Ara, June 6: Around 10.30am last Friday, Umesh Kumar Paswan was taking his bath at the Ambedkar Kalyan Hostel when a mob of 5,000 people protesting the murder of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya” attacked the establishment.
Fearing for his life, Paswan, 24, had to run from the washroom in his inners after jumping over the boundary wall at the back.
At least 50 other boys fled with Paswan by jumping over the 6 feet high boundary walls. These boys had ignored the repeated warnings of hostel officials who had persuaded some 250 other students to leave after receiving news that the frenzied mob, which had just set the circuit house ablaze, was advancing towards the hostel.
The hostel is located in Katira locality of Ara, some 65km west of Patna, where Mukhiya, the head of the defunct private militia of landlords, had been shot dead at the crack of dawn that day.
The mob, adamant on taking “revenge” on the Dalits — the target of their chilling carnages in the nineties — set the hostel on fire and ransacked its premises.
| Boarders vacate the Ara hostel after Brahmeshwar’s supporters attacked the establishment. Picture by Deepak Kumar
The hostel is exclusively meant for college students belonging to Scheduled Castes — a reminder of how caste divisions run deep in Bihar society even in the 21st century as they wouldn’t find accommodation in other such establishments.
The students, most of who have been forced to return to their villages, are now frantically rummaging through the debris to look for their belongings.
Two of the four buildings on the campus were burnt beyond recognition, destroying property worth Rs 10 lakh. The building department is yet to estimate the extent of damage to the hostel buildings.
The students, who study in various constituent colleges of Veer Kuer Singh University in Ara, lost books, clothes, cash, mobiles, valuables and their educational certificates.
“I was shocked when I returned to the hostel to check for my belongings. Beddings, utensils, suitcases everything in the room that I stayed in, had been gutted in fire. Similar is the situation in tens of other rooms. Even my bike was burnt. I don’t know whether I will now return to this hostel ever,” said a distraught Paswan, a science student pursuing his PhD from Veer Kuer Singh University.
Officials said at least three two-wheelers, 30 cycles and a four-wheeler, apart from about 20 rooms, were put on fire after being sprinkled with petrol. The hostel has been closed for an indefinite period ever since.
Many students, who belong to poor, lower caste families from Ara and neighbouring districts, said they had suffered irreparable damage.
“I had kept my original certificates from Matriculation to postgraduation in the hostel. There is absolutely no trace of those documents. My future seems dark now as I cannot even apply for a job without those certificates,” said Bhagirath Ram, another hostel boarder who belongs to Nagari village in Bhojpur district.
Officials at the hostel said they were trying their best to help the students.
“The hostel had over 300 boys. Many of them sustained minor injuries as there was a stampede-like situation just ahead of the attack by the mob. Sadly, most of them have lost many valuables. We are now helping them look for important documents and other belongings,” said S.K. Sharma, the static magistrate — an official assigned by the administration to a site of a major incident with specific powers for a period of time — deployed at the hostel.
A force of over 20 policemen has also been stationed at the hostel.
District welfare officer Sarvesh Bahadur Mathur, however, was not sure of when things will return to normal.
“The situation is still tense in the city. We are not sure when we will be in a position to take back the students. Some of the rooms are not even habitable anymore,” he said.
Many other welfare hostels in the city have also been vacated since June 1.