LOL, they look like Afghan mujahideen. They are actually the Ranvir Sena. When they were formed (I think like 1-2 years ago), they were all legal and everything. Their spokesman said that the Ranvir Sena was a multi-partisan group of young men that would help law enforcement defend the villages against criminals, smugglers, Maoists, etc.
I think their defence cloak was blown away though. They shot 58 Dalits in retaliation for 5 upper caste men killed by the Maoists. Now, media terms them as a "private army of upper caste landlords in Bihar".
I dunno who these guys are, but it was high time the high castes took matters into their own hands. Maybe, they can extort well enough to vote out the pseudo-secular lefty govt in Bihar, and install a government that will be really tough on Muslim fundamentalism, Maoist insurgency and Dalit militancy, like the BJP.
BTW, what type of guns are these?
This message has been edited by BharatRakshak on Feb 22, 2005 3:02 AM
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Among all the private armies that came into being in Bihar, the Ranvir Sena is the most powerful and most organised. It is a private army of upper-caste landowners and is known to be operating in central Bihar.
The nomenclature Ranvir has been adapted from the mythical figure Ranvir Baba. As the legend goes, during the late 19th century, Ranvir Baba, a retired military man and a resident of Belaur village in Bhojpur district, protected the rights of the Bhumihars, a land-owing upper caste of the State, against the Rajputs. It is said that, due to the activities of Ranvir Baba, the Bhumihars asserted their power in Bhojpur district. And sena means army.
The Ranvir Sena came into existence primarily to counter the influence of various left-wing extremist, Naxalite, groups and the Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist [CPI-ML] (Liberation) in central Bihar. It was founded in September 1994 in Belaur village of Udwantnagar block, Bhojpur district following the merger of private caste armies like Savarna Liberation Army and the Sunlight Sena. The forerunners to the Ranvir Sena in Bhojpur district were the Brahmarshi Sena and Kuer Sena, Kisan Morcha and Ganga Sena. These senas were smaller in size and operated with a limited area. They could not sustain for long and had withered away owing to repeated Naxalite onslaughts.
Dharichan Chaudhary of Belaur had founded the Ranvir Sena. Its founding and continuing commander is Brahmeshwar Singh of Khopira village.
The primary objective of the Ranvir Sena is to wipe out left-wing extremist groups from Bihar
Area of Operation
From Bhojpur district where it was formed, over a period of time, the Ranvir Sena spread to Jehanabad, Patna, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Gaya, Bhabhua and Buxur districts. It mobilises the landed gentry in these districts against the Peoples War Group (PWG), the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the CPI-ML (Liberation)
Leadership and Organisation
The Ranvir Sena is highly organised, has extensive influence among landowners in its areas of operation, and is well endowed with financial resources.
Sena cadres are militarily better organised and are better paid than any of the private armies of the past. The cadres operate mostly underground while their leaders live in towns and come to a village only when a massacre has to be planned and executed.
Brahmeshwar Singh, on whose head the authorities have placed a reward of half a million Indian rupees, is the supreme commander of the Ranvir Sena. He was arrested in Patna on August 29, 2002. Initial reports said Shamsher Bahadur Singh was, on September 7, 2002, appointed new chief of the Ranvir Sena. However, according to a report of Dcember 25, 2002, the chief of the Ranvir Sena is Bhuar Thakur. He, too, was arrested on December 24.
The outfit has an estimated strength of 400 underground cadres. Landowners in central Bihar finance the Sena through generous subscriptions. Official sources, in the year 2000, said each member of the Sena is paid between Rs. 1,100 and Rs. 1,200 per month for work that essentially involves committing murders. Besides, the life of each cadre participating in a massacre is insured for a hundred thousand Indian rupees.
The Ranvir Sena has also founded a front organisation named Ranvir Kisan Maha Sangh, which looks after socio-economic and political activities of the upper castes. The Ranvir Mahila Sangh, a womens wing has also been floated to organise upper caste women. They have been trained, too, in the use of arms.
