NEW DELHI ~ Caste dynamics in Bihar has reared its ugly head within the local Maoist leadership as well. In Rohtas district, six villages have emptied out, with hundreds of people shifting to other areas, fearing Maoist fury. Maoists swooped down upon Banda village on the night of 30 July, and killed five members of former village headman Sugriv Kharwar’s family. Kharwar heads an anti-Maoist group in the area, and local Maoists hold him responsible for the recent killing of their zonal commander Birendra Yadav, alias Rana. Kharwar was not present at home when a large group of Maoists set fire to his house, and shot his family members, including his brother.
Local Yadav Maoist commanders have been at loggerheads with Kharwar tribals, as they suspect them of being in cohorts with the police administration. Trouble has been brewing in Rohtas since January this year when the tricolour was unfurled within the premises of the historical Rohtas fort atop Kaimur hill on Republic Day. The ancient fort is believed to have impressed Afghan king Sher Shah Suri so much that he built a replica of the same in what is now Pakistan. Later, in 1857, the fort was used as a base by anti-British rebels.
The fort had been a Maoist stronghold in the area for many years, and was being used as a training camp by them. No security personnel dared venture there. But after a major police effort spearheaded by the district’s former police chief Vikas Vaibhav, Maoists had to vacate the fort. Furthermore, the administration also employed more than 300 youth from all over the district as tourist guides after training them. The youth were provided with bicycles and torches to help them take tourists to the inaccessible fort.
The police also launched a community policing initiative in the village, taking the help of local residents. All of this didn’t go down well with the Maoist leadership. In this entire endeavour, Banda’s former headman took an active part. On the night of the attack, Maoists are believed to have forced villagers to switch off their mobile phones. Also, recently, they had forced hundreds of gun owners to surrender their weapons so that they could not be used against them.
Rohtas had been Bihar’s only industrial hub at one time. But gradually business died down, leading to massive unemployment. By the mid-80s, Maoists had made their presence felt in this entire region, including two districts in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Many disgruntled youth joined the guerillas. The caste issue also lent a helping hand to the Maoist cause. But now with some people turning against them, the area’s Maoists are feeling threatened, say police sources. This has also led them to attack the families of many surrendered Maoists in the district over the past few weeks.