‘When we come to barracks, we first find out where our samaj is staying’

National

Bhojpur has always been caste-sensitive, Bhagalpur communally sensitive. The first district has seen 27 caste massacres with 173 deaths since 1976, and was the power centre of the Ranbir Sena, the now disbanded upper caste army. Bhagalpur in 1989 saw riots that left 1,070 dead, mostly Muslims.

When Ranbir Sena chief Barmeshwar Singh Mukhiya was shot dead in Ara in Bhagalpur on June 1 this year, the fear was therefore about a caste backlash. The Ara police lines sent all 400 personnel out on the roads.

They came out of barracks that are casteist in themselves. The Ara police lines have 16 barracks in four double-storey buildings. One building is occupied by the upper castes, the floors of another are split between SCs, OBC Yadavs and Muslims, and the third is occupied largely by OBCs, except for one of the barracks that hosts Rajputs. The segregation is more comfortable than in Patna, which is crunched for space.

In Bhagalpur, the division is not barrack by barrack, but within each barrack. The five barracks, called Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari and Kaveri, pack together over 550 policemen, some 90 of them Muslim. Any policeman has to share his 60 × 20 barrack with others not of his community. The space for each community has been clearly earmarked, by mutual understanding.

Divided by barracks

With only three kitchens, the Ara lines limit the policemen's options. They have to share food cooked in the same ovens. When they eat, however, it is in caste groups, some in the kitchens and some carrying their dishes to the barracks of their own caste. The Muslim policemen have one of the kitchens to their own.

Most policemen take pride in being caste-conscious. "We are policemen as long as we are in uniform. Otherwise, we are various caste groups bundled into the barracks," says a constable.

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