Naxalite organisations cite the patronage extended by the various political parties as one of the reasons for the survival of the Ranvir Sena. They also allege that the State administration is partial towards the Sena. However, it is a fact that the Bihar State government has banned the Ranvir Sena in July 1995 and since then the Sena remains proscribed.
November 17: Ranvir Sena threatens United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) with dire consequences if it instigates violence against Biharis residing in Assam.
November 15: An All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) activist is shot dead by suspected Ranvir Sena cadres in the Patna district of Bihar.
February 11: Ranvir Sena cadres kill one person and injure two others at Newdhi village in the Gaya district of Bihar.
November 3: Two persons are killed by suspected activists of the Ranvir Sena in Dighi, Gaya district.
Ranvir Sena area commander, a key accused in the Bathanitola massacre, is arrested in Dulamchak village, Bhojpur district.
October 2: Ranvir Sena kills an activist of the CPI-ML (Liberation) in Noama village, Jehanabad district.
October 24-25: An estimated six persons, including a woman, are killed in a clash between activists of the Ranvir Sena and Communist Party of IndiaMarxist-Leninist [CPI-ML] (Liberation) in Kurmuri village, under Sikarhata police station-limits, Bhojpur district.
October 8: Activists of the Ranvir Sena kill a woman supporter of the CPI-ML (Liberation) and her three-year old daughter in Nuan village, under Shakurabad police station-limits, Jehanabad district.
September 23: Five left-wing extremistsNaxalitesof the Peoples War Group (PWG) are killed allegedly by activists of the Ranvir Sena, in Majidpur village, Jehanabad district.
September 19: Police arrest 18 activists of the Ranvir Sena in Kurmuri village, Bhojpur district.
September 7: Shamsher Bahadur Singh is appointed new chief of the Ranvir Sena.
August 29: The Special Task Force (STF) of Bihar police arrest Brahmeshwar Singh, head of the Ranvir Sena, and four of his associates from a hotel in Patna. Official sources maintain that Singh is the main accused in several criminal cases, including in approximately 20 cases of massacre perpetrated by the Ranvir Sena in central Bihar.
August 24: Three Ranvir Sena activists are overpowered and lynched by local residents at a place under Nawada police station limits, Bhojpur district, while they were attempting to escape after killing a person.
July 7: Six activists of the Ranvir Sena are arrested from Khairja village, under Kinjer police station limits, Arwal district. Police sources say the arrested activists include Satish Sharma, wanted for the June 16, 2000-massacre in Miapur, Aurangabad district, in which 35 persons were killed.
June 11: Suspected activists of the Ranvir Sena kill two persons and injure an old woman in Sarta village, under Kinjer police station limits, Arwal district.
May 5: Ranvir Sena kills six Rajasthani dalit labourers in Bhojpur district.
April 27: Ranvir Sena kills two children at Ara, Bhojpur district.
March 16: Three persons are killed by the Ranvir Sena in Buddhubigha village, Arwal district.
November 28, 2001: Two persons, believed to be left-wing extremists-Naxalites-of the People's War Group (PWG), are killed and two others injured by activists of the Ranvir Sena in Jhunathi More village, Jehanabad district.
September 13, 2001 Seven persons seriously injured in an attack by the Ranvir Sena at a village near the Paraiya railway station, Gaya district.
July 9, 2001 Police arrest four activists of the Ranvir Sena from Shahpur village, Rohtas district, and recover some arms and ammunition from their possession.
September 10: Ranvir Sena kills six persons at Dumariyan, Bhojpur district.
June 16: Ranvir Sena massacres 35 persons at Miapur village, Aurangabad district.
April 21: Ranvir Sena massacres 12 persons at Sendani village, Gaya district.
February 10: 11 persons are massacred by the Ranvir Sena in Narayanpur village, Jehanabad district.
January 25: 23 persons belonging to dalit and backward caste communities are massacred by the Ranvir Sena in Shankarbigha village, Jehanabad district, central Bihar.
