After the violence in May, UP's Shabbirpur is still struggling to put its ghosts behind
There is an eerie calm in the Shabbirpur village, the theatre of Thakur-Dalit violence. As a grisly reminder to the the clashes, the road which leads to the Dalit quarters still has burnt tree stumps and houses covered in soot.
It has been four months since violence first erupted in Shabbirpur in Saharanpur after a clash over the Maharana Pratap Jayanti procession by local Rajputs on 5 May.
“Things are quiet, but we don’t interact with each other,” says Ravindra Kumar, a Dalit from the village said as we chatted in the courtyard of the Ravidas temple, the first landmark as one enters the village.
Kumar explains how it the sowing season had been on when the violence erupted. Since then, local Rajputs have not invited the local Dalits to work on their farms.
“They are getting other communities to work - the Kashyaps and the other backward caste groups from the nearby villages. They have not invited us,” Kumar says, explaining how they would get one fourth of the produce when they would work in ‘partnership’ with the Rajputs on the latter’s land. The Dalits have lost out on the important rice and sugarcane sowing, Kumar rues.
“We still manage to get grass from their farms. But we have to be careful,” says Somlata, from the same village. Unlike some Dalit households, she says her family does not own any land.
“Had they not burnt our houses, things would not have been so bad,” Kumar says. “They did not even leave a chair for us to sit,” he continues. Most villagers got pittance as compensation for the damages.
Suggan, an octogenarian, whom this reporter met outside his charred one room house right after the violence, rued how he just got Rs 8,000 from the government.
“What will I do with so little money,” he asks. While the government has paid a measly compensation, as the locals complain, the Bahujan Samaj Party opened its coffers with support of Rs 50,000 for severely affected families and Rs 25,000 for the ones whose houses were not so badly damaged.
A message of love
As we sat and chatted in the courtyard of the temple, the Karwan-e-Mohabbat, which is making its way across multiple states in India to spread a message of love at a time when hate crimes are becoming far more common, rolled in in on a luxury bus that found it difficult to make its way on the bad, narrow roads.
Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat turned activist, describes the tour as a large collaborative civil society initiative - a month-long journey which will include visiting families of those who lost loved ones to hate lynching.
“It will be a journey for sharing pain, for atonement, for solidarity and for love.” The journey started in Nellie and would end in Porbandar in Gujarat on 2 October, Gandhi Jayanti.
By this time, most Dalits from the village had gathered in the courtyard of the temple to meet and talk to the members of the Karwan.
Meanwhile, after Mander’s initial comments on the purpose of this journey, something which should have been undertaken by the Prime Minister to heal the wounds of those afflicted by violence, the locals recounted their ordeal. They claim that Thakurs attacked them without any provocation.
Thakurs celebrated Maharana Pratap Jayanti with pomp on 5 May in Shabbirpur, and it was this celebration that led to the first incident of violence, which left one Thakur boy dead, a dozen Dalits injured, and at least 50 Dalit houses burned to the ground. Dalits, it is alleged, pelted stones on the Rajput procession which made its way through the village which led to an even bigger Rajput mob attacking the Dalits.
Dheeraj, a local Dalit, spoke of how the administration is planning to slap the National Security Act on the Dalits who are in jail, including Shiv Kumar, the sarpanch, even though none of them were allegedly involved in any violence. “By slapping NSA, they want us to bend and reach a compromise,” he says. “Chandrashekhar or any other in jail do not have any criminal past,” he says referring to Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, the chief of the Bhim Army, who is also in jail.
Plight of Dalits
Agni Bhaskar, another villager who was injured in the violence on 5 May, spoke of how the administration is one sided, and how Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi do not care about the plight of Dalits.
“If they can shout Jai Rajputana, Jai Shri Ram, or Jai Modi, why can’t we say Jai Bhim,” he asks, while warning how it doesn’t matter how many cases the government slaps on them, they will fight it. In fact, many Dalits in the village converted to Buddhism in a recently held Deeksha ceremony in nearby Nangal in protest against the treatment meted out to them by other caste groups.
Women from the village, too, recounted, the attack on May 5.
But the conversation was largely one sided. Since the May tensions, Rajputs do not come to the Dalit quarters of the village. By choosing Ravidas temple as the venue for the interaction, the Karwan, perhaps, intentionally left them out of this journey against hate.
The conversation at the temple, meanwhile had little mention of the death of Sumit, the Rajput boy who died on the 5 May, after being attacked in the village. He was part of the initial group of revellers who were making their way to the Simlana village to take part in the Maharana Pratap Jayanti Celebrations through Shabbirpur village, something which the local Dalits had objected to, and even warned the local administration beforehand.
Dalits publicly deny Sumit was even present in the village on that day. In private, they say that he has desecrated the temple, and even urinated inside, and died once he came out, after being cursed by Ravidas.
There is an interesting background to the caste tensions here. The Dalits wanted to install a statue of Bhim Rao Ambedkar in the premises of the temple. This was opposed by the local Rajputs who did not want, as the Dalits claim, to see “Ambedkar’s finger pointing at them from a raised platform as they enter the village.”
Once the Rajputs objected to the Ambedkar statue, Dalits opposed the Maharana Pratap Jayanti celebrations.
There was a few other clashes in May - on 23 May, at the time of BSP chief Mayawati's visit to the village and one in in Saharanpur city on 9 May, when activists of the Bhim Army, a local Dalit outfit, clashed with the police after they were denied permission to hold a protest in the city. In all, four people are said to have died in this three-week long cycle of violence in May.
Meanwhile, as the members of the Karvaan cited paucity of time for their inability to walk to the Rajput quarters of the village, to listen to the other side of the story, or to even try building bridges, in the tense atmosphere, this reporter found the Rajputs equally angry over how the administration has arrested “innocents”.
“None of the six villagers from the Rajput community who are in jail had any role in any violence,” says Sudheer, a local, as he sat outside the local dispensary. “The government has not even given us proper compensation,” he says pointing to the shop of his friend next door, which he claims was ransacked, and looted. “Most people have just got Rs 200 as compensation,” he claims.
While Dalits say Rajputs enjoy the patronage of the ruling party, the Rajputs, Sudheer says, are planning a mass boycott of the BJP, if it doesn’t heed to their demands. Two Rajput boys, from the nearby Amheta village have been charged under NSA, the community is up in arms against the decision. A Mahapanchayat is scheduled on 15 September - something which could again lead to tensions.
“Political parties are again hell bent on creating another Qawal here,” Sudheer says referring to the chain of incidents starting in Qawal village which culminated in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
“We do not want to fight with anybody. There are just around 50 Muslims in this village. If we were violent we would have attacked them,” Dheeraj says, concluding that the only way peace could return was if the two communities were made to sit down and sort out their difference. Perhaps the Karwan could have done its bit today, but only if they looked at the incident with an open mind.