The Dalit community in Saharanpur is causing a spot of trouble for the government of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, which has been reported to have been furthering the ideals of Swachh Bharat, both literally and in spirit. There have been at least three incidents of clashes and protests reported since April 20, between the Thakurs and Dalits in the area. Here’s a look at how it began and where the situation stands now.
Trouble began brewing over three weeks ago, when despite permission being denied to hold a rally on Ambedkar Jayanti, April 20 local BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal went ahead with it. Processions on Ambedkar Jayanti have been banned in communally-sensitive Saharanpur for seven years, but the Dalits refused to uphold the status quo of restricting celebrations of the birth anniversary of national leader to just Dalit areas. Upset at Dalit celebrations, Thakurs clashed with the Dalits during the rally in Sadak Dudhli village in the district. There were also reports that a statue of BR Ambedkar had been vandalised.
Thereafter, 15 days later, the Dalits hit back by complaining about loud speakers when a Thakur rally celebrating the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap, their icon, went through Dalit localities on May 5.
It has been reported that one Thakur was killed in clashes that ensued and that enraged upper caste members torched 20-25 Dalit homes in Shabbirpur village.
Seeking compensation and relief for those affected in the May 5 clashes, the Dalits sought to hold a ‘mahapanchayat’ on May 9 in Gandhi Park in Saharanpur. Denied permission for the gathering, youths who banded together calling themselves Bheem Sena began vandalising property and wreaking violence. A police post was allegedly set on fire and a number of people injured over the protests.
Around 600 Dalits and over 900 Thakurs reside in the village, about 35 km from where the violence erupted on May 9.
District authorities said the Bheem Army Bharat Ekta Mission, founded by 30-year old lawyer Chandrasekhar, circulated messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, appealing to members of the Dalit community to attend the ‘mahapanchayat’ on May 9.
District Magistrate N P Singh said the administration turned down their request for holding ‘mahapanchayat’ and the Dalit men took to the streets to protest against it.
“The protestors had also come from at least three neighbouring districts,” he said.
Singh said it seemed to be a “planned exercise”, considering the men indulged in violence in five-six areas across the city simultaneously. The protestors blocked roads in Rampur Maniharan, Ramnagar, Nazirpura, Halalpur and Malhipur, and hurled stones at police personnel, who lathi-charged them.
They also set the Ramnagar police post, a private bus on Behat road and over a dozen two wheelers ablaze. Several persons, including five policemen, were injured in the violence.
Senior Superintendent of Police Subhash Chandra Dubey even said the rioters opened fire on officers using country-made pistols.
A few mediapersons were also allegedly manhandled and their equipment damaged. A group of media persons yesterday protested against the Bheem Army and submitted a memorandum to the Tehsildar, Behat, demanding stern action against the group and its spearhead.
The police said protesters also vandalised Maharana Pratap Bhavan in Ramnagar area on Malhipur road.
They said a Rajput group filed a complaint alleging that Chandrashekhar provoked Dalit men and indulged in violence at Maharana Pratap Bhavan.
Attempts by a PTI reporter to contact Chandrasekhar on phone did not fructify.
Two persons, Sachin Singh Ambedkar and Rahul Gautam, have been arrested for allegedly circulating provocative messages on WhatsApp and Facebook, the police said.
The SSP said 24 people have been arrested in connection with incidents of stone-pelting and arson.
The police said they will go through the CCTV footage to identify and arrest the others involved in stone-pelting and torching the police post and vehicles.