December 1: Ranvir Sena massacres 58 persons at Lakshsmanpur-Bathe village, Jehanabad district.
November 22: Ranvir Sena kills six persons at Katesar Nala, Jehanabad district.
November 3: Ranvir Sena cadres kill eight persons at Khadasin, Jehanabad district.
April 10: 10 persons massacred at Ekwari village, Bhojpur district, by the Ranvir Sena.
March 23: Ranvir Sena massacres 10 persons at Habispur village, Patna district.
December 22: Six persons are killed by the Ranvir Sena at Ekbari, Bhojpur district.
December 12: The Ranvir Sena kills five persons at Khanet, Bhojpur district.
November 26: Ranvir Sena kills four persons at Purhara, Bhojpur district.
July 11: Ranvir Sena massacres 22 persons at Bathani-tola, Bhojpur district.
May 19: Three persons killed by Ranvir Sena at Nadhi, Bhojpur district.
May 5: Ranvir Sena kills five persons at Nadhi, Bhojpur district.
April 22: Ranvir Sena killed three persons at Nanpur, Bhojpur district.
February 7: Ranvir Sena cadres kill four persons at Pathalpura Bhojpur district.
July 25: Ranvir Sena kills six persons at Sarthua, Bhojpur district.
April 4: Ranvir Sena kills three persons at Khoparia, Bhojpur district.
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Violence and Dalit Women in BiharIt had been drizzling that evening. By nine, Batanbigha tola( hamlet) also known as Subhas Nagar after SubhasChandra Bose , of Laxmanpur- bath village ( locally called Bathe), was quiet. The inhabitants of bigha were inside theirhomes, most of them already in bed. A few were engaged in the usual chores at the end of the day talking to each otherin the dim light of the dhibri(makeshift kerosene lamp).On the banks of the river Sone there was another scene awaiting to be enacted, according to one version, a group ofmore than 100 members of Ranvir Sena, a private army of upper caste bhumihar landlords, disembarked from twoboats. They took the three mallahs who were fishing by surprise. The next morning, these three were found with theirthroats slit. Two other mallahs , one of whom had been sleeping on the sand, were found a little further up also with theirthroats slit. Another mallah was able to save his life when he observed the scene from a distance and fled. It was onlyin the case of these five that the assailants did not use their guns. Clearly they did not want to alert the unsuspectingmembers of the tola they were about attack.Without electricity, the tola was pitch dark. Any outsider unfamiliar with the layout would find it impossible to find his way.But not only did the assailants find their way, they were successful in breaking into 14 specific houses and shooting theoccupants from close range. This makes local involvement a certainty. Amongst the 61 massacred were members offour families who were completely wiped out; 19 men, 27 women and 15 children who were less than 10 years old werekilled; the youngest victim was a year old. Amongst the women, eight were pregnant. Five women found in the positionsuggesting rape, three had their breasts cut. In case terms,33 victims were dalits (Rjwad-20; Paswan-7, Pasi-5, Nai-1)and 28 belonged to backward castes (Mallah-23, Koeri-5). Three children and one woman had to be hospitalised inPatna for bullet injuries.The main aim of this investigation is to analyse violence in the name of Dalit women, especially in Bihar. Protest resultsand militants struggles have engulfed hundreds of villages. The situation is explosive so as to bring about a generalconflagration on the slightest provocation, Revenge seems to be the war cry of every section. Confrontations havepeaked to a fevered pitch. Bihar, the land of compassion and non-violence is ahead of all the states of the country inthe number and ferocity of savage incidents in a rural setting. In view of examining stated facts regarding violence, theinvestigation, would make his effort to characterise highly iniquitous, exploitative and oppressive socio-economic andpolitical milieu and assert himself against oppression and exploitation.This investigation analyses that in a swift attack, more than 300 armed men of the banned Ranvir Sena swooped downon the defenceless Harijans, especially women and carried out an organised, merciless decimation of Batan. It was ahorrible massacre, even by savage standards of this dreaded private army of upper caste landlords reported SundayDecember 14-20, 1997.<br />
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TEXT: Police say armed gunmen dressed in black
stormed the village of Miapur in Bihar early Saturday.
