In the sprawling rural Bihar, elected head of the village panchayats, known as 'mukhiyas' are living in fear in view of increasing threat to their lives.
Only last week, Nepali Yadav, a mukhiya of Shahpur Dharmi panchayat in Katihar district, was shot dead by unidentified people.
According to police record, more than half a dozen mukhiyas have been killed in the last six months in the state. In March, Chhotu Kushwaha, mukhiya of Sonhattu panchayat in Aurangabad district, was shot dead that triggered widespread protests.
In July, Baby Devi, mukhiya of Gorkhari panchayat in Patna district, was shot dead allegedly by a local criminal.
In September, deputy mukhiya Dasrath Kewat was killed in Nawada district followed by killing of Shivmohan Singh, mukhiya of Sukhi panchayat in Vaishali district.
In early October Sudesh Kumar Singh, mukhiya of Karma panchayat under Daudnagar block in Aurangabad district, was shot dead by unidentified criminals when he was returning home on his motorcycle after attending a social function.
Till date seven mukhiyas have been killed in Motihari, 4 in Begusarai, 3 each in Aurangabad, Muzaffarpur, 2 each in Katihar, Patna, Sitamarhi,and Munger districts.
The killing of at least one mukhiya has been reported from Siwan, Chhapra, Ara, Sheikhpura, Jehanabad, Nalanda, Gopalganj, Nawada, Banka, Madhubani and Saharsa districts.
Facing threat to their lives, mukhiyas have sought bodyguards for their safety and security, a police official said on Tuesday.
"We are living in fear because of threat from Maoists, criminals and others," Furqan Khan, a mukhiya of a panchayat in Aurangabad told Rediff.com over telephone.
"More than 500 mukhiyas including over 300 in Maoist-hit districts of and 100 in flood-prone north Bihar districts have demanded bodyguards for security," a senior police posted at police headquarters in Patna said.
In several districts, mukhiyas have approached district administration recently and demanded bodyguards.
The spate of killings of village headmen started immediately after 2010 panchayat poll in Bihar and the killing has continued unabashedly.
Not to speak about murderous attacks on the lives of dozens others in the last two years. In most cases, the targets were either injured or escaped unhurt.
"Maoists demand levy from us and threatened with dire consequences if not paid. We are functioning in rural area where Maoists terror matters a lot for everyone," another mukhiya said.
Mukhiyas in Gaya, Aurangabad, Jamui, Munger, Sitamarhi
Rohtas, Nawada, Sheohar are Arwal districts are frightened due to the Maoist threat.
In these districts, dozens of mukhiyas are also running their business that has made them vulnerable to the Maoist threats.
Besides, each mukhiya has a budget of Rs 80-90 lakh a year at their disposal as they control up to 31
development schemes,including MNREGA and the Indira Awas Yojana in panchayat.
In Bihar, there are 8,442 village body heads, 8,422 sarpanchs, 1,15,542 panchayat members, 1,15,542 panchs, 11,534 panchayat samiti members and 1,162 zila parishad members.
In 2006, Bihar became the first state in India to give 50 percent
reservation to women in the panchayats.
In Bihar, for politicians, businessmen and contractors, gun toting bodyguards are a craze; however, the mukhiyas have been left to fend for their own security.
According to police sources, nearly 4,000 VIPs including MPs, legislators, former MPs, former legislators, top officials, businessmen, contractors and others have been provided police protection by the state government.