Blinded By Greed

In the early 1980s, Indians were shocked to read media reports that the police of Bhagalpur was deliberately "blinding" criminals. What the media failed to expose was the link between corruption in the management of a unique ecology and a consequent rise in crime. All this resulted in a typical response from the Bihar police. To put an end to crime they decided to blind all the criminals.

The river Ganga tends to alter course frequently in the area known as the diara region of Bihar. Bhagalpur is one such town situated close to this region. When the flood waters recede, large tracts of silt-laden islands become available for cultivation, and with changing courses, land is eroded and new islands emerge. These islands in Bihar are the habitat of some of India's poorest people. It is also one of the most violence-prone regions in the country. The original inhabitants of these river beds were the Gangotas. The diaras were used largely as a common property resource. But these rich lands attracted the upper castes.

The state's Estate Manual, 1953, provides for an annual survey of the diara and says that the new land vacated by the river will belong to the landowner whose land was submerged. But official corruption and connivance led to usurpation of the land by the rich who can "grease" the surveyors. Instead of allotting the land to the rightful owners, the allotment went to fellows who had money. Over the years, the Gangotas lost all their lands, turned violent and became "criminals".

Therefore, it is not surprising that those "blinded" were mostly Gangotas. Even the residents of Bhagalpur fully supported the police. A case which began with petty corruption ultimately corrupted the entire society.