They gunned down members of the low-caste Yadav
community of cattle-herders after lining them up
outside their homes. Many of the victims were old
men, women and children, who could not hide or flee.
More than a dozen people were seriously wounded in the
attack on the remote village, which is only accessible
Police officials are blaming the attack on a private
militia of upper-caste landlords called the Ranvir
Sena. The Ranvir Sena is used by feudal landlords in
Bihar to terrorize peasants and lower-caste
According to the police, the latest killings appear to
be in retaliation for the murder of 12 landlords six
days ago. Landless farmers are believed to have been
behind that attack.
Authorities have sent about 400 police reinforcements
to Miapur village, where tensions are running high.
Angry villagers are complaining of lack of security.
The police are also conducting raids in neighboring
villages to trace the attackers.
Caste violence claims scores of lives in Bihar every
year. Revenge attacks are frequently reported between
private militias used by rich landlords and Maoist
guerrillas who say they represent the lower castes.
The latest violence will increase political pressure
on Bihar's chief minister, Rabri Devi, who is already
facing opposition demands to step down for failing to
tackle the escalating caste violence in the state.
Since the beginning of June, more than 50 people have
been killed in caste-related incidents.
Bihar is India's poorest and most lawless state, with
thousands of cases of murder and incidents of rioting
reported every year. (Signed)
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17VIOLENCE UPDATE - Vol. 3 - No. 2 - December 2001That dark, dreadful night, the Ranvir Sena spared no one -- from a frail 80 year old woman to an eleven-month-old babygirl. Theirs were just two of the bodies strewn everywhere, the day after. As no one came forward to collect the bodies,the scent of blood lured some stray dogs to the spot. According to an eyewitness who escaped the eye of the RanvirSena hiding in a thick bush, the killers first silenced five persons on the bank of the river, by cutting their throats. If theyhad shot them, the noise would have alerted the villagers, the eyewitness said. According to other eye witnesses, theRanvir Sena men, in groups of five to ten broke down the weak doors of the mud hutments housing Harijans andembarked on a killing spree. They were just catching and killing people specially women. Those who could savethemselves did so, either by hiding or by running away.Most died in their sleep. Some were shot while having a large meal. Within two and a half hours, Batan tola wastransformed into the villages of the death. In some cases, women were raped before they were killed, and in a fewcases the breasts of young women were hacked before they were killed.It soon become clear that the Ranvir Sena had targeted sympathizers of the ultra-left (CPI (ML) )Liberation and theBathe, they crossed over to a neighbouring village dominated by Bhumihars, alleged supporters of the Ranvir Sena.Today, every forward, whether he is Bhumihar,Thakur, Brahmin or even Kayasth, is automatically a Ranvir Sena manas his honour is at stake due to the rise of Naxalism. This is what makes Ranvir Sena such a dominated and dread forcein Bihar today.The private army Ranvir Sena is named after a chieftain , Ranvir Chowdhury. As the legend goes, Ranvir Baba attainedcult status after taking on the powerful Rajput zamidars. Over the years, caste polarisation and agarian tension hadturned central Bihar into an Armageddon for the ultra-Lefts and the Bhumihars dominated the Ranvir Sena. The killergang was banned by the Laloo Prasad Yadav Government in 1996 after killing six Harijans in Sarathna village inBhojpur district. Till Octuber 1997 there were an unprecedented 614 clashes in which 362 persons lost their lives (IndiaToday: December 15, 1997).The Ranvir Sena has grown into a formidable army. According to the intelligence reports many Bhumihars are em-ployed in the paramilitary and armed forces, which explains the steady flow of arms and ammunition. Unconfirmedreports suggest that the Ravir Sena has also benefited from AK-47 arms drop in Purulia, West Bengal.The Ranvir Sena has spread its network from Bhojpur to Patna, Jehanabad and Gaya. It has also formed an alliancewith Rajput Ganga Sena in south Bhojpur. Other upper caste groups and intermediaries are also seeking the RanvirSenas help to counter.Private senas are unique in Bihar. A number of them are operating on a caste basis. The Naxalites with the poorpeasants and Harijans have formed the Lal Sena to fight the senas organised by the upper caste landlords.While the two police camps at Dhanchchui and Patalpura, half a kilometer away, did not bother to venture out and oneat the village school, 200 kms from the spot, refused to step out while the attackers were reportedly raping young girls.
