In Bihar's Village of IITians, Vote Engineering Hinges on Caste and a Heinous Murder
The Patwa Toli community have been long-time supporters of the BJP. However, reservation demands and the recent murder of a member could change the political dynamics.
The south Bihar village is traditionally known for its weaver's community.
Gaya: A small settlement in south Bihar’s Gaya, Patwa Toli was put on the map for its disproportionate number of IIT graduates. Traditionally known for its weavers, the village has little in common with its immediate neighbours. The usual sound of mooing cows found in other villages in the state dims under the clamour of weaving machines.
Long winding lanes with active looms on both sides are an indication of good business. Though there is no sign of affluence in the traditional weavers' settlement, the older generations are not complaining. Almost every family now has an engineer settled outside Bihar, most of them IIT graduates.
Prem Narayan Patwa, the head of the weaving community which comprises 1,400 households, says they have sent 180 students to IITs and that 30 families originating from there are now settled in the US. “One family has seven IITians. If you count all our boys and girls in engineering colleges, the number will be 800,” he says.
However, with the first phase of polling in the Lok Sabha constituency almost a week away, the topics of discussions seldom revolve around education and business.
"We have been traditional voters of the BJP. But this time, there are two reasons why we may be inclined to change our mind," says Narayan Patwa.
On January 6, the beheaded and mutilated body of a girl belonging to Patwa Toli was found in a nearby field, almost 10 days after she went missing.
The girl’s parents were arrested on suspicion of killing her over an alleged affair. Police also arrested a friend of the girl’s father and detained five others.
While Gaya Police have been investigating the ‘honour killing’ angle, the Patwa community has refuted the theory, accusing them of shielding a local youth who belongs to an influential family.
Wazirganj DSP Abhijit Kumar Singh, however, denied the allegations, saying the sister recorded her statement under Section 164 of the CrPC and did not complain of any “police duress or torture”. News18.com reached out to the aggrieved family who refused to comment on the matter.
"I have written to both the chief minister and the deputy chief minister to look into this, but they have taken no notice. Police authorities here are protecting the perpetrators because they belong to the Rajput community. We have taken out candle marches as well, but all in vain," says Prem Narayan Patwa, fondly referred to as Netaji in the area.
“We are loyal voters despite the fact that the government never did anything for us. This community has got everything through hard work. But this is a very serious matter. This may force the community to reconsider our electoral preference," says Prem Narayan.
He further elaborates that they have been voting for the BJP since the time of Ishwar Choudhary, a popular BJP MP from Gaya, who was murdered in 1991.
The choice for an electoral representative is also proving to be difficult this time since the electoral fray doesn’t enclose any clear caste preference. Grand alliance candidate Jitam Ram Manjhi and NDA contestant Vijay Kumar Manjhi belong to the Musahar community, who are Scheduled Castes.
The state of Bihar puts Patwas in the category of Other Backward Class (OBC).
Patwa Toli became politically important for parties after Jitendra Prasad became the first in the community to crack the IIT entrance in 1991. Prasad’s feat was accompanied with a spike in business in the region. "Parties now showcase our example as a model for development and thus we are important for them," says Prem Narayan.
“Jitendra helped other kids study and thus the string of children getting into IITs began. The seniors set up an organisation called Nav Prayas to help students. They come during their vacation and set up coaching classes," he adds.
Before Jitendra showed the way, there was hardly a graduate in the neighbourhood. The general pattern was to complete school and take up weaving as a profession. “Our women were illiterate. Today, more than a dozen of our daughters are studying engineering. They are married in cities outside India.”
Another opposition that the community has against the ruling NDA government in the state is in regard with the granting of the SC/ST status.
The community has long been demanding that they be granted SC/ST status but, with no avail. According to Prem Narayan, since the Patwas marry their daughters with Tantis, who have been given SC/ST status, they should be considered equals. “Why are we being denied the same representation," he says.
The Tantis have been granted the status of Schedule Castes in Bihar under the 1976 modification by a Presidential Order.
"We as a community have protested against this in Patna, but the government paid no heed to us. This has caused major dissatisfaction in the people," he says.
He further elaborates that Patwas are doing exceedingly well in academics and the Bihar government has suspended the OBC scholarship scheme. "The state is harming us both ways, right? No scholarships and no representation.”
However, it still remains to be seen which way the electorate in this village of IITians might swing. Even after listing the community's many discontentments with the Nitish Kumar government, Prem Narayan says, “But we have no problem with Narendra Modi."
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