Guns have fallen silent in Belaur but society stands cleaved By Ajeet Tiwari

·6-min read

Sandesh (Bihar), Oct 26 (PTI) But for the two statues erected at the opposite ends of the village, Belaur would pass off as just another rural habitation in Bihar--the condition of houses betraying the caste and economic divide, blocked drains reeking of administrative neglect, and dilapidated roads.

The statues -- one of a horse-riding, sword-wielding Ranvir Chaudhary, and the other, a comparatively smaller, of Sant Ravidas - represent the people who inhabit the village and their struggles.

Legend has it that Ranvir Chaudhary, a former armyman and an upper caste Bhumihar, protected his community from the dominant Rajputs of Bhojpur in the 19th century. Ravidas was an icon of Dalit consciousness.

Guns have fallen silent in Belaur, once the epicentre of Bihar's caste wars where the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper caste land owners, and Dalits, whom the CPI-ML (Liberation) had organised to fight the upper caste hegemony, were locked in a bloody conflict that left scores dead.

The caste faultlines, however, remain.

Brahmeshwar Singh 'Mukhiya' formed the Ranvir Sena, named after the 19th century Bhuminar icon on October 8, 1994, that unleashed terror on the lower castes.

'Guns would never fall silent in the area,' said 34- year-old Bhushan Dubey, a villager whose family was associated with Ranvir Sena.

'Such was the intensity that an armyman from our village who had come on leave told us he had not seen such firing even at the border,' he told PTI.

Dhaneshwar Paswan (52), the Dalit chief of Belaur panchayat who belongs to the CPI (ML), said,'It all started when the upper caste land owners killed Ruchi Ram and Laxminia Devi (Dalits) in 1994 on the day of jitiya -- a Hindu festival when women fast for the long life of their children. The killing of the husband-wife duo upended life at our village.

There was firing day and night after that.' Dubey said the killing had a history. 'The CPI(ML) was stopping labourers from working in the fields of land owners.

That had already created a rift. They thought if they could control Belaur, a big village dominated by an upper caste, they would have a free run. We stood up to that,' he said.

The spark that Belaur provided, ignited bloody caste conflicts between the Sena and CPI-ML in Patna, Aurangabad, Jehanabad and Gaya districts.

The violence inflicted in one village would be avenged in another, each surpassing the other in savagery. Even small children and pregnant women were not spared.

A series of massacres followed. The bloodiest of them being the 1997 Lakshmanpur-Bathe massacre of Jehanabad where upper caste land owners killed 58 Dalits. The CPI-ML responded with vengeance and slaughtered nine upper caste people in Rampur-Chauram of the neighbouring Arwal district.

A year earlier, in Bhojpur's Bathanitola, an armed squad of Ranvir Sena killed 22 lower caste people. It was avenged in Jehanabad's Senari, where the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), backed by the CPI-ML, butchered 35 upper caste people.

There were many carnages, big and small.

The situation started improving since 2004-05, the villagers said. That was around the time when the RJD lost power and the NDA led by Nitish Kumar formed the government.

'Let's not talk about 1994,' said Paswan, trying to change the direction of the conversation by discussing the assembly election that is under way.

The village falls under Sandesh assembly seat where 11 candidates are in the fray. However, the fight seems largely between RJD's Kiran Devi, whose husband Arun Yadav is the sitting MLA, LJP's Shweta Singh and Vijayendra Yadav of the JD(U). Vijyendra Yadav is a brother of Arun Yadav.

Though most people are silent about their electoral preference, it is common knowledge that voting will be along caste lines.

The constituency has over 2.65 lakh voters. While there are no official caste-wise data, old-timers say Yadavs are the dominant caste followed by upper caste Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars.

Traditinally the Yadav voters have determined the outcome of an assembly election here, but with two candidates from the community in the fray, LJP's Shweta Singh may benefit.

There is also some undercurrent against the ruling JD (U).

'I want a new face. We have tried Nitishji for 15 years. Let's give chance to somebody else,' said Sanjay Kumar, 35, of Ratanpur village.

On Wednesday, JD(U)'s Vijeyndra Yadav visited Belaur for campaigning. He did not spend much time though.

'He knows he has our support. He has always stood by us,' said Bhushan Dubey, after exchanging pleasantries with Yadav. The upper caste voters are likely to back the JD(U)-BJP combine candidate to the hilt.

In the neighbouring Chakardah village, Yadav spent a little more time and addressed a small crowd. As no big sound boxes could be arranged, a young man held an amplifier in his hand to make sure Yadav's voice reaches to the people.

'If I am a Yadav, I am a Yadav. I cannot change my caste. If people have to vote for a Yadav, let them vote for me,' Vijeyndra told PTI on the sidelines of his programme.

When asked whether the fight within the family will impact his prospects, he shot back, saying 'What has family to do with politics? The RJD in Patna as well in Sandesh has become a husband-wife party.

He accused the other two main contenders of having links to the sand mafia.

As one drives out of Belaur, a dusty road with patches of mud and filth unfolds in front. The locals blamed the sitting MLA, who is absconding after being named in a rape case, for the poor condition of roads.

'Arun Yadav should not come here out of shame,' blurts an angry tractor driver whose vehicle had got stuck in mud in Jamuaon.

At several places people were seen moving on tractors and two-wheelers with posters of the RJD's election symbol-- lantern.

Jogeshwar Yadav of Deuaar village was seen sitting under a tree as his buffaloes cooled themselves in a rain- filled ditch by the roadside. He believes the rape accusation against the sitting MLA is false and that there is no threat to people from the coronavirus.

'Has anybody died of coronavirus? I have not seen.

They (the government) have killed the poor by imposing lockdown. Students lost a crucial year, people lost their livelihood,' he said, adding around 200 people returned to his village from other states but nobody got the disease.

'Here the surname determines the voting preference,' a young voter told a visiting PTI correspondent, insisting that he should not be named.

Some others deplored the lack of hospitals in the area, high electricity bills and illegal sand mining in the Sone river.

The fear of the gun lurks no more in Belaur but the society still remains cleaved by caste, and the statues at the opposite ends of the village quietly tell just that. PTI TIR SK SK SK