While in khaki, the Bihar Police is a formidable force joining ranks to protect citizens' liberty. But at dinner time, when constables return to their barracks, they have an entirely different story to tell -- one that flies in the face of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's attempt in 2006 to overhaul the caste politics that divides the police lines and segregates them into Yadavs, Bhumihars, Paswans and Rajputs.
The 20 makeshift kitchens, or chowkas, at the police barracks of Patna city are divided by caste and policemen say "this has been the tradition for years". Although, several policemen who refused to be named for fear of offending their seniors, told Times of India that the divide was effected on the basis of "friendships".
"If you are a Yadav, you will generally have more Yadav friends. So you live together and eat together. The same is true for other castes. Also, if you are from a far off place like Darbhanga, it doesn't matter whether you are Hindu or Muslim, you will live in close proximity," the TOI report quoted one constable as saying.
No matter the friendship, the caste lines are firmly drawn.
In 2012, a detailed Indian Express report of barrack politics stated that Kumar, after a preliminary inquiry 2006, had ordered the then home secretary Hem Chandra Sirohi to dismantle caste barracks and kitchens in police lines. But clearly little had come of it, as evident in the latest TOI report.
Though cramped barracks offer limited scope of segregation, caste divisions are a reality for about 30,000 constables who live in barracks across 40 police districts in the state. Express reported, at Patna police lines, Barrack 1 is shared by Bhumihars, Yadav and Paswan constables. Metal trunks used by the constables to store their belongings in absence of cupboards, line the walls and separate the three caste areas.
Similarly, Barrack 2 is for Bhumihars and Brahmins, 3 for Bhumihars and Rajputs, 4 for Rajputs, 5 for Rajputs and Brahmins, 6 for Muslims and OBCs, 7 for Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars, 8 for Muslims and Bhumihars, 9 for Yadavs and other OBCs and 10 for Rajputs, Brahmins and Muslims, the report stated.
Meanwhile, the Patna barracks, housing thousands of the force, are crumbling. The sleeping areas are cramped and "major renovations are also a problem because we don't have a place where we can shift these people to allow repair work to begin," a senior officer told TOI.
Caste lines are obliterated only when policemen have to use the limited facilities -- 20 toilets or 18 taps -- for over 3000 men, Express reported.
There are Muslim barracks too. "When the government has failed to get rid of caste barracks, it should not be such a surprise that Muslims have separate barracks," a Muslim constable told the Express.
National Crime Records Bureau numbers have shown that Bihar ranks as the top state for caste-based killings. Elections in Bihar have always been fought on caste lines. And to no one's surprise, both the Grand Alliance of Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress, and the NDA have decided their candidature based on caste breakups -- with backward castes dominating the lion's share of the list.