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18VIOLENCE UPDATE - Vol. 3 - No. 2 - December 2001Conceptualised about 14 years ago, after a spate of atrocities committed against Harijans specially women, elevenspecial police stations exist only on paper that Laloo reads his speeches from. The police stations were meant tomonitor the situation and move in first gear when a complaint was registered. Like in many similar dream machines theengine never came to life, says Kishandeo Yadav, the president of the Indian Peoples Front (IPF), a Naxalite group.The police stations are just eyewash.Krishnadeo Yadavs statistics are more startling. He says that since Laloo Yadav became Chief Minister, 25 massacreshad occurred in which no fewer than 100 Harijans especially women and 65 other Scheduled Castes were killed. Manyof those allegedly involved in the crimes happened to be landowners and no action was taken against them. Forexample, Ramlakhan Singh Yadav who was belived to have engineered the Tiskora massacre was embraced byLaloos Janta Dal.Little wonder then that sources in police headquarters describe these special police stations as nothing more than postoffices. These police stations are empowered to register cases of atrocities on Harijans and tribals, recommend actionagainst the culprits and forward the cases to higher authorities as Special Reports . But it does not seem to havemade any difference to the lives of those for whom they had been designed.The following table provided a detailed statement concerning occurrence of period, formed status of private armies andoperational places by means of collecting in formations from different sources.Table-1PRIVATE ARMIES IN BIHARNAMECASTE AFFILIATIONOPERATIONAL DISTRICTSBhoomi SenaKurmiNalanda, Nawada, Patna, JehanabadKuer SenaRajputBhojpur, PatnaLorik SenaYadavPatna and JehanabadBrahmarshi SenaBhumiharBhojpur,Jehanabad and AurangabadShree Krishna SenaYadavNalanda, Jehanabad and PatnaSuvarna Liberation FrontBhumiharJehanabad and PatnaDiamond SenaBhumiharJehanabadSunlight SenaRajput and Muslim (Pathan )Palamu, Garhwa,Gaya & AurangabadRanvir SenaBhumiharBhojpur,Jehanabad and PatnaGanga SenaRajputBhojpur and Patna ( Diara Area )Kisan SanghYadavPatna and Jehanabad
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A new massacre dramatizes the oppression of India's untouchables - but they are now determined to fight back.
An invisible line runs through every village in India. It sharply divides the upper-castes from the untouchables, those beneath Hinduism's rigid social hierarchy. That line was crossed in the village of Laxmanpur Bath last Monday when more than 200 upper-caste men, armed with pistols and rifles, stalked through the evening mist with revenge on their minds.
The day before, the untouchables, hungry and desperately poor, had tried to harvest a piece of disputed land, and the upper-castes decided it was time to give the millions of untouchables in this north Indian state of Bihar a lesson that neither they nor their kin would ever forget. The gunmen came up from the Sone River, loading their rifles as they walked. Soon they had a cluster of mud huts surrounded. A few of the untouchable men saw the assault force coming and splashed off through nearby rice paddies. The men figured they were the ones the attackers wanted, that the women and children sleeping inside the huts wouldn't be harmed.
