Bhim Army chief Ravan arrested, police say friends gave away his whereabouts
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad 'Ravan', who had emerged as the militant face of Dalit assertion after the Thakur-Dalit caste clashes in Saharanpur, has been finally nabbed by the Uttar Pradesh Police. On the run since 9 May, Ravan was arrested in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh.
“A joint team of the UP Special Task Force (STF) and Saharanpur police caught him around noon,” STF Inspector General Amitabh Yash told Catch. “After completing the formalities, he will be brought to Saharanpur to face the criminal cases against him.”
Anticipating trouble, the district administration has yet again banned mobile internet services in the district. Ravan is popular among Dalit youth, and his arrest could lead to further strife in the district.
How he was tracked
The police claims that some of Ravan's closest friends aided them by giving critical information on his whereabouts. UP Police sources also claim he was in touch with his female friends, something which helped trace him.
Sources in the UP Police, who were closely involved in the operation to arrest him, said police teams seriously started to look for him only after the visit of top officials, who were sent to Saharanpur after violence again erupted on 23 May. Home Secretary Mani Prasad Mishra, ADG Law and Order Aditya Mishra and several other top police officials, including Yash, had been sent to Saharanpur to put a lid on the continuing caste clashes. After the visit, the Saharanpur police had formed a Special Investigation Team to tackle the investigations into these multiple cases of caste violence.
Police claims that Ravan was acting like a 'professional criminal' on the run, trying to give the cops the slip. “He would not eat two meals at the same place,” one cop told Catch. “He travelled to Jalandhar, Paonta Sahib, Chandigarh and Gurdaspur before being caught in Dalhousie. He was basically shuttling between Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal.”
The police said they were in touch with his closest aides, because unlike in most cases, “Ravan was too smart to be caught through tracking his cell phone”.
The police also claimed that lately, he had stopped communicating with politicians. “Initially he was in touch, but later, he did not seek their help,” a police official said.
Dalits in Saharanpur had been claiming that the district administration showed a bias in favour of the upper caste Thakur when it came to registering cases in the three incidents of violence on 5 May, 9 May and 23 May.
The first incident occurred at Shabbirpur village, when after Dalits objected to a Thakur procession celebrating Maharana Pratap Jayanti. The upper castes had then burnt down about 25 Dalit homes. Then, on 9 May, the Bhim Army had gone on a rampage. On 23 May, when Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and Dalit icon Mayawati visited Shabbirpur, there was a further round of violence. In total, three people died in the violence, and several others were injured.
The Thakur community, on the other hand, claimed the police was in the Dalits' corner, which is why it wasn't arresting Bhim Army activists involved in the violence.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had promised that all the accused would be arrested soon. Nabbing the Bhim Army chief, who the police claims played a major role in the violence, was a priority.
However, a top UP Police official had told Catch after the 23 May violence that arresting Ravan was not an immediate possibility, because they wanted peace to return to the district first.
Ravan's own views
After the 9 May violence, Ravan had made a public appearance at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on 21 May, at a protest rally which saw more than 10,000 Dalits converge in the capital. Ravan had contemplated surrendering to the police on that day. However, he changed his mind, according to some of the activists who were involved in the protest demonstration.
Ravan, in an interview, claimed that he would surrender if the Dalits who had been arrested for the many cases of violence between 5 May and 23 May were released. The police had registered as many as 40 cases between these two dates. Ravan is wanted in about three cases, according to the local police.
“Instead of arresting the real culprits of the Saharanpur violence, the police has arrested innocent people and put them behind bars. This has resulted in growing anger among the Dalits,” he had said in an interview to PTI recently.
“I feel that the UP government has failed to address the issues of the Dalits. The CM has lost control over the police and the administration. There have been more cases of atrocities against the Dalits in the past two-and-a-half months than the last one year,” he said.
Family joins hands with Cong leader
After the news of the arrest, Ravan's family addressed a joint press conference with local Congress heavyweight Imran Masood.
Ravan's brother Kamal Kishore alleged that while the local BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal, who is an accused in an April 20 incident of violence where then-SSP Love Kumar's residence was attacked by a mob, has still not been arrested, the police is selectively going after Dalits.
According to a local journalist present in the media interaction, Masood has also promised to stand by the Bhim Army chief.
Senior state administration and police officials admit that stern action on the 20 April violence could have averted the May incidents, and that the lack of action against the BJP leadership sent a message that the police could be 'managed'.