Saturday, 2 June 2012

Brahmeshwar Singh's murder: Bihar braces for retaliatory killings

ARA: Unidentified gunmen on Friday shot and killed Brahmeshwar Singh, the founder of dreaded upper caste militia Ranvir Sena, just weeks after his acquittal by the Patna High Court in the 1996 Bathani Tola carnage in which 21 Dalits were killed.

Singh, aka Mukhiya, who was released from jail in April, was on a morning walk near his Katira home at around 4.30am when, according to an eyewitness, around six armed men carrying sophisticated weapons pumped several bullets into him. Ranvir Sena, a Bhumihar vigilante group, was formed in 1994 in reaction to militant communist parties and Naxalites that included landless labourers, many of them Dalits.

Fierce caste wars raged in Bihar intermittently through the 1990s in which Ranvir Sena and Naxalites, both described as a terrorist groups, reduced the state to being called "the killing fields". While the Nitish Kumar government would now be bracing for a real possibility of retaliatory killings by the upper caste against their "social enemies", the Dalits and Naxalites, the town of Ara gave an indication of the shape of things to come.

Angry mob of around 5,000-strong people went berserk and gutted the recently-renovated circuit house. Another lot did not spare even the BDO's office, setting it and at least six cars in its premises on fire. Protesters also damaged railway offices at the Ara railway station and paralysed train movement on the main Howrah-Delhi route.

Administration sources fear Mukhiya's murder may lead to fresh violence, especially in nine "vulnerable" districts: Gaya, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Bhojpur, Buxar, Rohtas, Kaimur and Patna. These formed the core of Ranvir Sena's underground activities.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar, camping at Bhagalpur since Wednesday as part of his Sewa Yatra, said social harmony must be maintained at all cost. He assured stern action against the culprits.

The Bihar government had moved the Supreme Court in April against Patna High Court order setting aside the death sentence to three and life imprisonment to 20 others in the 1996 Bathani Tola carnage case, according to SC/ST Welfare Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Ara looked deserted under Section 144. But angry supporters of Mukhiya didn't spare even Bhojpur SP M R Nayak and Bihar DGP Abhayanand, who were pushed and shoved. Abhayanand was given a hard shove when he went to meet Singh's family members. The shaken DGP regained his poise soon enough.

Addressing reporters at the local Sadar hospital, the DGP said an FIR was lodged against unidentified people for the murder. The forensic experts have taken samples for further investigation. He assured the agitating crowd that the culprit would be arrested soon.

Times View

Cold-blooded murders must be condemned in the strongest terms and this one is no exception. That said, the state must recognise that where the criminal justice system fails, the tendency for people to take recourse to extra-legal means will remain high and vigilantism can become the order of the day. Here, the fact that all those accused in the massacre of 21 dalits in Bathani Tola in 1996 have got away, has had a role to play. The challenge for the Bihar government now is to ensure that this killing does not trigger a fresh cycle of caste violence and counter-violence. It must not fail in this task.

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