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Caste conflicts lose sting

Jehanabad, Nov. 3: There’s a lull in the bloodbaths, but the blood-letting hasn’t stopped. Caste killings in the notorious Jehanabad district have merely moved from the headline-hitting carnages to widespread smaller conflicts and even isolated, secret murders.

The last massacre was in 1998 in Senari, where 34 upper caste landholders were mowed down. After three years, the nature of the killings has changed. The Dalit-upper caste strife has fragmented into a million mutinies now, say social scientists studying the new phenomenon.

Yesterday, policemen fished out the bodies of two women, packed in gunny bags, from a shallow pond at Burgijoi, about 20 km from here. They were among the four members of a Dalit family abducted on the night of November 1. The police were unable to trace the other two persons.

Less than 10 km from here, the police recently recovered five bodies from a tributary of the Punpun. The five, including three women, were believed to be members of a Dalit family killed allegedly by upper castes. Their bodies, too, were packed into a jute sack, tied to a heavy stone and thrown into the river.

These killings are also believed to be the result of a renewed endeavour by the ultra Left organisations to consolidate their base in sensitive blocks like Kurtha, Karpi and Arwal. In October, the People’s War Group (PWG) was not only fighting the splintered factions of the Ranbir Sena, the private army of the upper caste Bhumihars, but also “revisionist lefts like the CPI (ML) (Liberation)”, said Nilmoni, inspector-general of police and chief of the anti-militancy operation in Bihar.

“Sans ideology and dedicated direction, the Left and the rightist forces in Jehanabad have got splintered. The PWG’s pockets have spread, but it has lost its firepower in the face of police operation. Hence, the number of killings is less,” he said.

But Prakash, a PWG spokesman, said they have successfully wiped out feudalism’s political face. But there are still traces of this mindset among semi-feudals and the hardcore feudals masquerading as progressive. Hence, the battle has spread.

Samata Party MP from Jehanabad Arun Kumar believes the killings have come down as people have begun hating the bloodspill.

The ideological rhetoric spewed by extremists as justification for the caste killings has lost its sheen. Since 1999, there have been efforts to encourage cottage industries, like dairy projects. Hundreds of educated youths, indoctrinated as cadres of the caste outfits, have given up their organisations.

Now, elements sponsored by caste politicians are trying to trigger fresh tension. The killings have spread far and wide, admitted Arun Kumar, but he believes this cannot escalate into massacres as people are turning their back on caste hatred.

Prof. Abdul Latif, a Gaya-based researcher on the Jehanabad massacres, was not so hopeful. “The caste war has not stopped. The war appears to have lost its intensity as it has spread further into the nooks and corners of hamlets. The militancy has become a part of rural culture, which is why villagers are killing their neighbours secretly and even disposing of their bodies to avoid any political impact. This may just be a change of strategy,” he said.

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