Caste wars in Bihar blur gender divide

Amlan Home Chowdhury
(Laxmanpur Bathe, March 25)

AS THE evening sinks into river Sone, a line of Dalit women discreetly wind their way towards the jungles that lie adjacent to their hamlets.

Their target is the Ranveer Sena, the private army of the 'savarna' (forward) castes.

Ever since the slaughter of 62 Dalits on December 2, 1997, by the gun-toting Ranveer Sena, this has become a daily ritual in preparation for a bloodbath that both sides know can take take place any day.

Three killings that took place within a span of 22 months - including the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre - have changed gender roles here as they existed earlier.

This change can be gauged from the fact that 'savarna' men now allow their daughters and daughters-in-law to take arms training in clandestine camps.

Dalit women, however, were never so bound by restrictive feudal values but the idea of taking up arms was something they hadn't sone before.

All that has changed. Malti, a teenager of Laxmanpur Bathe, feels she is duty-bound to protect the Dalits from the 'savarnas'.

A visit to Jalpura (where four upper-caste Bhumihars were killed), is an eye-opener. Women here are seething with anger against the Dalits who, traditionally, are supporters of the Naxalites.

Women are now as willing to shed blood in defence of their caste as men, be it the 'savarnas' or the Dalits. While the Naxalites run the training camps for the Dalit women, the anti-Naxal Ranveer Sena trains 'savarna' women.

The caste divide in the Sone belt has been continuing for long, but the killings began about 25 years ago when the Naxalites started uniting the Dalits under their 'Red umbrella'. The three massacres that took place at Jalpura, Haibaspur and Laxmanpur Bathe further hardened attitudes among the warring castes.

Referred by:Balram Sampla
Published on: March 27, 2001
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