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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 08:35 GMT
Killing spree over electricity lines
By Amarnath Tewary
Bhagalpur, Bihar

Electric poles at Khutaha village
Power still eludes Khutaha despite new electric poles Pics: Prashant Ravi
Fifteen years and 19 murders later, electricity still eludes two villages in the lawless Indian state of Bihar.

People in Koyli and Khutaha in power-scarce Bhagalpur district have been killing each other since 1991 in a bloody war to light up their villages.

In a state where only 10% of the homes have electricity and per capita consumption is a mere 60kwh compared to the Indian average of 354kwh, electricity remains elusive for most people.

The killing spree over power in the two villages began in 1991 when district electricity officials set up a pair of cement electric poles along with a transformer in Koyli.

It was the first time since independence in 1947 that the authorities had woken up to the need of providing electricity to the area.

Vengeful

Incensed villagers in neighbouring Khutaha uprooted the poles and carried them away to their village at night thinking that the move would help them in getting electricity faster.

When the Koyli villagers discovered, they attacked their neighbours.

A three-hour-long gun battle between members of the two villages in April 1991 left one person dead and two others wounded. All of them were from Khutaha.

Three years later, Koyli took its revenge - three residents of Khutaha were gunned down in June 1994.

A few months later, Khutaha villagers killed two brothers from Koyli. Koyli again retaliated a year later - and the killings continued.

Since 1991, Koyli has lost 12 residents and Khutaha seven of its people in viciously vengeful battles over electricity.

Rajkumar Yadav of Khutaha shows the picture of his father who was killed in the fight over power
Rajkumar Yadav says the situation "is tense, but under control"
All the while, electricity has continued to elude the warring villages, even as many surrounding villages were lit up.

The situation became so bad that about 200 families from the two villages moved out to other places in Bhagalpur.

"There is no way out except migrate because anybody could get killed any time in this war over electricity," says Ravindra Yadav, the head of Khutaha.

There has been no fighting since 2000, but an uneasy calm has prevailed ever since.

"You can best sum up the situation as tense but under control," says Rajkumar Yadav, whose father was murdered in the power wars.

'Historic'

The villagers have also deposited $4,000 with the authorities for electrification.

The electricity department again arrived with fresh poles in April and set them up in both villages - but they have not been wired yet. They promised connections within two months.

Six months later, the villagers are still waiting.

"If they keep their promise, it will be a historic occasion for the two villages," says Baloo Yadav from Khutaha.

Khutaha and Koyli are not remote Bihar villages - they are just eight kilometres (five miles) away from the bustling town of Bhagalpur.

Old electric poles in Koyli village
The first electric poles were installed in 1991
Over 70% of its people are literate and many work in government jobs. A Koyli villager even topped the state bureaucracy examinations in 1998.

But all this has not helped the village to get the attention of the authorities 59 years after independence.

Things may be changing for the better now, officials say.

"Recent village council elections were peaceful. It seems that the two villages are ready to forget their bloody pasts," says Bhagalpur district magistrate Vipin Kumar.

Residents of both villagers are certainly hoping so.


SEE ALSO
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Voting in Bihar's badlands
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Jail no bar for Bihar candidates
21 Apr 04 |  South Asia
Eight die in India 'caste attack'
03 Jul 04 |  South Asia
India's lawless state
16 Nov 04 |  South Asia

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