| A man on the electric post that spans the canal between Koili and Khuta. Picture by Paras Nath
Bhagalpur, Sept. 7: Koili versus Khuta, Yadav versus Yadav.
Laloo Prasad Yadav’s fellow caste members in the two Bhagalpur villages have been engaged in a more-than-a-decade-long feud that has claimed over 20 lives in the last 10 years.
The rivalry contrasts with the more common clashes between upper castes and Naxalite-backed backwards or vice versa, but is no less bloody. Law-enforcing agencies describe the feud as “inter-village clashes of an unprecedented scale”.
The twin villages nestle among thick mango orchards about 20 km from the district headquarters. The sylvan surroundings betray none of the bitter battles that have bloodied its fields.
A single railway track running from Bhagalpur to Mander skirts the settlements, marking an artificial boundary. Vehicles have to stop near the track and people trudge to the villages.
A mud trail meanders from the track to Koili, home to over a thousand Yadav families. Tractors, grass-cutting machines and cattle shades jostle with low-roofed mud huts.
Across a shallow canal lies Khuta, almost another world. Concrete houses stand on either side of well laid-out roads. Most families in the Yadav-dominated village boast at least one government employee.
Spanning the canal is a slender electric post, pointed to as the cause of the feud. “The trouble began when a young man from Koili, Dibakar Yadav, carried away one of the posts that was to be installed here to bring electricity. Dibakar was gunned down by the villagers of Khuta in 1991,” said Nitesh Yadav.
In retaliation, five persons were murdered in 1992. Two others — Kapil and Satish — were killed the next year. Surajnarayan, a wrestler and policeman from Khuta, was killed in broad daylight in 1995, allegedly by villagers from Koili.
“One murder led to another. It is almost farcical that so many lives should go over just one electric post. Both the Yadav villages formed death squads to continue the legacy of revenge,” said Unit Yadav of Khuta.
The feud holds life hostage in the villages. The schools remain shut as no children are sent for fear of violence. The village streets are taken over by the “hit squads” after sundown.
R.K. Mishra, a senior police officer posted in the district in the mid 90s, said 22 killings were recorded in the last 10 years. The district administration started development schemes, built roads, offered jobs to youngsters to contain the violence.
“But the toll kept going up. After one murder, whoever dared to depose in court was killed. Every murder had a cascading retaliatory reaction. One could almost count the next victim going by the records of the witnesses,” said villager Samresh Yadav.
For the record, over 50 people have been arrested in connection with the clashes. Of the 40 who were brought to trial, 11 have received life sentences. In one case, 45-year-old Mahendra Yadav has been handed the death sentence for two murders. He committed one in 1994 and another in 1995, when he was out on bail.
Appalled, local MLA Janardan Yadav offered to broker peace last year. He failed. But a tenuous peace holds now.
“There is a lull now after the death sentence. But this temporary peace is deceptive. No one knows when it will explode next,” sighed 58-year-old Brahmadeo Yadav. He fails to see reason in the mindless violence that has claimed one of his sons.
“Koili and Khuta may be two Yadav villages, but the two have separate economic identities. In affluent and literate Khuta, two persons from each family have government jobs. It was already empowered, while Koili was known for its backwardness, illiteracy and aggression,” said Mahesh Sharma, a schoolteacher and CPI activist.
According to a study by an NGO, the revenge murders coinciding with Laloo Prasad’s ascent were due to a clash of cultures. “The prosperous Yadavs, socially advanced before Laloo Yadav emerged, are repelling those climbing the social ladder riding on the Laloo wave,” said a researcher with the A.. Sinha Institute of Social Science.