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Indian authorities fear caste war after slaying of "Butcher of Bihar"

Region tense after slaying of upper caste militia chief, who was allegedly responsible for the massacre of 61 Dalits in 1996
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SENARI, INDIA: Widows of upper caste Hindu landlords weep during the cremation of their husbands, who were killed by Maoist guerrillas, in 1999. On Friday, Brahmeshwar Singh, chief of an upper caste militia known as the Ranvir Sena, was killed by unidentified gunmen. A Ku Klux Klan-style outfit, the Ranvir Sena has killed dozens of lower caste Indians. Singh was allegedly a participant in several of these killings, including the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre of 61 Dalits in December 1996. (AFP/Getty Images)

The leader of a banned, upper caste militia known as "the Butcher of Bihar" was shot dead by unidentified gunmen Friday in Bihar's Bhojpur district, in an incident that authorities fear could rekindle the troubled state's bloody caste war.

According to NDTV, Brahmeshwar Mukhiya (aka Brahmeshwar Singh, according to the Hindustan Times), headed the Ranvir Sena throughout the 1990s, when the Ku Klux Klan-style outfit killed as many as 200 Dalits -- once known as "untouchables."

During the same period, Maoists representing the Dalits -- mostly landless laborers -- in the stuggle with their landlords, also killed many upper caste Hindus in the 1980s and '90s.

Brahmeshwar Mukhiya was arrested in 2002 from Patna for the murders of 21 Dalits in a village in Bhojpur in 1996, NDTV said. The Sena chief spent nine years in jail. He was released last year after a court ruled that the prosecution had not been able to prove its case against him and others accused of the massacre.

According to the Hindustan Times, Brahmeshwar "was on a morning walk when he was accosted by gunmen who pumped several bullets into him, killing him on the spot at Katira Mohalla under Nawada police station," about 50 miles from the state capital in Patna.

Though Dalits have attained new political and economic power, thanks to quotas in government jobs and higher education, discrimination and atrocities against them are still relatively common, not only in Bihar but across India. Lynchings, rapes and beatings find their way into the newspapers with depressing regularity, and opposition to affirmative action is strong even among the most sophisticated Indians.

Many still hold the Ranvir Sena chief responsible for several killings, including the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre of 61 Dalits in December 1996, the paper said.

As the news of his killing spread, hundreds of Ranvir Sena supporters gathered at the site of the killing and shouted anti-government slogans, according to the HT. They also tried to chase away policemen including the superintendent of police, who had arrived at the spot.

According to NDTV, maintaining law and order in the wake of the incident will be a major test for state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

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