Nitish Kumar: Upper castes are bitter and angry, his backward bastion is confused
The rage has not ebbed here. A group of villagers gather around the memorial to those killed on the night of December 1, 1997 — on a marble slab set in a brick wall are etched the name and age of every one of the massacre's 58 victims, from the youngest, Chhote Lal, aged one, to Chhakiya Devi, 60. All the victims belonged to the lower castes, mostly Dalits. In October, the Patna High Court acquitted all 26 accused, Bhumihars and Rajputs.
"Fifty-eight died and yet this government says there was no murder. Why not let all the poor be killed, thrown into the river?" asks Bodh Paswan. "If the massacre happened in Lalu's time, justice has been killed in Nitish's regime," he says. "We had high hopes from Nitish. But this court decision has destroyed it all," says ex-mukhiya Ram Saroop.
Barely half a kilometre away, questions about the 1997 massacre are met with stony silence on the upper caste side of the village. Jitender Yadav is the only one willing to talk: "It's a court decision. What can we say? It was a dark winter night, so cold and rainy that nobody could step out." But when the conversation veers to the Nitish government, others join in, angrily. "There is only the road in the name of development," says Sahib Singh. "No hospital, and no clean water." "Our part of the village has no water tank, or solar light. Our lane is unpaved, while theirs (lower castes') is paved. It's all because of the backward-forward divide," says Alok Singh.
And then he puts into words an old upper-caste discomfort that is increasingly rearing its head again in the aftermath of the BJP-JD(U) breakup: "Mukhiya seats have been reserved for lower castes, even where the forward castes are larger in number."