeated by anyone. ‘We first felt the divine power of Baba in 1971 when we fought the people of Sakhuwa for irrigation water, Since then we have chanted the name of Baba before attacking the enemy’, says one Bhumihar in Belaur village in an interview with a researcher.
In contrast, CPI (ML) literature traces the origins of Ranvir Sena to a simmering class conflict over “daily wages” and blockades of Bhumihar and other farmers in the region. After its formation in 1994 in the Belaur Village of Sahar Block of Ara, Brahmeshwar Singh fought a bitter factional struggle with leaders of so-called Belaur Committee led by Shamsher Bahadur, Rajendra Choudhary, Vijay Krishna and Prabhakar and became the so-called Supreme leader of the organization. Unlike previous Senas, Brahmeshwar Singh, turned Ranvir Sena into a para-military and defacto political organization with his superior organizational skills and guerilla war fare tactics. He is also credited to have established a salary based recruitment strategy for Sena cadres and mobilized financial resources from a country wide net work of friends and sympathizers. He is also known to have guided the functioning of Ranvir Sena after his arrest in 2003 from Patna as he appointed Shamsher Singh who avenged the arrest of Brahmeshwar Singh by massacring five Dalits on 3 January 2004 in Pariyari Bigha Tola village under the Arwal district.
Despite being part of a relatively longer history of private caste Senas, the Ranvir Sena differs from the previous caste Senas in more than one way. It is not only most ruthless and violent but unlike the earlier Senas, this Sena has a well articulated ideological, organizational, political and leadership structure. Ranvir Sena has been frequently portrayed as ‘class warriors’, engaged in defending the agrarian and political interests of propertied classes in the countryside but cadres of Ranvir Sena have also performed quasi-political functions by helping politicians win elections and also attempted to restore purity and pollution norms of traditional caste society. For instance Ranvir Sena has gradually transformed itself from “violent political entrepreneurs” to “community warriors” for defending not only their land from the armed bands of Maoists but also to protect their traditional caste status from the rising revolt of dalits and lower castes in Central Bihar. This shows in their hatred and revenge in killing lower caste women and children. It comes as a tragedy that followers of the glorious peasant movements of the Swami Sahjanand who had prophesized about Maharudra ka Mahatandav’ (Dance of Shiva) in the “flaming field’ have become defenders of Ranvir Sena!
The If history of caste armies is any guide, and assassination of Ranvir Sena Chief is pointer to rising furies of caste warriors, Nitish Kumar’s most urgent task would be ensure justice to victims of Bathani Tola massacre in 1996 and convert “flaming fields” into long lasting granaries of India to fight hunger and starvation! If this is delayed further, the ethocidal fury of caste mobs will rob once again Bihar’s date with its promised liberation from misery!
(The writer is the Chairperson of Center for Public Policy Habitat and Human Development, School of Development Studies, TISS, Mumbai and is the author of Community Warriors; State, Peasants and Caste Armies in Bihar)