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India upper-caste militia leader brahmeshwar singh slain - Luxury Hotel Bathrobes Manufacturer by airbru airbru

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India upper-caste militia leader brahmeshwar singh slain - Luxury Hotel Bathrobes Manufacturer by
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India upper-caste militia leader brahmeshwar singh slain - Luxury Hotel Bathrobes Manufacturer

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NEW DELHI — Brahmeshwar Singh, a wealthy landlord known as the"Butcher of Bihar," was killed in a hail of bullets Friday whiletaking his morning walk, ending a notorious chapter in Indianhistory. Singh, 67, the leader of a banned militia of upper-caste membersknown as Ranvir Sena, hit the headlines in the 1990s after he andfellow landlords were accused of the massacre of scores oflower-caste Dalits, or so-called untouchables, in central Biharstate. As news of his killing spread, supporters gathered in Singh'shometown of Arrah, yelling antigovernment slogans, burning vehiclesand chasing away police who sought to recover his body for anautopsy. Authorities attempted to maintain order by imposing acurfew.

"On hearing the sound of guns, people came and saw him lying on theground dead," local Police Chief Ajitabh Kumar said by telephone,adding that the situation was tense but under control. "Aninvestigation is underway. We can't say at this point who'sresponsible." The Sena, or "army," was formed in 1994 by landlords who feltthreatened by the state's changing political winds, includinglouder calls for Dalit rights and land reform as well as a growingnumber of attacks on the wealthy by Maoists. Singh, who took over the group a few months after it was formed,was suspected of planning or directly participating in as many as29 incidents in which more than 200 Dalits were killed.

In 1996, 23 were killed ina village in Bhojpur district and in 1997 about 60 were slain inthe state's Lakshmanpur Bathe area. Little effort was made to hide the killings in Bihar, a state witha serious law-and-order problem and a centuries-old feudalstructure that viewed landholders as a law unto themselves,analysts said. The attacks "were carried out openly during the day and at night,"said Ajit Kumar Singh, a research fellow and Bihar native with NewDelhi's Institute for Conflict Management. "Sometimes victims wereshot, sometimes butchered." Singh went underground for several years after the group wasbanned, but he retained significant support among Bihar's uppercaste and would periodically hold high-profile news conferences. "He became sort of a celebrity," said Sankarshan Thakur, an editorwith the Telegraph newspaper and author of a book on Bihar'spolitical system.

"He knew how to work the system." In 2002, Singh was arrested and faced life in prison on "carnage"charges. He spent nine years behind bars awaiting trial underIndia's creaky legal system before being released on bail last yearand subsequently acquitted for insufficient evidence. "In the entire India, cases are dependent on witnesses," saidChandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit activist. "If no one says they clearlysaw the killings, that's how these guys get away." Local journalist Gyaneshwar, who uses one name, interviewed Singhin 1999 and described him as a natural leader with clear, forcefularguments and good organizational skills, who set up teams in whichmembers were designated to undertake specific roles in massacres. "He was proud and unabashed about what he was doing," Gyaneshwarsaid.

"Ranvir Sena was at its prime then, and he told me thatwithin a month they will kill people." A month later, on Feb. 9,1999, the group killed 23 Dalits, including women and children, inJehanabad district. Devendra Kumar Singh, 60, a colleague of Singh's who is not relatedto him, said the slain leader was inspirational, read two books aday and never lost his temper. "He was the [Mahatma] Gandhi forfarmers," he said. "A personality like his is only born once everymillion years." Gyaneshwar said his interview with Singh was cloaked in secrecy,involving a night spent in a roadside restaurant to ensure hewasn't being followed, a three-mile walk to a hide-out and apromise not to publish anything for two days to give Singh time tomove to a new location.

Singh dressed in simple traditional Indianclothing, including a skirt-like dhoti , and had a simple demeanor, the journalist said. "Indian politics is caste-dominated," Gyaneshwar said. "The Bihargovernment wasn't interested in dealing with caste issues, fearingthe consequences, so it just sat on the side as mute spectators." Tanvi Sharma in The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to thisreport.

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