The leader of a controversial private militia in one of the most lawless and backward parts of India was found murdered by unknown gunmen.
Brahmeswar Singh was chief of the Ranvir Sena, an army of upper-caste soldiers who reportedly killed hundreds of low-caste villagers in the northeastern state of Bihar, a rural region where ancient feudal practices still hold sway.
The group was formed twenty years ago and battled not only lower-caste people but also Maoists who agitated for the rights of landless laborers against wealthy landowners.
In one particularly gruesome incident in 1997, the Ranvir Sena allegedly massacred almost five dozen Dalits (Untouchables). The group has also been implicated in numerous thefts and rapes over the years. The Bihar state government officially banned the organization in 1995.
In April 2012, twenty three members of Ranvir Sena were acquitted of carrying out a massacre of 21 people (mostly women and children) in Bathanu Tola in 1996.
Singh was shot down in Arrah in the Bhojpur district of Bihar. He had denied allegations of mass murder by his organization and spent nine years in prison prior to his release in May of last year.
India media have called Singh the Butcher of Bihar and likened the Ranvir Sena to a terrorist group like the Ku Klux Klan of the U.S.
India media reported that the area around Arrah is under police lockdown following clashes between Ranvir Sena supporters and the local authorities.
India’s ancient caste system is deeply entrenched in Bihar, which not surprisingly is one of the poorest states in the country, with poverty levels similar to those found in sub-Saharan Africa. Bihar is also awash in violence and political corruption on a scale not seen in other parts of India.
This combination of indigence and harsh feudal values make Bihar one of the most dangerous parts of India. Upper-caste Biharis live entirely separate lives from their lower-caste neighbors and Muslims. In some villages, even the water wells are separated by caste.
Incidents of sexual affairs or marriage between people of different castes or religions frequently lead to the murder of one of both parties (and sometimes even their relatives).
While the local and national governments have taken steps to stamp out caste-based discrimination and violence (for example, setting aside a certain percentage of university seats to low-caste students, somewhat akin to Affirmative Action measures in the U.S.), caste conflicts remain endemic across much of India, but particularly in violent Bihar.