On a wall of the Ravidas temple at Baddi village is a message of social equality,in contrast with the caste violence that hit the village on Independence Day. No one is lowly because of the caste of ones birth, reads the message,written in the local dialect. It is ones deeds that decide if one is lowly or not.
The violence,which has reopened fissures that had appeared closed for the last seven years,coincides with a split between the JD(U) and the BJP in Bihar. Members of the Ravidas scheduled caste,one of 21 groups clubbed as Mahadalits and therefore viewed as a constituency of the ruling JD(U),have come under attack from upper-caste Rajput villagers,who are seen as a BJP vote-bank. Baddi has over 500 Rajput households and 80 of the Ravidas caste.
Members of the latter caste show a Ravidas statue with the right arm severed and say the Rajputs have become hostile to them of late. An 80-year-old Mahadalit died and 40 were injured in the clash over the right to hoist the national flag on a piece of land disputed between the two groups.
Upset at the police action against them cases against 35,the arrest of 11,the suspension of the 15 arms licences the Rajputs allege attempts at creating the caste tension to polarise votes. The upper castes have often grumbled about Chief Minister Nitish Kumars Dalit politics,which includes a number sops such as land to the homeless.
Most of the Ravidas villagers work on the Rajputs fields. The village is in Chenari,a reserved assembly seat represented by the JD(U)s Shyam Bihari Ram and which,in turn,is part of the Sasaram Lok Sabha seat represented by Speaker Meira Kumar.
Nitish has not yet made a statement while the JD(U)s national spokesperson K C Tyagi says,The administration should try to resolve issues between various caste groups,but at the same time it should ensure the underprivileged are protected.
The BJP has mocked its former NDA ally. Nitishji used to be a majboot (strong) CM,now he is a majboor (helpless) CM in the absence of the BJP, BJP state president Mangal Pandey says. The party has sent a committee to prepare a report on the clash.
Of Nitishs rivals,LJP president Ramvilas Paswan says,I have always been felt Nitish was indulging too much in Dalit politics. It is time the government stopped that took all caste groups into confidence.
RJD president Lalu Prasad,who had won over both Rajputs and Yadavs in the recent Maharajganj Lok Sabha bypoll to defeat the JD(U),has not yet spoken on the violence. The partys Rajya Sabha MP Ramkripal Yadav does not link it to the split. I would not say it is a clash between the constituencies of two parties but the government must try to restore harmony, he says. It is an administrative failure and a dangerous trend; there has been a spurt in violence in the state in the last two months.
Meira Kumar visited the injured at Sasaram hospital on Saturday but refrained from making a political statement.
The tension had been building since August 13 when Ravidas villagers fenced the land for the function. Kashinath Ram,district president of the Akhil Bhartiya Ravidasiya Dharma Sangathan,says district authorities have given them the right to the land. But the upper castes want to use it to install a statue of freedom fighter Nishan Singh to show their dominance, he says.
It is government land, says Raja Ram Singh,a retired teacher. This is where we have been unfurling the flag for years; the Dalits were doing so a few metres away. There was no caste tension earlier. Singh claims five people from their side too were injured though that is not mentioned in the police injury report. We fear some people have started playing caste politics, he says.