Patna: Hundreds of 'mukhiyas' (village heads) in rural Bihar have sought bodyguards for their security, citing threats to their lives from Maoists, gangsters, criminals and rivals.

Since the panchayat elections were held in Bihar over two years ago, 33 elected heads of panchayats have been killed in the state. Most of them were murdered over disputes with Maoist guerrillas and gangsters or rivalry related to development work in their areas.

"More than 400 village headmen, including 300 in Maoist-hit districts and 100 in flood-prone north Bihar districts, have demanded bodyguards for security as they are facing threats from Maoists, gangsters, rivals and others," a senior officer at the police headquarters in Patna told reporters. He did not want to be named."We are not safe. We are always at risk. We are insecure because of threats from Maoists and others," Vinay Kumar Singh, the mukhiya of a panchayat in Aurangabad, told reporters.

His demand was supported by Manish Pathak, Anil Yadav and Guddu Singh, heads of their respective panchayats in Aurangabad."We always live in fear. There is a serious threat to our lives," Yadav said. In Aurangabad alone, three village heads have been killed in the last six months."A group of mukhiyas approached the district administration recently and demanded bodyguards, citing threat to their lives," Abhay Kumar Singh, the district magistrate, said.

Sudesh Kumar Singh, mukhiya of the Karma panchayat in Aurangabad, was shot dead early this month by some unidentified people. This was the third murder of a muhkiya in Aurangabad. In March, Chhotu Kushwaha, mukhiya of the Sonhattu panchayat under the Haspura block was shot dead. Before that, Arif Khan, mukhiya of the Obra panchayat, was killed.

The spate of killings of village headmen started immediately after the 2010 panchayat elections."Maoists demand a levy and threaten us with dire consequences if we don't pay them. We are functioning in rural areas where Maoists' terror matters to everyone," Vinay Kumar Singh said.

Mukhiyas in Gaya, Aurangabad, Jamui, Munger, Sitamarhi, Rohtas, Nawada, Sheohar and Arwal districts are afraid of threats by Maoists and others.In these districts, dozens of mukhiyas are also running their businesses and contracts that make them vulnerable to Maoist threats. Mukhiyas in Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Ara, Saran and Siwan have also demanded bodyguards. In Bihar, there are 8,442 village body heads, 8,422 sarpanchs, 115,542 panchayat members, 11,534 panchayat samiti members and 1,162 zila parishad members.


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