End of a terror trail

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

The arrest (or was it a case of surrender?) of the Ranvir Sena's founder-chief could well mark a turning point in Bihar in more ways than one.

RANVIR SENA chief Brahmeshwar Singh, the mastermind behind 36 massacres that left at least 400 persons dead over the past six years, including 63 Dalits in a single strike at Lakshmanpur-Bathe in 1997, was arrested in Patna on August 29.

Brahmeshwar, the founder of the outlawed Ranvir Sena, which is the largest private army of upper caste Bhumihar and Brahmin landlords operating in central Bihar, carried a reward of Rs.5 lakhs on his head. The police arrested him even as he was holding a meeting of the Sena's "peasant front" in a building in the city's busy Exhibition Road. The elusive Brahmeshwar Singh, better known as Mukhia, had arrived in Patna from Bhojpur. Sources close to the Ranvir Sena said that Brahmeshwar's arrest was a consequence of cracks that had developed in the outfit after those political parties that had been supporting the Sena withdrew their patronage. These sources believe that one of the rival factions within the Sena had tipped off the police about his whereabouts. At the time of the arrest "neither Brahmeshwar Singh nor any of his accomplices offered resistance". Former Bihar Chief Minister and president of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Laloo Prasad Yadav, said that "the arrest could politically be a turning point since many of the politicians who had links with the organisation would now be exposed."

While in police custody, Mukhia made a brief appearance at a press conference and asserted that his arrest would have no impact on the functioning of his organisation. Showing no sign of remorse, he reportedly confessed that all the massacres by the Ranvir Sena were carried out with his knowledge. "I don't have any remorse over the massacres carried out by the Ranvir Sena in its fight against naxalite groups such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, or the CPI(ML) Liberation, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People's War (P.W.) and their supporters, particularly among the landless poor and the backward Dalit community."

The Ranvir Sena has been involved in several massacres of Dalits in central Bihar. Pregnant women and children appear to be the Ranvir Sena's special targets, for it apparently views attacks on them as an easy means to check the increase in the Dalit population.

Among the different castes that constitute the Dalit community in Bihar, it is the landless Musahars whose plight is the worst. A Musahar (rat-eater) is a semi-clad, starving human being. For centuries, Musahars have been at the receiving end of atrocities by upper caste landlords. They have been forced to work for a meagre wage in the fields. Moreover, Musahars have been prevented from moving out of their villages and have not been allowed to seek alternative means of employment.

At a clandestine meeting with some members of the media last year, Brahmeshwar Singh said that he had been arrested in 1998, but released since the police did not recognise him. "I believe that the single biggest menace in the country is naxalism. To wipe out this extremist group, we were forced to take up arms," he said.

Brahmeshwar Singh is an accused in several murder cases. These include cases relating to the incidents of Lakshmanpur-Bathe, Mianpur (where the number of people killed was 36), Shankarbigha (18), Bathe (22), Sarthua (8), Nagari (10), Haibaspur (15), Bathani Thola (21) and Santani (13). These villages are located in Bhojpur, Jehanabad and Gaya districts of central Bihar.

Brahmeshwar Singh, the former mukhia (village panchayat head) of Khopira panchayat of Sandesh block in Bhojpur district, assumed the leadership of the Ranvir Kisan Sangharsh Samiti from Sheo Narain Chowdhury, the mukhia of Belur block, in 1994. Under Chowdhury's leadership, the samiti was not in a position to counter the CPI(ML) Liberation's decision to impose an economic blockade on farmers in several villages of Bhojpur district. Brahmeshwar turned the samiti into a militant organisation and named it after Ranvir, a former armyman who worked for the welfare of the villagers, mostly Bhumihars. Brahmeshwar Singh cleverly used Ranvir's name to win the support of villagers in his fight against naxalites. The 1999 report of the CPI(ML) said: "Ranvir Sena is the most notorious and most ruthless private army."

Upper caste landlords have mercilessly exploited the labour of lower caste people in Bihar for centuries. The landlords began feeling insecure with the emergence of ultra-Left groups which took up the cause of Dalits and the poor, in the rural areas of the State. However, the upper caste landlords were in no mood to surrender their economic and political power without a fight. They employed criminal gangs in their fight against the Left extremist groups.

