Bihar Police: United in khaki, divided by caste barracks

FP
When they are in uniform and on duty, they are constables of Bihar Police, responsible for protecting the life and liberty of people across caste and community divides in a state that had gained notoriety for its lawlessness. But when they return to their barracks, they are Yadavs, Bhumihars, Brahmins, Paswans, Rajputs, Muslims, SCs and STs. They live and sleep in areas segregated on the basis of caste and community and eat from kitchens earmarked on the same lines.

The reputation of the Bihar Police to fight crime and maintain peace may have begun to slowly change for the better in recent years, but the force has not been able to get rid of its deeply entrenched caste divisions despite attempts by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, The Sunday Express has found. In 2006, Kumar had ordered the then home secretary Hem Chandra Sirohi to "dismantle caste barracks and kitchens in police lines", but nothing happened after a preliminary inquiry.

About 30,000 constables and head constables of the total force of 70,000 live in barracks across 40 police districts in the state. And officers admit that caste divisions are a reality in most barracks where the constables have the luxury of even a little space to create segregated areas. Nowhere is this more stark than at the Patna Police Lines barracks, a decrepit complex of large halls that is home to about 3,000 constables.

The complex has 14 barracks with each measuring 75 ft x 20 ft. Barrack 1 is shared by Bhumihar, Yadav and Paswan constables. Metal trunks containing the constables' belongings are lined inside from wall to wall to separate the three caste areas and the areas have their own entrances. Barrack 2 is for Bhumihars and Brahmins, 3 for Bhumihars and Rajputs, 4 for Rajputs, 5 for Rajputs and Brahmins, 6 for Muslims and OBCs, 7 for Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars, 8 for Muslims and Bhumihars, 9 for Yadavs and other OBCs and 10 for Rajputs, Brahmins and Muslims.

The remaining four barracks, which have asbestos roofs, are for SC and ST constables. The 11 kitchens include one each for Rajputs, Brahmins, Muslims and Bhumihars, two for Yadavs, three for SCs and STs and two common facilities. The 3,000 men come together only when they have to use the 20 toilets or 18 taps and that too because there are so few of them and cannot be divided. And they treat the divisions as a matter of fact.

"We have been living like this for several years. Our seniors have little time to think about such things. When they are not able to provide us basic amenities, expecting them to dismantle caste barracks is a tall ask", said one head constable who did not want to be named. Although the segregated areas are not announced with boards of the caste names they are meant for, a more subtle system is in place. The names of constables on their metal trunks used to mark territories indicate their caste and work as lines of control.

At Barrack 8, for instance, the trunks have names such as Pyare Ahmed Khan and Mohammed Sabojan. Some others do not have any names but belong to Muslim constables. "When the government has failed to get rid of caste barracks, it should not be such a surprise that Muslims have separate barracks," said a Muslim constable who was getting ready for his 9 am shift.

Constables said that some flexibility is shown to a colleague visiting from another district. "he can eat in the kitchen of other castes for a day or two but ultimately he has to go to his caste kitchen," said a Rajput constable. A cook at a Paswan kitchen said that there is a "government kitchen" for all castes but it has only 60 members. "Caste kitchens are a sad reality but nothing can be done about it," he said.

But constable Vijay Kumar Singh says the questions that need to be raised are bigger than those involving caste. "Has anyone thought that there is a three-acre space for one police officer and another three acres housing 3,000 of us," he said, referring to the huge bungalows in which most senior IPS officers live.

State police chief Abhayanand, however, condoned the caste barracks. "Caste barrack is a sad and unfortunate truth. As policemen live disorganized lives in the barracks, they feel a sense of security with fellow caste groups," he told The Sunday Express. "With new barracks coming up, there can be more spaces for them and caste barracks will automatically dismantle".

Asked why policemen cannot be allotted barracks in order of seniority or even randomly, the DGP said: "There is no system of allotting barracks. There has been no policy-level discussion on it during my tenure."

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