But this vengeful army spared no one. In all, 61 people were massacred, and most were women and children. For more than two and a half hours, the upper-caste killers went from hut to hut, methodically butchering the untouchables--looking on them as inferior beings, barely human. The position of one woman's body suggested she'd been touching the feet of her murderer, begging for her children's lives. In another hut, the gunmen shot a nursing mother and her baby. They also killed a young woman by thrusting a hunting rifle between her legs and firing off several rounds. After the slaughter, the shooting party went back to the river and vanished in a flotilla of small fishing boats. Only then did the untouchable men dare to emerge from their hiding places. While they ran, their familes had been annihilated. Shivering with anger and grief, an untouchable survivor said grimly: "If we want to live, we have to fight."
In fact, their fight has already begun. After centuries of oppression, India's more than 150 million untouchables are determined not to tolerate the deadly abuse any longer. Preferring to call themselves Dalits, (Hindi for "the oppressed"), they are instigating a social revolution that is long overdue, one whose aim is to topple the 2,500-year-old Hindu caste system. Increasingly, Dalits are challenging Hinduism's tenet that a person is condemned to his caste--determining whether he becomes a doctor or a scavenger, whom he marries and his social standing in a complex, ordered hierarchy--all by his actions in a past life.
In this rebellion, the Dalits' main weapons are education and the vote. But in some rural areas, where resistance to their demands for equality is entrenched, they have resorted to violence and sometimes gained the upper hand. In Bihar, authorities say it may only be a matter of days before Dalits retaliate for the Laxmanpur Bath massacre. They are armed and organized, and even the arrest of 23 upper-caste extremists has failed to pacify the Dalits. Similar caste warfare and chaos has engulfed the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh and flared sporadically in much of the rest of India. Says Ram Prit, a 75-year-old Dalit laborer in Bihar: "If you keep pouring water into a rat hole, the rats will come out fighting." Upper caste men of Ranvir Sena
Not surprisingly, many members of the upper castes are resisting any challenge to the old order. In Bihar, high-caste landowners have raised a private army. Called the Ranvir Sena, it has marshalled more than 1,000 armed men, some of whom were probably behind the latest killings. Even Rabindra Chowdhary, a Ranvir Sena leader, concedes that the landlords had cruelly exploited the Dalits. "We were abusive and did not treat these people well," he says. "We do not believe in killing. But if we do not kill, they will think that we are weak."
Tension runs high across India, and even the most nonsensical incident can trigger a bloody outburst. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a game of tag between higher-caste Thevar and Dalit schoolboys led to the beheading of a Dalit and the revenge killing of 13 people, both Thevars and Dalits, many of them dragged off a bus and hacked to death. In Bihar's Belaur village, a tiff over a pack of cigarettes led to a mini-war between Dalits and the upper-caste Bhumihars that ultimately left 16 dead and dozens wounded.
Four years later that feud still festers: more than 350 Dalit families have deserted the village, and the Bhumihars--who patrol at night with guns and spears, ready for attack--cannot hire laborers for their fields. Some Dalits are refusing to carry out their repugnant jobs. "My generation is fighting," says Sri Prakash, a Dalit whose house was set ablaze in a caste feud. "We've told the Thevars we're not going to cremate their dead any more. Let them do it themselves."
Dalits make up one-sixth of India's population, yet only a few have managed to occupy top places in society as politicians, lawyers and scientists. A poor Dalit from the state of Kerala, Kocheril Raman Narayanan, encountered discrimination in school and work. And yet this year he rose to become India's President, the first untouchable to hold that largely symbolic post.
In the past Dalits had to support their landlords' candidates for public office or be beaten away from the polling booths when they tried to vote; now they are asserting themselves with the ballot, and their newfound power has jolted all of the national political parties. Ram Vilas Pawan, a Dalit member of the Janata Dal Party, is serving as Railway Minister in the current coalition government in New Delhi. Twice now, a Dalit woman, Mayawati, has been elected Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, though her last six months in office were squandered in a vendetta against high-caste rivals. Says Mayawati:
Earlier I had thought it would take longer, but change is now so rapid that in a few years we will have a Dalit Prime Minister in New Delhi.
