Will the Muslim militia polarise community on caste lines in Bihar's Imamganj?

Imamganj (Bihar): Dilapidated havelis and crumbling kothis of Muslim zamindars of the bygone era at Thana Kothi in Imamganj, 70 km from Gaya, still stand testimony to the power of ‘Khan Sahibs’. They built private militia of their own, comparable to the much-dreaded Ranvir Sena.

Amidst scores of private armies raised by upper caste Hindu Rajputs and Bhumihars in Bihar such as Ranvir Sena, Lorik Sena, Bhoomi Sena, Kisan Sangh and others, the ‘Sunlight Sena’ of Imamganj was one of its kind, being the only Muslim militia in Bihar that dominated the region in the ’90s.

 Will the Muslim militia polarise community on caste lines in Bihars Imamganj?

Representational image. PTI

More than 25 years after it came into existence in 1989, Sunlight Sena today has no relevance. It’s dead and over. But, it seems that the shadow of this Muslim militia would polarise the Muslims voters of Imamganj assembly constituency – between the rich upper caste and the backward caste poor Muslims. The discrimination has widened.

Interestingly, the Sunlight Sena was initially formed by two Rajput feudal lords – Ranjit Singh of Raniganj and Vinod Singh of Bisrampur - to deal with the armed squads of the Naxals of the region, comprising Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), CPI (M-L) Liberation and other ultra-Left groups, and their Dalit sympathisers. But soon, the Rajputs withdrew and handed over the private army to Muslim feudal lords – the Pathans or Khans.

"The Pathans and the Rajputs enjoyed good camaraderie, which is still there. Over the years, infighting began in the Sunlight Sena on the issue of controlling the funds. It was needed to buy arms and maintain the cadre. Ultimately, Hafeez Zafarullah Khan and Ataur Rehman Syed got the control. But, in due course, criminals and anti-social elements of the region like Aslam Raza, Ehasaan Khan, Shaukat Khan, etc. started exercising influence in the outfit and got into extortion, abduction and criminal activities. These criminals started oppressing the backward castes among Muslims such as the Ansaris,” said Mukim Ansari of Nandai panchayat speaking to Firstpost. He showed a dilapidated haveli of one of the Khans who had been a prominent figure in the Sunlight Sena.

According to village elders, Sunlight Sena was a symbol of terror in the region, which the feudal lords had formed to protect their vast stretches of land and fiefdom. “The Sunlight Sena was meant to fight out the onslaught of the ‘Naxalees’ (Naxals). In the process, the poor agricultural labourers were not allowed to voice their concern. Their voices were suppressed. Atrocities were inflicted upon the Dalits, who were apparently Naxal sympathisers,” said 75-year old Mukhtar Ansari.

Later, the criminals, posing as members of the Sunlight Sena started extortion from the Ansari community. “There were many people from our community who had left Imamganj or Bihar to work outside or do business. Some of them were well-to-do. These criminals used to pressurize the family members of such individuals living in Imamganj and extort money,” he added.

As these upper caste Muslims share comfortable relationship with the Bhumihars and Rajputs, the backward caste of Ansaris, Qureshis, Mansuris, etc, have got polarised."We won’t support Vidhan Sabha Speaker and Mahagathbandhan candidate Uday Narayan Chaudhary any longer, because, he symbolizes oppression and tyranny. After Chaudhary was elected for the first time, the Maoists attacked Muslims in villages and many were killed. Instead of helping the minorities, Chaudhary openly supported the Maoists," said Hamid Ansari of village Jondhi.

He added, "The upper caste Muslims like Khans, Sheikhs and Syeds openly abuse Ansaris and say ‘Ansari badjaat hain, inhe ladki dene ke bajaye, Hindu ke ghar mein do’ (It’s better to get your daughter married to a Hindu rather than to an ill-caste Ansari boy)."

Chaudhary is not only the assembly Speaker, but he’s also five-time MLA from Imamganj constituency. His “open association with the Maoists” has drifted backward caste Muslim voters like the Dalits, because unlike the ideology of the Left Wing Extremists (LWE), who are apparently pro-poor, pro-Dalits, the Maoist group in Bihar in several cases have sided with the upper caste Bhumihars or the Yadavs (like in the case of Chaudhary and Lalu Prasad Yadav) and killed Dalits.
This Muslim caste conflict also has a Siwan connection.

“In the past, when some Ansaris were killed by the upper caste members, the community representatives approached Syed Nizamuddin, the Amir Imarat-e-Shariat of Phulwari Sharif near Siwan district to take up their case in Delhi, but he didn’t. Instead, he lobbied for the upper caste. This has also widened the gap between the upper and backward castes. Ansaris made a big contribution in the India’s freedom movement,” explained businessman Mohd Targheeb Alam Ansari, who has a personal archive of the history of the Ansaris.

Muslims constitute 13 percent of the population in Imamganj, out of which 28,000 are Ansari voters. They are confident that former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, who’s now contesting from Imamganj as an ally of NDA, would win with a big margin.

“He’s also a victim of discrimination of the upper caste, like us. More than 50% of the Ansaris will support Manjhi. In Bihar, the caste factor matters strongly. Bringing back Lalu Prasad Yadav will prove disastrous for Bihar,” added Mukim Ansari.

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Updated Date: Oct 15, 2015 21:53:42 IST