On day of Mayawati's visit, Saharanpur witnesses more Dalit-Thakur clashes
On Tuesday, 23 May, Mayawati, the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, was on a visit to meet the violence-affected families in Shabbirpur and adjoining villages in Saharanpur. But in the midst of that, the region again witnessed clashes between Dalits and Thakurs.
Ashish from Suakhera Village died of gunshot wounds. Twelve others said to be injured, according to locals, of whom two or three are said to be grievously injured. All of them belong to the Dalit community.
The district police in a statement late in the evening confirmed Ashish's death and injuries to three others. The statement said that the unknown persons from the Rajput community carried out the attacks.
Chief Minister Adityanath, finally spoke on the incident. In a series of tweets late on Tuesday evening, he appealed for calm and restoration of peace and claimed that all those responsible for the violence will be caught and strict action will be taken by the government.
A video circulating on WhatsApp shows an elderly man narrating how he was waylaid by six to seven people and attacked with swords.
Locals say situation continues to be tense.
This is the fourth instance of violence in the district in the last one month. It lays bare the claims of the Yogi Adityanath-led state government on the law and order situation in UP. It will also lead to further anger among Dalits, who have been protesting against what they call a 'biased' state government.
According to an eyewitness account, hundreds of Dalits had gathered in Shabbirpur village, to hear BSP supremo Mayawati. She was supposed to fly to Saharanpur in a chopper in the morning. But after the administration did not give permission, the BSP chief decided to travel by road.
“While the crowd was waiting for Mayawati, a few youth with Bhim Army topis raised anti-BSP slogans. When a BSP leader there pacified them by saying that Mayawati was coming in support of them, they stopped raising slogans. But later went towards the Thakur households and pelted stones, the eye witness says.
“The excited crowd of Dalits burnt some haystacks in the Thakur quarters of the village, and pelted stones at their houses.”
He says once Mayawati finished the meeting, there was confrontation between the Thakurs and Dalits in the Chandrapura village next to Shabbirpur. “There was chaos. I could barely get out safe,” the eyewitness says, recounting that firearms and swords could be involved in the attack on the Dalits.
At least five persons are said to be seriously injured, according to locals Catch spoke to. It was not immediately possible to contact SC Dube, the SSP, Saharanpur. Senior state police officials have been dispatched to the affected area.
This is the second instance of violence in Shabbirpur, a village some 20 kilometres away from the district headquarters.
On May 5, in this village, which has a sizeable population of both Dalits and the Thakurs, violence erupted after Dalits objected to, and attacked, an unplanned procession of Rajputs, some of them wielding swords and other weapons, on their way to celebrate Maharana Pratap Jayanti in the neighbouring Simlana village. Dalits had objected to Maharana Pratap Jayanti celebrations after some locals from the Thakur community had stalled the installation of an Ambedkar statue in the village.
In retaliation to the stone pelting, several Dalit houses were burnt by the Rajputs in the two villages of Shabbirpur and Maheshpur, and more than 10 Dalits suffered injuries. Sumit, from the Thakur community, died due to his injuries. The police had arrested eight persons from the Thakur community and seven Dalits for the violence that day, according to reports.
The Bhim Army
Saharanpur is also the base of Bhim Army, a group of Dalit youth, who were involved in an incident of violence after the Shabbirpur incident, even though they claim to be non-violent.
Violence followed when this group wanted to hold a protest at Gandhi Park in the city, and was denied permission by the local administration. A group of youth belonging to the group were also lathicharged by the local police.
The group later attacked senior district administration officials on the outskirts of the city. They also burnt some vehicles. The police had registered more than 20 cases against Bhim Army activists, including its chief Chandrashekhar Azad 'Ravan'.
Senior officials had told Catch last week that they did not allow the protest in the city, for they feared that this could blow up into a big riot, for the group could be planning to disturb peace. The police had also indicated that the chief of the Bhim Army and his other accomplices may be arrested soon.
However, the police had refrained from arresting them, perhaps under pressure, as some locals say, after the massive protest called by the group at Jantar Mantar in the national capital. The protest saw the participation of more than 10,000 people.
In his address, Chandrashekhar Ravan had claimed how the BJP-led state government was anti-Dalit, and how Dalits had now risen to speak out against atrocities.
Different points of view
Local Dalits say Thakurs have become overtly aggressive after BJP's win.
A section of the locals and BJP leaders see the Bhim Army as an allied outfit of the BSP, and claim that it has the support of the BSP supremo. Local BJP leaders say that Mayawati is unnerved after losing her Dalit voters to the BJP.
Some local Thakur BJP leaders this reporter spoke to, on the other hand, claim that the state government was not doing enough against the Dalits.
Earlier, Mayawati, addressing the press in Delhi before heading to Saharanpur, had said she had not visited the violence affected village, for she wanted the situation to normalise.
In Shabbirpur, she again attacked the Yogi Adityanath government, calling it casteist and biased towards the upper castes. According to reports, she also asked the state government to unite and not divide the society.
Mayawati, in her address, steered clear of Bhim Army. Instead she asked the local Dalits to organise the events under the BSP banner.