The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Family roasted in caste cauldron
All for a buffalo & a plot

Rampur (Vaishali), Jan. 1: Moments after the world ushered in the new year, armed men set fire to a hut in this village in Rabri Devi’s constituency of Raghopur, roasting alive a pregnant woman and her five children, the youngest barely 18 months.

The massacre of the extremely backward Kahar family, who had angered the powerful Yadavs, had chief minister Nitish Kumar as well as railway minister Lalu Prasad hurrying to the scene.

Nitish was told how local police had taken advantage of the quarrel by exploiting both sides and, despite warnings, done nothing to prevent last night’s tragedy.

The attackers had dragged out the man of the family, Vijendra Mahto, and tried to set him on fire as well by tying a burning jute rag around his face. The daily wager is fighting for life at Patna Medical College Hospital.

Nitish, who spent more than three hours in the area, 40 km from Patna, described the “heart-rending crime” as “totally pre-planned by enemies of humanity”.

The reason for the carnage was Mahto’s police complaint against a Yadav, Jagat Rai, whom he accused of stealing his buffalo and his quest to gain possession of a small plot he owned.

The buffalo had been recovered soon enough and, since then, Rai had been pressuring Mahto to withdraw the case unless he wanted to see his family murdered. Mahto went to Raghopur police station but officer-in-charge Nuruddin Khan wouldn’t act.

“Khan, instead, asked Mahto to deliver milk at his house every day. He would often detain Mahto and forced the poor man to give him a massage. On the other hand, Khan extorted money from Rai for not arresting him,” one of Mahto’s neighbours said.

After receiving the latest threat from Rai on Friday, Mahto again went to the police station yesterday and urged Khan to arrest Rai. But he was ignored.

People in Rampur and elsewhere in Raghopur described Khan as the “most corrupt” officer-in-charge in the block’s history.

“He would force young boys to drink alcohol and later extort money from them. He got trees felled and sold off the wood. He made a killing by catching ganja peddlers, seizing the stuff and selling it,” a woman told Nitish.

Khan, now in hiding, has been suspended and an FIR has been lodged against him on Nitish’s orders.

When the chief minister visited Rampur, villagers shouted slogans against the police and the administration. Inside the hut, charred remains of the six victims greeted him. Nitish stepped out and tried to communicate with the hundreds of angry faces before him.

“How can someone even think of such a heinous crime' I have ordered a high-level inquiry which will cover the conduct of the police officials. I begin the new year with a big challenge,” he said.

From his hospital bed, Mahto said he had recently got the parcha (deed) for six kathas from the government. “Two influential villagers, Bechan Rai and Nathun Rai, were tilling this land. When I laid claim to it, they were very annoyed. They ganged up with the family of Jagat Rai to kill my family.”

Lalu Prasad handed Rs 10,000 to the family. Mahto has an elder daughter who is married and a son who works outside Bihar as a wage labourer. One person has been arrested.

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