South Asia

Former bandit spearheads Indian state's anti-Maoist war

Ram Bachchan Yadav and his militia
Image caption Mr Yadav has formed his own militia to fight the Maoists (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

Maoist rebels in the Indian state of Bihar are up against a formidable enemy which does not come in the shape of the army or the security forces.

A former "most wanted" bandit is now at the forefront of the campaign against them.

And it seems that the rebels - who say they are fighting an armed insurrection on behalf of rural landless labourers and the poor in more than a third of India's 600-odd districts - are not sure how to respond to him.

The Maoist insurgency has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's biggest internal security threat.


In the Maoist-controlled hills of the Kaimur-Rohtas plateau in the south-west part of the state Ram Bachchan Yadav - alias Pehalwanji - is a name which spells terror among the guerrillas.

Sexagenarian Mr Yadav lives and moves around in the hilly forest tracts where even the most elite forces of Indian police dare not to visit.

Last month Mr Yadav and his men had an 18-hour long firefight with the Maoists at Rehal village.

Mr Yadav and his militia of 30-35 members not only forced the Maoists to flee from the area but also captured four of them, including a zonal commander.

Later, they trekked 18.6 miles (30km) to reach the nearest police station and hand over the captured Maoists and their cache of arms and ammunition.

So far, Mr Yadav and his men say that they have foiled more than six major Maoist attacks in the Kaimur-Rohtas hills, which were once infamous for lawlessness.

The father of four - he has two young sons and two married daughters - says his declared purpose in life is to remove Maoists from the Kaimur-Rohtas hills for good.

'Maoist hit-list'

"I appeal to all to arise and awake against the Maoist menace... and participate in country's freedom struggle.

"We've to fight for our freedom again from the red rebels," Mr Yadav told the BBC.

He says that the militia he has formed - the Kaimur Shanti Sena (KSS, or Kaimur Peace Keeping Force) - was established to achieve this.

"With about 20 rifles, 15 double-barrel guns and these young volunteers, I fight the Maoists and have been successfully chasing them away," he says.

"I believe in myself and the cause I'm fighting for."

Kaimur district police chief Pradeep Kumar Shrivastva says that Mr Yadav and his team have reduced "insurgency incidents" in the Kaimur hills.

"He is on top of the Maoist hit-list," says Mr Shrivastva, who says that Mr Yadav is not doing anything illegal.

"If the KSS operates solely to defend themselves, the law doesn't come in their way."

There are about 168 villages on the hilly terrain of the Kaimur-Rohtas plateau and the bordering area of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Up until now it has been a safe hideout for the Maoists.

The police say that the rebels have heavily mined the area so that they are unable to combat them without full preparations.

"They have often blown up police vehicles, schools and government buildings in the area," Mr Shrivastva said.

But Mr Yadav has not always been fighting the Maoists.

He was released from six years in jail in 1993 and was living a "peaceful life" until the Maoists banned the collection of wood in forests and the grazing of cows for milking purposes.

He said that this move created "serious livelihood problems" for milkmen of the Yadav caste of Bihar. Yadavs are traditionally farmers who graze cattle.

Mr Yadav strongly opposed this Maoist diktat and also their abduction in July of 17 Yadav caste villagers.

They were released only after their guns and other weapons were confiscated.

Soon afterwards he formed the KSS.

"I'll keep fighting them till my last breath," he says.

"Give me more licensed weapons and I'll make Kaimur-Rohtas hills free from the Maoists in a month."


To hear the story of Mr Yadav's "personal turnaround" first hand - as I did while travelling through the dense forestry that surrounds his village - it's tempting to compare it with any Bollywood movie of the late 1960s and 70s.

Image caption Mr Yadav has built up a rapport with the local community

Accused in 104 cases with a huge reward on his head from the central government, Mr Yadav was literally a brigand throughout the 1980s.

At that time he was the most wanted man not only in the Kaimur-Rohtas area but also in Uttar Pradesh.

He argues that he took up arms to counter other bandits of the area.

Whatever the truth, the bloody war between them claimed the lives of dozens of people.

With all his rivals eliminated, Mr Yadav surrendered in September 1987 and was only released from jail in January 1993.

He says that he has now been acquitted in 101 of the 104 cases against him - and the remainder are "false".

But the strong likelihood is that no-one dares to give evidence against him in a court of law.

"I'm forced to take up guns to fight against the Maoists and those who are with Maoists are my enemy," he says.

It seems as if the authorities could do with all the help they can get.

The state police record says that out of a total of 38 districts in Bihar, 31 are Maoist-affected - and 20 of them, including the Kaimur-Rohtas area, come under the "most sensitive" category.

In the last five years, Bihar has had 56 Maoists attacks in which 125 policemen were killed.

Only last month the rebels killed seven policemen, injured 10 and abducted four of them in an incident which saw the state government effectively held to ransom for a week.

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