PATNA, India (AP) _ Black-garbed gunmen stormed a village in eastern India on Saturday, dragging residents from their beds and shooting to death 34 members of a low-caste community, intelligence officials said.

The attackers stormed several homes in Miapur village in the eastern state of Bihar after midnight, rousing their victims from their sleep, lining them up outside and spraying them with gunfire, intelligence officials said.

The victims were all members of the Yadav community of cattle herders and included children. Twenty-two people died immediately, and the rest died later, said the intelligence officials in Patna, Bihar's capital, where they were receiving reports on the violence.

K.A. Jacob, Bihar's police chief, said the attackers were members of the Ranvir Sena, a private militia run by upper caste feudal landlords, the Press Trust of India reported.

Caste strife is endemic in Bihar, one of India's poorest and most lawless states. The Ranvir Sena is locked in a war of attrition with ultra-left organizations like the Maoist Communist Center and the People's War Group who say they represent the interest of lower caste peasants.

Though no one claimed responsibility for Saturday's massacre, an intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity said the killers announced that they acted in retaliation for the killing of 11 upper-caste villagers on Sunday.

That attack was reportedly committed by communist guerrillas in the village of Assar. Earlier reports had put the death toll from that attack at 12, but officials said those reports were incorrect.

In Miapur, survivors sat outside their homes, some in silence, some wailing aloud.

``We don't know why such a tragedy has befallen us. We have never caused harm to anyone and there is no rivalry,'' said Ramesh, a witness who uses only one name, according to PTI.

The last major strike by the Ranvir Sena was in Narayanpur village in the neighboring district of Jehanabad last year.

Authorities rushed around 400 policemen to patrol Miapur. Angry villagers refused to allow district officials to take away the bodies of the victims, saying they wanted Rabri Devi, the chief minister of Bihar and a Yadav, to come to Miapur.

Police chief Jacob said his men had sealed the borders of Aurangabad district, where Miapur is located, and were conducting raids to arrest the killers.

Miapur is barely 6 miles from Senari village, where 34 upper caste villagers were killed by the Maoist Communist Center last year.

The caste violence in Bihar prompted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to recommend direct federal rule over the state last year. But his proposal failed to get the required backing in parliament because it wasn't supported by the main opposition Congress party, which is a coalition partner in the Bihar government.

However, after the recent killings, the Congress party has threatened to withdraw its support if the administration doesn't improve the security situation in Bihar.