Religious doctrine has allowed India's version of apartheid to survive Muslim invasions, British colonialism and even 50 years of democracy. Defenders of the caste system usually cite a verse from the Upanishads, Hinduism's ancient sacred texts: "Those whose conduct on earth has given pleasure can hope to enter a pleasant womb, that is, the womb of a Brahman or a woman of the princely class. But those whose conduct on earth has been foul can expect to enter a foul and stinking womb, that is the womb of a bitch, or a pig, or an outcaste."
A hymn from the sacred Rig Veda describes how this human stratification came about: a cosmic giant, Purusha, sacrificed parts of his body to create mankind. "His mouth became the Brahman, his arms were made into the Warrior (Kshatriya), his thighs the People (Vaishiya) and from his feet the Servants (Shudra) were born.
"Through the centuries, these four main divisions (called varnas), were slivered into more than 3,000 sub-castes, based on the purity of their professions. A goldsmith is higher up the ladder than a blacksmith, and a priestly Brahman, whose rituals bring him in touch with the gods, is highest of all. The untouchables, however, are off the ladder completely. By origin, many were India's dark-skinned first inhabitants, conquered by Aryans and assigned such awful tasks as burning bodies, skinning carcasses and removing "night soil"--human excrement--from latrines. For thousands of years, outcastes were burdened with these denigrating chores. Dalits evicted by upper caste men face grim future
In many villages, untouchables still live in poverty and subjugation. They are forbidden from entering temples or drinking from the same wells as members of upper castes. It was long customary for higher-caste landlords to deflower a Dalit bride on her wedding night, before her helpless groom. (To cleanse himself after such a dalliance, according to the more than 2,500-year-old Laws of Manu, an upper-caste man must give alms and make "daily mutterings" of prayers.)
These Hindu rules are far from even-handed: even today in some parts of India, if an untouchable is caught sleeping with a high-caste woman, both he and the woman are executed. A Dalit also can be considered too uppity, and risks a beating, if he wears a wristwatch or trousers instead of a traditional dhoti or loincloth. In some villages the Dalits are forced to live on the leeward side to prevent the wind that touches their bodies from defiling the upper castes.
Faced with such persecution, Dalits are finally running out of patience. What's surprising is that it took so long. Their emancipation began only in this century, behind the efforts of India's two great social reformers, Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, an angry, brilliant Dalit lawyer and politician. Through a scholarship from the Maharajah of Baroda, Ambedkar, an impoverished village boy, studied abroad and eventually earned several degrees. He worked as a financial adviser to the Maharajah but quit in disgust because the prince's upper-caste servants would fling documents onto his desk, rather than hand them to him, for fear of contamination. Yet his genius was unstoppable, as was his grit.
"Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system," Ambedkar once declared. "Nothing can help to save the Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu faith of this odious and vicious dogma."
As an author of the Indian constitution, Ambedkar, who died in 1956, secured guarantees for the advancement of outcastes. For decades, these promises were often blocked by upper-caste bureaucrats, but a new generation of Dalits inside the civil service is helping to bring change. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, 150 positions in the elite 540-member Indian Administrative Service are held by Dalits. New Delhi reserves 15% of all state and central government jobs and places in public colleges for Dalits.
All national parties are now appealing to Dalits, which is perhaps one reason why Narayanan's bid for the presidency went unopposed. The President is the fourth of seven children born to a father who practiced traditional medicine in Kerala using herbs and plants. Often his parents could not afford school fees, and Narayanan was punished for missing class until his father scraped up the rupees. He rose to become India's ambassador to the U.S. before entering politics.
"A diplomat," Narayanan once said, "should have a thick skin. I got mine through experiences such as standing on a bench in front of the whole class." Narayanan sees himself as the President of all Indians, but Dalit militants fault him for not using his exalted office to help lift his fellow untouchables. However, Narayanan did not hesitate to condemn the Laxmanpur Bath atrocity as "a national shame."
