A mob burst on the scene as night fell. Equipped with hockey sticks, bricks, stones, firearms and crude bombs it prepared for an assault.
“You are Harijans,” it yelled. “You have no right to read and write. Your work is to mend shoes and chappals. We will keep you as servants in our houses. Your ancestors did the same work. You leave the hostel or else there will be a massacre.” This is part of a police statement given by a Dalit student residing in the Bhimrao Ambedkar Welfare Hostel of Patna University (PU) facility.
Last week, the hostel witnessed fierce caste violence in which three Dalit students were injured.
“Around 30 men came shouting Brahmeshwar Mukhiya zindabad, Mukhiya amar rahe [Long live the Mukhiya] and Ambedkar ko phuk do [Destroy Ambedkar]. They stood outside the hostel and started throwing stones. They dragged and beat up a student. Firing shots and bombs rent the air. We ran inside the hostel. All we had to defend against the armed attack were brick pieces used to support the cots in our room,” Satyaprakash, a student at the Ambedkar hostel, told The Hindu.
‘Mukhiya’ refers to the slain Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh.
Located in Patna’s ‘coaching district’, the hostel forms part of the Saidpur hostel campus of PU. Facing it is a cluster of five hostels for general category students, collectively called the ‘Saidpur hostel’, which has gained notoriety over the years for nurturing hooligans and becoming a virtual den of anti-socials from the landowning Bhumihar caste, particularly from the badlands of Jehanabad district.
“While students from other castes reside in the Saidpur hostel, since very early days, it has been dominated by the “so-called” students of the landlord caste, mostly Bhumihars. The boys come mostly from Jehanabad, Gaya and Nalanda districts. Though it’s for all students, including those from SC, when students are enrolled, they either belong to the Saidpur hostel or the Ambedkar hostel,” official sources told The Hindu.
A clear topographical division on caste lines thus separates the two hostels. “Yahan par Jehanabad ke khas jati ke khas logon ka dabang hai [A particular caste from Jehanabad wields clout here]. Only a Jehanabad Bhumihar can stay here without being harassed. Others; say a Yadav boy comes along; he is beaten up and made to flee. The miscreants then get their own relatives to stay. Many of them don’t even know where PU is. There is a terrible situation here,” a Saidpur resident told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.
Gangster Guddu Sharma, who was shot dead in Delhi a few years ago, was a product of the Saidpur hostel. In fact, this hostel is one of the reasons why a police check post in the area was converted into a full-fledged police station in 2007.
A common power grid that supplies electricity to the entire neighbourhood is one of the key triggers for such attacks, as it was last week.
“That evening, there was a power cut at the Ambedkar hostel, but not at the Saidpur general hostel. The Ambedkar students went to the electricity office, situated on the same campus, to take stock of the mater. Seeing them, the Saidpur boys hurtled down and started hurling caste abuses, such as ‘Harijans’ ‘dusadhs’ and ‘chamars’ [all lower caste names]’,” as per another police statement of a student.
“When we asked for power supply, they said, ‘Have you ever seen light in your life?’” Satyaprakash recalled.
The official sources said, in a situation where the Ambedkar hostel had power and Saidpur hostel did not, there was immense pressure on electricity officials to cut the supply to the Ambedkar hostel. “Seeing an equal distribution of facilities stokes the caste jealousies of the Saidpur hostellers, Many times fights over power supply take the form of caste clashes,” an official source said.
“There have been times,” said a general student, “when the whole area is plunged into darkness, but only the Saidpur hostel is lit.” Disconnecting water supply to the Ambedkar hostel is another means of showing caste dominance. The tap dries up at 9 a.m. and its water is dirty. At any given point of time, a few students suffer from jaundice.
At the heart of the matter, said students, lies plain caste hatred, “a determined effort to display caste superiority.”
The police have registered an FIR under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act. Five persons — Atul Shekhar, Amit Kumar, Ashutosh Kumar, Nupendra Kumar and Shishuranjan Kumar — are under arrest.
Sources told The Hindu that the police initially arrested 10 persons, but high-level manoeuvring facilitated the release of five of them. There are also complaints that while the real fish get away, “legal students” get wrongly implicated in cases.
So acute is the problem of “illegal occupancy” that even authorities are at the end of their tether. Officials put the size of illegal occupants to a whopping 80 per cent.
“The number is so huge that once even the Special Task Force [personnel] was beaten up by them. The unauthorised boys know nothing will happen. PU does not want to interfere. Perhaps they are scared. You need the Rapid Action Force to crack down. They have been staying there for years,” an authoritative source from the university, who did not wish to named, told The Hindu.
The police, on their part, perceive a limited role for themselves in the matter. “We have raised the matter with the university in vain,” they said.
When asked, PU proctor Kirteshwar Prasad told The Hindu: “We are trying to get them vacated. We are on the job. We had written to the administration. We will write to them, namely the senior superintendent of police and the district magistrate, who are the competent authority.”
The incident received biased coverage in the press, according to the Ambedkar hostel students. “The news report in a leading Hindi daily pinned the blame on us. It said we were the ones to attack. Their numbers are huge. How can we possibly attack them” they asked.
An official source concurred. “That report is totally false. We were on the ground, we know what happened. The report paints an entirely wrong picture. The local media has played a very bad role in this.”
Despite arrests, the trouble is far from being over. There are indications that in light of this incident, the Saidpur hostel is looking at acquiring more arms. Financial contributions collected for the upcoming Saraswati puja could provide the means.
The spectre of routine caste violence looms large over the Dalit students. They dare not take the short-cut to the university, as it passes through the Saidpur hostel.