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Human Rights Watch today condemned the Bihar state government for refusing to heed warnings that the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper caste landlords, was planning a revenge attack on lower caste villagers. Yesterday, gunmen belonging to the uppercaste Hindu militia killed twelve people in an attack on two neighboring villages in the Gaya district, south of the state capital, Patna. According to press reports, the victims included four women and a baby. The hands of some victims were reportedly bound together before they were shot. The killings were in apparent retaliation for the killing of thirtyfive upper caste villagers by Maoist guerrillas last month.

As rival political parties in New Delhi struggle to form a new government, violence against the country's most marginalized groups continues. In a 291-page report released on April 14, “Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's ‘Untouchables,’” Human Rights Watch documented other recent incidents of violence in Bihar in which private militias like the Ranvir Sena have killed Dalit villagers with impunity. Extremist guerrilla groups have retaliated by killing highcaste villagers, leading to an escalating cycle of violence. Such attacks on civilians constitute violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch has called for independent investigations into the killings and for the disarming of the militias. The group has also urged that authorities provide full security to villagers against further Ranvir Sena attacks.

"The government's failure to stop the Ranvir Sena this time and protect these Dalit villages amounts to criminal negligence," said Patti Gossman, senior researcher for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

The Ranvir Sena, which is one of the most prominent militias, has been responsible for the massacre of more than 400 Dalit villagers in Bihar between 1995 and 1999. Within a span of three weeks in January and February 1999, sena members killed 34 Dalit villagers in two separate attacks. On March 19, 1999, members of the Maoist Communist Centre, a guerrilla organization with lowcaste supporters, beheaded 33 uppercaste villagers in retaliation for the sena killings.

Despite the fact that the senas frequently give warnings before they attack, little has been done to protect vulnerable villages and prevent attacks. The senas, which claim many politicians as members, operate with impunity. In some cases, police have accompanied them during their attacks and have stood by as they killed villagers in their homes. In other cases, police raids have followed attacks by the senas. The purpose of the raids is often to terrorize Dalits as a group, whether or not they are members of guerilla organizations. During the raids, the police have routinely beaten villagers, sexually assaulted women, and destroyed property. Sena leaders and police officials have never been prosecuted for such killings and abuses.

Human Rights Watch reiterates its call on the Indian government at the central and state level to implement a 1989 law banning atrocities against Dalits.

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