Dalits have yet to unite. "All that keeps India from having a bloody revolution is that we Dalits are a divided lot," says Man Dahima, a senior civil servant in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state. Even among the Dalits, strong caste rivalries exist; one study discovered 900 Dalit "sub-castes" in the country. Basically, everyone is squirming not to fall to the bottom of India's massive pile of humanity. Predicts one Dalit official:
As benefits trickle down, the conflicts between sub-castes are bound to sharpen.
Lately, regional leaders have been trying to bring unity to lower-caste aspirations. So far, the only Dalit politician to challenge the mainstream parties is Kanshi Ram, 63, a former technician at a government defense laboratory. Armed with wiliness and an ability to survive in the venal world of Indian politics, Ram has no qualms about forming alliances with his high-caste adversaries if it brings his Bahujan Samaj Party to power. His abrasive protege Mayawati governed Uttar Pradesh for six months in alliance with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, many of whose followers adhere stoutly to Manu's ancient law.
During her term, Mayawati ordered 13,000 statues of Ambedkar to be put up and began work on a $30 million park in Lucknow in honor of the Dalit leader. She also reshuffled 1,400 bureaucrats and police officers. Dalit civil servants, whose promotions had been mothballed by their high-caste superiors, were elevated to top posts. State funds and projects for roads, schools and electricity were channeled to neglected Dalit villages. Above all, Dalits were treated to the spectacle--unimaginable a few years back--of an acid-tongued Dalit like Mayawati ordering around upper-caste grandees.
Mayawati made plenty of enemies, though. She arrested thousands of political opponents, while her own Dalit-run administration was accused of corruption. Some Dalits proved as nasty as their one-time tormentors, and police were often used to settle old grievances against the upper castes. A law meant to check atrocities against Dalits was misused to send scores of innocent people to jail. Bail was denied, but bribes were gladly accepted.
One former bureaucrat recounts how his own Brahman servant was accused of banditry back in his village even though the servant was then in Lucknow, hundreds of kilometers away. "It turns out the police officer in charge was a Dalit," the former bureaucrat explains. "This militancy," according to sociologist Ashis Nandy, director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi, is "the price we have to pay. We are seeing an attempt by the Dalits to reaffirm their dignity. I won't say they're being provocative, but they are no longer turning the other cheek."
To avoid confrontation, many Dalits are heading for the cities, which offer hope of an escape from some caste barriers. As Bindeshwar Pathak, a New Delhi social worker, says, "Can we check who cooked the meal in a hotel, or who sat beside us on a bus? Can we stop someone from living next door?" But the choice of jobs for illiterate newcomers is grim. In Bhopal, Munni Bai, mother of nine children, earns $22 a month emptying 40 latrines a day. She carries the excrement on her head, in a wicker basket she lines with newspapers. And the smell? She shrugs.
"Just to fill my belly I've had to do these things," she replies. Munni Bai at least has some freedom. She probably considers herself better off than the Dalits of Khajuri, just 20 km from Bhopal, who have never heard of the great emancipator Ambedkar, who can't read or write and who are paid about $14 a month toiling for their upper-caste landlord. "There's a terror in the village. We can't speak against them or we'll be beaten," whispers one old man.
Money is breaking up caste prejudices faster than any law can, and therein lies India's hope of shedding its ancient, violent yoke of discrimination. Even with such menial jobs as washing dishes or sweeping factory floors, a Dalit in the city is luckier than many of the higher-caste folks back in his country village. He may not read or write, but his children will. One Dalit returned to his Rajasthan village on a break from his city job. "The priests stop us from going into the temple. But their sons come into our house because they want to watch TV," he says. "For years they said we were dirty. But now we look much cleaner than they do."
--With reporting by Faizan Ahmed /Laxmanpur Bath, Meenakshi Ganguly /Bihar, Maseeh Rahman /Lucknow and R. Bhagwan Singh /Madras
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