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Cop vigil keeps Shilagain calm
- Social fabric ruptures at freedom fighter village

Ranchi, July 30: The police did a commendable job in preventing a flare-up today at Shilagain after yesterday’s mob attack on tribal villagers left one dead and 39 injured, but members of the minority community went into hiding as armed tribals shouted provocative slogans.

Besides the posse of 200 police personnel keeping vigil on the village, 40km from Ranchi, with strategic positions on the ground and on trees, the administration also conducted an aerial survey around 7.30pm today.

Yesterday, Id prayers performed by some 40 people at a common plot of land provoked a war of words between them and the tribals, finally culminating in a 5,000-strong mob of the minority community attacking villagers at Shilagain, killing one and injuring 39.

Overnight, as anger among the tribals built up, police and administration officials constantly monitored the situation. Deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey and senior superintendent of police Prabhat Kumar kept close watch as tribal villagers gathered with sharp-edged weapons, catapults and the like.

Well-known faces such as former chief minister Arjun Munda, tribal leaders Bandhan Tigga, Jatru Oraon, Sunil Faquira Kacchap, former information commissioner Gangotri Kujur and former Sisai MLA Sameer Oraon also camped at the village.

Around 2pm, anger sharpened against yesterday’s attack as hundreds of villagers from Shilagain, Hurhuri, Viyasi, Dumri, Murto, Narkopi, Raghunathpur, Makka and others assembled at Veer Budhu Bhagat Tongri, a hillock that sees a fair every year on February 17 to remember tribal freedom fighter Budhu Bhagat.

Slogans like “Mara re, mara re (kill them, kill them)” rent the air.

Till afternoon, villagers insisted that the body of Dashrath Oraon, the lone casualty in yesterday’s land dispute between tribals and the minority community, be buried at the site of yesterday’s Id prayers. But the repeated entreaties of the district administration worked to blunt the edge of the anger. Finally, Dashrath’s widow Charia and other villagers agreed to bury him at the common graveyard.

However, male members of the minority community — comprising one-tenth of the 500 households — left the village, leaving children and women behind.

A terrified woman said from inside her house: “Hamin dariau la, choua man hathu, sab mard bhaig ja hathu (We are frightened as we have children and all the men have escaped).”

The village has an illustrious history. In 1830-32, Budhu Bhagat led a war of freedom against the British.

Nearly 200 years later, festering inter-community violence threatens to destroy the fabric of Shilagain.

When The Telegraph team visited the area today, villagers said the land where Id prayers were held was bhuihari or common land for villagers. About 50 metres away, stood Swami Vivekanand Vidyalaya, a primary school, while some 100 metres away, a mosque under construction and an Urdu School bore testimony to people of different communities living together for years.

Asked about the land clash, SDO Amit Kumar expressed his inability to explain “at the moment”.

But Ramderi Bhagat, the eighth descendent of freedom fighter Budhu Bhagat, said bhuihari land left for common use was a feature of tribals. “No community can use it permanently. But those who offered namaz yesterday want to capture it by force. But, they should remember that Chanho is a scheduled block and one can’t grab common land in this way,” he said.