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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 12:52 GMT
India's lawless state
Grieving relatives with a victim of caste killings
Bihar is said to average 5,000 killings each year
Bihar has the reputation of being India's most notorious and lawless state.

It is one of India's poorest areas and is racked by violent clashes between different caste and political groups.

According to one estimate made in 2003, Bihar has an average of 5,000 homicides and 12,000 other incidents of rioting and abduction per year.

From being one of India's richest areas before independence from Britain in 1947, it is now one of the country's most impoverished states.

Economists place Bihar's debt at $5bn because of which, they say, the state cannot pay for basic services.

Its infrastructure is perhaps the poorest in India: roads are notoriously dilapidated and it is renowned for its dismal lack of public services.

Millions of unemployed youth have often taken to crime and doctors and other professionals are often kidnapped for ransom.

Inequality

The reasons for Bihar's decline are manifold, but a key reason is its entrenched caste system.

Bihar village+
Infrastructure and living conditions are among the worst in India
The overwhelming majority of the population of 86 million work on the land, producing only enough food for their immediate families.

Rural Bihar is a feudal society, where caste barriers are rigidly enforced and where landowners live in palatial houses while those who work on their land live nearby in mud huts.

Linked to the caste system is Bihar's unequal distribution of wealth.

Although it has provided much of India's coal, iron ore and mineral deposits over the years, the wealth generated has remained concentrated in the hands of a small minority of businessmen.

Caste armies

The huge social divide has led to political violence between extreme left-wing insurgents, who target the landlords, and private armies maintained by the land-owners themselves.

A woman member of the PWG
The caste divide has spawned private and left-wing armies
One of the most notorious is the Ranvir Sena - an organisation that is alleged to have carried out numerous mass killings of low caste villagers.

In October, two major Indian left-wing rebel groups - the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) announced that they had merged to become the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The MCC is very active in Bihar and the development has worried the police and federal authorities.

Since the early 1990s, Bihar has also been ruled by a socialist party which is backed by low-caste Hindus, led by Laloo Prasad Yadav.

His rise to power ended years of political dominance by upper-caste leaders and parties - a reversal of power that many feel has also exacerbated tensions between the two groups.

Bihar also leads India in the number of politicians who face criminal charges ranging from rioting to murder and rape.

They have managed to take advantage of a loophole in Indian electoral law which bars anyone convicted of a crime from contesting elections, but not anyone who has been charged or is facing trial.




SEE ALSO:
Voting in Bihar's badlands
05 May 04 |  South Asia
Jail no bar for Bihar candidates
21 Apr 04 |  South Asia
Eight die in India 'caste attack'
03 Jul 04 |  South Asia
Fare-dodging transport boss fined
09 Nov 04 |  South Asia


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