Phoolan's murder revives caste rivalry in her village
DH News Service
KALPI (Jalaun distt), July 31
"Ab wa baat na rahi (It's not the same anymore)". This loaded remark from a Thakur from neighbouring hamlet to a Mallah boy has Phoolan Devi's community in Sheikhupur Gurha, her ancestral village, fear for their lives. The two-decade-old bonhomie between Mallahs and Thakurs in the dacoit-infested belt of Chambal in Jalaun district has disappeared and paved way for casteist undercurrents.
The post-Phoolan scenario in the sensitive belt is ominous. The anticipated celebration of bandit queen's assassination in Thakur villages had the mourning Mallahs seething in anger. The district police had posted one and a half sections of Provincial Armed Constabulary in Gurha and ordered regular police visits there to check any impending caste clash. A week after, Gurha is restless. And the fear may not be misplaced. It was two days ago when Laloo Singh, a Thakur from Narihan village, asked Chote (22), a cycle shop owner, to pump air in his bicycle. The Mallah youth refused to oblige and asked him to help himself. The Thakur grabbed the pump but asked him to be careful with a loose remark in local dialect, "Ab wa baat na rahi." He meant without Phoolan, they would be at risk to flaunt the old pride. While a PAC constable noticed the subtle threat and slapped him, the Mallahs are not the old confident self. They have started going to cattle fields in groups and returning before it is dark. Says Ram Naresh, "This remark has been lobbed at our men several times during cattle grazing in the last six days."
The fear is palpable. Today, the Mallahs huddled together to discuss their future after a mourning meeting on Phoolan's death at the primary school. They are scared that after Phoolan, even police is deserting them. The district administration has decided to withdraw police force in Gurha posted immediately after the news of Phoolan's murder kicked off celebrations in Thakur villages. "We will talk to the SP to withdraw the order. We are not safe," cried Shrilal Nishad. Few are ready to comment on what future awaits them. But the Behmai massacre is still fresh in the memories of Thakurs and Phoolan's villagers are their worst enemies. A dichotomy between political and social plains is evident. The articulate village pradhan Ram Babu Nishad feels there is no need for fear and says that Surendra Singh, a Thakur president of the neighbouring Maheba block, will sacrfice his life for him. "Only the sick minds think of caste rivalry," he says. But his voters disagree. Says Bhagwan Deen, "Change in Laloo's attitude points at the time to come. Till now, he was the same person who joked with us. And suddenly, he taunts "It's not the same anymore. Were they only waiting only for Phoolan's murder?"
Phoolan was a great leveller in the caste-ridden society. It was her emergence as a potent force and the use of gunpower in Behmai in 1981 that forced the Thakurs into calling a ceasefire. They too retaliated by burning 17 Mallahs to death in Asta village afterwards. As she survived in the ravines, jail and politics, the Thakurs and the Mallahs lived in peace for two decades. People felt all had been forgotten. But not really as life after Phoolan shows.That the fears are not misplaced are shown in the neighbouring villages. With 84 Thakur villages in Kanpur and Jalaun districts, a visit to Anwa, 6 km before Behmai, has youth laughingly ask about the whereabouts of Sher Singh Bisht. "He is the only real Thakur among us," says Inderpal Singh. Akhilesh feels things were cool but refuses to rule out permanent peace. "This is a dacoits' village. Anything can instigate a revenge," he laughs. For men and women of Gurha, life after Phoolan will be a testing time.