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The Age of Kali: Travels and Encounters in India. William DalrympleЧитать онлайн.
Two stories I had first noticed in the news briefs of the Indian press give an idea of the seriousness of the crisis in the state.
The first was a tale of everyday life on the Bihar railways. One morning in October 1996, the Rajdhani Express from New Delhi to Calcutta made an unscheduled stop at Gomoh, a small station in southern Bihar. Mumtaz Ansari, the local Member of Parliament, got in to the first-class compartment. With him were three security guards. Neither Ansari nor his henchmen had tickets, but they nevertheless turfed out of their seats four passengers with reservations. When one of them, a retired government official, had the temerity to protest at his eviction, Ansari answered that it was he who made the laws, so he had the right to break them. When the old man continued to protest, the MP waved his hand and ordered the guards to beat him up. At the next stop Ansari was received by a crowd of supporters, including another MP and ten of his armed retainers. They dragged the retired official out of the carriage and continued the work begun by Ansari’s guards. As the train pulled out, the old man was left bleeding on the platform.
The second story was a tale of life in the Bihar civil service. In October 1994, a young graduate named G. Krishnaiah received his posting as District Magistrate of Gopalganj, a remote and anarchic district of northern Bihar. It was not exactly a dream assignment: Gopalganj was renowned as one of the most lawless areas in India, and only two weeks before, Krishnaiah’s predecessor as District Magistrate had been killed by a bomb hidden in a briefcase in his office. Nevertheless, Krishnaiah was energetic and idealistic, and he set about his new job with enthusiasm, giving a brief interview to Doordashan, the Indian state television network, in which he announced a series of measures intended to turn the area around: to control crime, generate employment and uplift the Untouchables of Gopalganj.
Watching the clip now, with the young official speaking so blithely about his intention of rooting out violence, the manner of his end seems all the more horrifying. Two months later, Krishnaiah was driving along a road at dusk when he ran in to the funeral procession of a local mafia don who had been killed in a shoot-out the day before. The procession was being led by the local MP, Anand Mohan Singh, who prior to entering politics had spent most of the previous two decades as an outlaw with a price on his head: in that time the police had registered nearly seventy charges against him, ranging from murder and criminal conspiracy to kidnapping and the possession of unlicensed arms. According to statements collected by the police, Singh ‘exhorted his followers to lynch the upstart official’, whereupon the mourners surrounded Krishnaiah’s car, and one of Singh’s henchmen fired three shots at him. Krishnaiah was badly wounded but still alive. So, encouraged by Singh, the mourners pulled him from his car and slowly stoned him to death.
That a sitting MP could be arrested for ordering a crowd to lynch and murder a civil servant was bad enough, but what happened next reveals quite how bad things have become in Indian politics in recent years. Anand Mohan Singh was arrested, but from his prison cell he contested and retained his seat in the 1996 general election, later securing bail to attend parliament. He recently distinguished himself during a parliamentary debate by snarling, ‘Say that again and I’ll come and break your teeth’ at an opponent on the other side of the Lok Sabha debating chamber. Justice in India being what it is, few believe that the police now have much chance of bringing a successful prosecution.
Over the years, my friends explained, violence had come to totally dominate almost every aspect of life in Bihar. It was said that in Patna no one bothered buying second-hand cars any more; instead armed gangs stopped vehicles in broad daylight, then forced the drivers to get out and sign pre-prepared sale deeds. As the Bihari government was too poor to pay the contractors who carried out public works, the contractors had been compelled to start kidnapping the government’s engineers and bureaucrats in order to get their bills paid. Other contractors, desperate for business, had taken to wreaking violence on each other: one report I had seen described a shoot-out in Muzaffarpur between the goondas of competing engineering companies after tenders had been put out to build a minor bridge in an obscure village. In some upper-caste areas, the burning of Untouchables had become so common that it was now almost an organised sport. Various lower-caste self-defence forces had formed in reaction, and were said to be busily preparing for war in villages they had rechristened with names like Leninnagar and Stalinpur. There were now estimated to be ten major private armies at work in different parts of Bihar; in some areas the violence had spun completely out of control, and was approaching a situation of civil war.
Bad things went on in Bihar, my friends told me: that was just the way it was. But the singularly horrific nature of the Barra massacre stuck in my mind, and a year later, when I found myself in Patna, I decided to hire a car and go and visit the village.
The road leading to Barra from Patna was much the worst I had ever travelled on in five years of living in India: although it was one of the principal highways of Bihar, potholes the size of bomb craters pitted its surface. On either side, the rusting skeletons of dead trucks lined the route like a succession of mementi mori.
As we drove, I had the feeling that I was leaving the twentieth century far behind. First the electricity pylons came to a halt. Then cars and trucks disappeared from the road; even the rusting skeletons vanished. In the villages, wells began to replace such modern luxuries as hand-pumps. We passed the odd pony trap, and four men carrying a palanquin. The men flagged us down and warned us about highwaymen. They told us to be off the roads by dark.
Eventually, turning right along a dirt track, we came to Barra. It was a small, ancient village raised above the surrounding fields on an old earthen tell. Its population was entirely Bhumihar: Brahmins who had converted to Buddhism at the time of the Emperor Ashoka, around 300 BC, and who had then been denied readmittance to the priestly caste when Indian Buddhism was wiped out by an aggressive Hindu revival a thousand years later. Bhumihars were still high-caste, but they had never quite regained the top place in the caste pyramid they had lost 250 years before the Romans first arrived in Britain.
I was taken around Barra by Ashok Singh, one of the two male survivors of the massacre. He walked me over to an embankment where a small white monument had been erected to the memory of the forty-two murdered villagers. A hot wind blew in from the fields; dust-devils swirled in the dried-out paddy. I asked: ‘How did you escape?’
‘I didn’t,’ he said. And pulling off a scarf, he showed me the lurid gash left by the sickle which had sliced off the back of his neck. ‘They cut me then left me for dead.’
Ashok began to describe, in detail, what had happened. He said that, as normal, he had gone to bed after eating his supper at eight thirty. The week before, there had been an atrocity when the Savarna Liberation Front, the (upper-caste) Bhumihar militia, had gang-raped and killed ten Harijan (Untouchable) women in the next district; but Barra was far from there, and no one was expecting trouble. Ashok, his brothers, father and uncle were all asleep on their charpoys when they were woken by the sound of explosions at ten thirty. They were frightened, and went to the women’s part of the house to alert their wives and mothers. The explosions and the sound of gunfire came closer. Then a burning splint was thrown on to the thatch of their roof. At the same time there was a shout from outside that everyone should come out and give themselves up, or else burn to death.
‘As soon as the roof caught fire my uncle and I began trying to put out the blaze. We didn’t take any notice of what was being shouted, so eventually these low people had to break down the door and drag us all out. There were hundreds of them, armed with guns, spears, bows, lathis and sickles. They left the women by our house, but they tied the men up with lengths of cloth.’
‘Did they say where they were from? What militia they were part of?’
‘No, but they were local men. We could tell by their accents. At first they left us lying where we were as they destroyed all the village houses