Brahmeshwar Singh, the former Ranvir Sena chief.
The arson and pillaging that followed the killing of Brahmeshwar Nath Singh, the former chief of the dreaded private militia Ranvir Sena, in southern Bihar is reflective of the brutal history of upper-caste violence that the State has been witness to. Around 5,000 upper-caste Bhumihar supporters of Brahmeshwar Singh, popularly called “Mukhiaji”, went on the rampage when his funeral ceremony was in progress. They torched at least 50 vehicles, beat up onlookers and police personnel and attacked journalists who had come to cover the event.
Brahmeshwar Singh was shot dead by unidentified assailants on June 1 in Ara when he was out on a morning walk. He headed the Ranvir Sena from 1995 to 2002, and had been accused of 337 murders of Dalit women, children and men. Apart from this, he decisively led the militia in perpetrating hundreds of big and small massacres in Dalit and Muslim colonies, most prominent of which were the Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Sankarbigha and Miyapur massacres.
Southern Bihar has been kept on high-alert curfew. Ranvir Sena sympathisers looted and destroyed public property in Bhojpur, Jehanabad and many other districts. They did not allow even the Director General of Police, Abhayanand, to come near Brahmeshwar Singh's body.
The police failed to take any action against the miscreants. Some regional newspapers reported that the police remained passive in view of the politically sensitive nature of the murder. Since Bhumihars form a powerful political force in the State, the Janata Dal (United) government did not want to rub them the wrong way. When law and order sank to a new low, both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were outside the State for official reasons.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the primary opponent of the Ranvir Sena in Bhojpur, issued a statement condemning the police inaction. “The vandalism witnessed right in the State capital, Patna, has given a complete lie to Nitish Kumar's tall claims of good governance. If anything, it has exposed the utter inability or even the refusal of his government to tackle such acts of feudal-criminal violence. Contrast the State's laid-back attitude on June 1-2 to the brutal ways in which the police have been tackling mass protests, and the inherent bias of the State government and its police administration becomes crystal clear,” it said.
Ever since naxalite insurgence in 1968, the CPI(ML) and later the Maoist Coordination Centre (MCC), which is now the CPI(Maoist), started gaining ground in Bihar. Their struggle was among the landless and bonded labourers of the State who were denied not only basic living conditions but also social dignity. In the 1980s, private militias began to be formed when upper-caste landlords, or kulaks, funded the raising of over a dozen small armies. These militias directed their attacks mostly against landless Dalits and Muslims who were CPI(ML) sympathisers. They organised planned pogroms specifically targeting colonies of Dalits and Muslims who sympathised with naxalites. While economic coercion and boycott of labourers became the primary tool of the landlords to enforce the feudal order in the 1980s, the following decade saw the emergence of aggression against Dalit and Muslim villages.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI (ML-Liberation), writes in the June 2 issue of Economic & Political Weekly: “If we look at the history of the CPI(ML) movement in Bhojpur, we will see that the right to vote has been one of the most keenly contested issues. In fact, behind the emergence of the CPI(ML) in Bhojpur was the Assembly elections in 1967 in which Ramnaresh Ram contested as a Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate and he and all his close comrades were badly beaten up and harassed by the feudal lobby which could not stomach this ‘political audacity' of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Years later, in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, when large numbers of Dalits for the first time succeeded in exercising their franchise and electing Rameshwar Prasad as the first naxalite Member of Parliament from Ara, a bloodbath ensued in Danwar-Bihta village just after the polling and as many as 22 persons had to pay with their lives the price for the right to vote.”
With the growing political representation of Dalits and communists, the State witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of private armies and mass murders. Naxalites violently resisted the attempts by the upper-caste militias to finish off the labour movement. It was against this backdrop that the Ranvir Sena emerged as the biggest private army of upper-caste landlords under the leadership of Brahmeshwar Singh, who managed to merge several other private militias into one broad umbrella group.
In 1994, when a group of CPI(ML) supporters and Bhumihars clashed at Belaur village in Bhojpur district, Brahmeshwar Singh invoked the name of Ranvir Choudhary, who had fought to restore the might of Bhumihars in the region, and posed him as a saint. Thus, Ranvir Sena was named after ‘Ranvir baba'. The militia started its full operation only from 1995, killing CPI(ML) supporters whenever it got a chance. But the trend of planned and large-scale pogroms started with the massacre at Bathani Tola in 1996. This was carried forward with added intensity in Laxmanpur Bathe, Sankarbigha, Miyapur, Senari, Ekwari, Narayanpur, and many more such villages.
Vehicles set on fire in Ara by supporters of Brahmeshwar Singh.
After Brahmeshwar Singh's arrest in 2002, the Ranvir Sena lost its steam as an organised militant force. He was lodged in Ara jail, where he gave a number of interviews to the media. In all his interviews, he openly said that he did not repent for the killings and justified the killing of Dalit children and women who, according to him, would otherwise become naxalites when they grew up or would give birth to future naxalites.
He was granted bail in September 2011 despite being the main accused in the massacres. The prosecution drew severe criticism when, during the trial in the Ara district court in the Bathani Tola case, the judge declared him an absconder though he was lodged in the Ara jail at that time. It is for this reason that many analysts have seen a complicit role of the state, the judiciary and the police in protecting Brahmeshwar Singh.
After his release, Brahmeshwar Singh formed a farmers' organisation called the Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Kisan Sangathan. In a recent interview to Frontline, he said: “We are the first nationalist farmers' organisation because all the others are either socialist or communist.” He nurtured political ambitions. While he was in jail, he contested the 2009 parliamentary elections. Although he was defeated, he secured more than 1.5 lakh votes. It is for this reason that he denied any association with the Ranvir Sena when he spoke to this correspondent. “Why are you asking so many questions about the past? Now I am a white-collared citizen and the judiciary has already released me in 20 out of around 30 cases. I will fight for the unity of farmers and labourers. Right now, because of the agrarian crisis, the farmers are unable to pay the labourers the minimum wage but I agree that the labourers should not only get the minimum wage, but at least a sum of Rs.400 to beat the inflation,” he told this correspondent.
A known Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) supporter, Brahmeshwar Singh had plans to make it big in politics. And it is for this reason that his family has blamed a fellow Bhumihar leader and legislator, Sunil Pandey, for his murder although the police suspect the CPI(ML). Sunil Pandey is the second-most important leader in the Ranvir Sena. He grew in political stature after Brahmeshwar Singh was arrested and lodged in jail for eight years.
Brahmeshwar Singh would always quote the mythological character Parsurama: “I did what Parsurama did. Violent methods are necessary in order to achieve any sort of order in society. Otherwise injustices will prevail.” He perhaps fell prey to his own logic.