Lalu Prasad has described the Bihar polls as a war between forward and backward castes and drawn a parallel with the Mahabharata. Though large-scale caste violence has come down in the last few years, there was a time not long ago when castes fought for land and other resources.
These mostly one-sided attacks often resulted in murders, the victims mostly landless Dalits. The politicisation of Dalits in the 1960s, especially after the emergence of the Naxal movement, saw a spurt in violence.
In Belchhi near Patna, 14 Dalit labourers were killed in 1977 and Indira Gandhi reached the site riding an elephant and braving floodwaters. That trip marked the beginning of her political comeback after the post-Emergency defeat. An estimated 700 people died in 91 major incidents of caste violence in the 1980s and ’90s. The Kurmis formed Bhumi Sena, the Rajputs Kunwar Sena, the Bhumihars Brahmarsi Sena and the Yadavs Laurik Sena. There also were Brahman Sena, Samajwadi Krantikari Sena, Azad Sena and Savarna Liberation Army. These militant groups were banned in the mid-1980s.
The most brutal, Ranbir Sena, was formed in the 1990s. By then, the Janata Dal was in power with Lalu as chief minister. The first major massacre attributed to Ranbir Sena was in Bathanitola in July 1996, where 22 Dalits were killed. In 1999, 23 Dalits were killed in Jehanabad; Maoists hit back by killing 35 landlords. The last major strike by the Sena was in 2000, when it killed 35 in Aurangabad.