The growth of private armies, or Senas, began in the late 1970s as a response of the landlords to the growing strength of the Left extremist groups. These groups tried to secure land and minimum wages for the landless labour. It was during the 1984 Lok Sabha polls and the 1985 Bihar Assembly elections that these Senas enlarged their role. Soon they grew in numbers.

Bhumihars formed the Brahmrishi Sena. By the mid-1980s, the Brahmrishi Sena became a formidable force with over 700 members. It became inactive after the Ranvir Sena was formed in 1994. In 1984, the Yadavs organised their own caste army, the Lorik Sena, to fight both the leftist groups and the upper caste Senas. The Lorik Sena was active in Nalanda, Vaishali, Patna and Jehanabad districts of Bihar. It allegedly committed the ghastly carnage in Hilasha village of Nalanda district on November 14, 1995. Fifteen Dalits, who were said to be supporters of the CPI (M-L) Liberation, were killed in the incident.

Members of the Kurmi caste formed the Bhoomi Sena. It was also active in Patna, Nalanda and Jehanabad districts as well as in the Nawada and Barh areas. The gruesome incident at Pipra in February 1980 and the massacre at Lahsuna in Aurangabad district in 1982 were committed by the Bhoomi Sena. The Sunlight Sena was raised by Rajput landowners in Aurangabad and Palamau districts. Along with the Kisan Security Force of the Yadavs and the Kurmis, the Sunlight Sena was responsible for the 1992 carnage at Tishora. The victims of the Tishora massacre were naxalite supporters. The Savarna Liberation Force, led by Ramadhar Singh Diamond, is another army formed by landlords to take on the leftist groups in central Bihar.

The Azad Sena was formed by Brahmins, mostly from the Rohtas and Bhojpur areas. The Shrikrishna Sena is also a Yadav organisation. Anand Mohan Singh organised the Samajwadi Krantikari Sena to fight against those who supported reservation for the backward castes. His rival Pappu Yadav, formed the Mandal Sena. The Kuer Sena, formed by the Rajputs, is active in Bhojpur and Rohtas districts. The Ganga Sena, another Rajput organisation, was founded in 1990 to fight the naxalite groups in the northern region of Bhojpur, particularly in the area around the Ganga ghats.

Among the Left-wing extremist groups in Bihar, the MCC, which operates mainly in central Bihar, is the most feared one. The issues of land reforms and minimum wages are high on the MCC's agenda, and this group believes that it can achieve its aims by "punishing" landlords and police personnel. The MCC accuses the police of colluding with the landlords in exploiting the poor.

Informed sources in Jehanabad said that the Ranvir Sena recently faced its stiffest battle within the organisation. These sources claim that infighting has weakened the central authority. The onslaught of the P.W. and the MCC further affected the Ranvir Sena's efficacy. Ironically, the Ranvir Sena was started by the Bhumihars and the Brahmins, two caste groups that traditionally never saw eye to eye, to fight the naxalites. The current battle for supremacy is fought between its members belonging to the two castes. It led to the exit of Sunil Pandey, a Brahmin, from the organisation. Today Pandey is an independent member of the Assembly. "The P.W. is all set to do the Ranvir Sena what the CPI (M-L) Liberation did to the Bhoomi Sena. Between 1975 and 1988, the CPI (M-L) Liberation executed all the leaders of the Bhoomi Sena, leading to its decimation," said Umadhar Singh, a former naxalite leader.

On August 25, the P.W. killed three Ranvir Sena members at Pariyari in Arwal after a fight broke out among Sena leaders in Jehanabad district's Kinjar block, the 20 villages of which used to be a Ranvir Sena stronghold. The P.W. has now taken over this block.

The most glaring example of Sena infighting was in the Mukdumpur block of Jehanabad district. On December 5, 2001, Chunnu Sharma, a powerful Ranvir Sena commander, was killed in an encounter with the police in Mahadeobigha village. Informed sources said that Punnu Sharma, another Ranvir Sena leader, was behind Chunnu's death. Punnu was later arrested, but Ranvir Sena insiders say that he had surrendered.

Speculation is rife about the circumstances leading to Brahmeshwar Singh's arrest. There are many people who feel that he might have actually surrendered to the police because of threats to his life. A former Director-General of Police, who endorses this view, said: "It is unimaginable that he would be found in a busy area such as Exhibition Road without being guarded by an armed squad. His security guards are equipped with sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 and automatic self-loading rifles."

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