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Posted at: Jun 4, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Jun 4, 2017, 1:18 PM (IST)TALKING POINT

Shame in Saharanpur

Mukesh Ranjan in Saharanpur
Caste wounds are allowed to fester in rural areas of the western UP district. Competitive politics, criminal delay in responding to a volatile situation have led to a huge trust deficit among Dalits and Thakurs
RINA Bhaskar is a pregnant Dalit woman, sitting outside her torched house in Shabbirpur village of the district. If you have the courage, listen to her. “On May 5 rioters snatched my two-year-old son from my lap and tossed him into the flames of my burning house. Luckily, the small child fell on the safer side. I jumped into the flames, picked him and ran away.”

Rina’s husband, Agni Bhaskar, is in the district hospital with multiple injuries. “I am here with my son, struggling for food. I have no work, and no place to live,” she says. She shows her palm, hands, legs and neck. It appears she not only suffered burns, but also wounds inflicted by a sharp weapon, maybe a sword. 

Other Dalit households, too, had similar stories: the males are either in hospital or have left the village for fear of being attacked again.

Since April, when this communally sensitive district of western Uttar Pradesh got engulfed in the caste conflict, the nascent Yogi Adityanath government has only fooled around with the bloated bureaucracy. The government shuffled officers twice within a month — to no effect. Two key officials — the DM and senior superintendent of police (SSP) — were never found to be on the same page. District administration sources say despite orders, four Provincial Civil Service officers have not yet reported to the DM. Then, on June 1, the government posted senior IAS officer Dipak Agarwal as the new divisional commissioner of Saharanpur. 

Worse, the state government isn’t sure about damage to properties. Suspended senior superintendent of police Subhash Chandra Dubey had said 25 houses were set on fire. But Dalits of the village, 25km from Saharanpur, insisted 55 houses and five shops were burnt down on May 5 after a Thakur youth was killed in caste clashes. 

How it all began

As per official figures, Saharanpur with 80 villages has 26% Dalits and 10% Rajputs. Shabbirpur village has 572 families with a population of 4,000. This count includes 2,500 Thakurs and 600 Dalits. The tension between the two communities in the village began on April 14: Dalits wanted to place a statue of Bhimrao Ambedkar on his birth anniversary at the Ravidas temple. But the Rajputs objected and went to Deoband MLA Kunwar Brajesh Singh, who instructed the village head Shiv Kumar, a Dalit, to seek permission from the administration. “We applied for permission,” says Shiv Kumar, who is in the Saharanpur town getting treatment for his injured son in a private hospital.

“Our application remained pending in the district magistrate’s office. On May 5, the Rajputs took out a noisy procession flashing swords to the nearby Simlana village. They had organized a garlanding ceremony at the statue of Maharana Pratap. They had to cross our village. The villagers told me to persuade them to silently pass through. When I tried to speak to them, they became violent and torched our houses. One young Rajput boy died from suffocation.”

Rajbir Singh, a Rajput village elder, agrees. “This small village brawl has turned into a big political tussle,” he says. “Things could have ended there on May 5 itself. But pro-Dalit political forces entered the fray. The Saharanpur-based Bhim Army added fuel to the fire, resulting in arson and the death of a Dalit youth on May 9.”

Political trickery

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati visited the village on May 23 and held a public meeting inside the Ravidas temple compound. She exhorted the Dalits to “fight their battle under her party umbrella.” She had a point: the BSP fears losing ground to the newly-founded Bhim Army of young Dalit leader Chandrasekhar Azad. The Bhim Army organized a big rally in Delhi on May 22. Azad, who is named in one of the 24 FIRS for instigating violent protests by Dalits in Saharanpur on May 9, said the rally offered a platform for “gathering all Dalits” against “saffron terrorism”.

“On May 23, as the crowd dispersed after Mayawati’s meeting, it was rumoured that a Dalit had been killed. Later it was found that the dead man belonged to the Kashyap community and was killed over some personal enmity,” says Rajbir Singh, the village elder. 

Since then several local Rajput leaders, including local MLAs, have started taking sides. “Rajputs in Saharanpur are feeling emboldened since Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister. This is a big problem,” says Shabbirpur villager Dhal Singh (70).

The Rajput-Dalit friction was seen ahead of the 2017 UP Assembly polls. Then BJP state vice-president Dayashankar Singh had made derogatory remarks against Mayawati. He was expelled, but was reinstated after his wife Swati Singh won from a Lucknow seat. In April, similar clashes were reported from Sadak Dudhli village of the district when the BJP took out a procession, without permission, to mark the birth anniversary of Ambedkar.

Many say the fresh violence against Dalits is a tactical move by the ruling BJP ahead of the civic polls due in next couple months. Despite a massive mandate in the assembly polls, the BJP had lost both Saharanpur and Saharanpur Nagar to the SP-Congress alliance.

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