Recently erupted violence in Saharanpur has left two people dead and dozens injured.
Since last month, the region in west Uttar Pradesh has been in a series of violent conflicts, with the state government transferring and suspending senior police officers, invoking section 144 and shutting down internet mobile services.
What fueled the violence?
A sensitive area to caste politics, Saharanpur had previously faced clashes between Sikhs and Muslims in 2014, leaving three people dead and several others injured.
Three years after the above incident, clashes erupted once again in the district, this time between Dalits and Thakurs.
It started on April 20 when BJP activists, headed by MP Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma, took out a march without police permission to mark Ambedkar Jayanti in Sadak Dudhli, a Muslim-dominated village.
Sadak Dudhli has a mixed population of Muslims and Dalits, and no processions had been taken out in the communally sensitive region in the last seven years.
Preceding the Ambedkar Jayanti rally, Hindu groups in coordination with BJP leaders had also taken out a procession called ‘Shobha Yatra’ after CM Yogi Adityanath took charge of the state. The rally had attracted violent clashes as it was about to enter the Muslim area of the village, thus had to be stopped.
Following this, MP Sharma said that he would “not allow Saharanpur to become Kashmir” – a statement which drew strong condemnation from SP leaders and Dalit activists like Satish Prakash, as reported by The Hindu. Mr Prakash went ahead to say that the rally held on April 20 was BJP’s attempt to “misuse Ambedkar’s name to communally polarise the region.”
As tensions rose, the state government alleged that MP Sharma’s supporters attacked the local police chief’s house. UP police had lodged two FIRs against the MP and 300 others.
The clash between Dalits and Thakurs
May 5: A Dalit group opposed a procession by Thakurs to mark the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap. Conflicts between the two communities led to the death of a 35-year old Thakur, Sumit Rajput, from a nearby village.
In an act of vengeance, Thakurs vandalised and burned down Dalit houses, said reports. The incident caused 15 Dalits to be hospitalised.
The Dalits claimed that they had objected to loud music being played in the procession. As their objection turned violent, the Thakurs came equipped with swords and kerosene torches.
Other versions allege that a statue of BR Ambedkar was vandalised, while still others say that the villagers were angered with the Thakurs for suspectedly preventing an Ambedkar statue from being installed on April 24.
Both the communities blame each other for the riots.
May 9: The conflict continued as members of the Dalit community clashed with the UP police over a Dalit Mahapanchayat held to protest against their inaction against Thakurs. They also demanded compensation for those affected in the May 5 riot.
To control the situation, the police attempted to stop the protesters using rubber bullets and at least 6 of them were arrested and supplementary forces were deployed across Saharanpur to restrain the crowd.
Protests in Jantar Mantar
May 21: Bhim Army, the Dalit organisation founded by Saharanpur native Chandrashekhar Azad in 2015, along with thousands of other Dalits, gathered at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Sunday to protest against the UP government’s alleged silence on the issue. The rally was held even as the protesters were denied permission by the Delhi police to enter Jantar Mantar.
The massive protest went largely unnoticed by the nation due to lacklustre coverage by the media.
Over 10,000 protesters dressed in blue gathered at Jantar Mantar, waving blue flags with Bhimrao Ambedkar’s image, shouting ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans, and donning masks of Chandrashekhar’s face.
Chandrashekhar, who was also present at the rally, is reportedly wanted by the UP police for his alleged role in inciting violence. Other members of his organisation are also wanted.
However, the protesters claim that the Yogi Adityanath government is doing little to improve the condition of Dalits in the state and is also mistreating them.
Ruling party claims
Four hundred riot-control policemen were sent to Saharanpur on Thursday as BJP’s Yogi Adityanath government claimed that the violent incidents in the western UP district are a “well-planned conspiracy” of the BSP, reported NDTV. More than 40 people have also been arrested in connection to it.
The central forces were deployed after the home ministry received reports of two deaths and injuries to 40 people who were a part of the clashes.
BSP chief Mayawati’s visit to Shabbirpur on Tuesday was blamed for the fresh violence. A mob attacked protesters returning from the MP’s rally, killing one Dalit on spot, while four others were injured. The family of the man killed will be provided Rs 15 lakh compensation by the UP government, while the wounded will be given Rs 50,000 each, reported PTI.
UP Home Secretary Mani Prasad Mishra had expressed that the situation will likely come under control in the next 24 hours.
The state government had suspended on Wednesday the District Magistrate and Senior Superintendent of Police, both of whom were also in the spotlight during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The Divisional Commissioner and the Deputy Inspector General were transferred out. Internet and mobile services were suspended as the administration believes that its misuse will spark further violence.
A PTI report stated that BSP chief Mayawati has blamed the BJP government for the Saharanpur riots. The MP went ahead to say that casteist forces in BJP and RSS have been given impunity to misuse official machinery in order to cause distress in social amity.
She said in a press release in Lucknow, “After having damaged the communal atmosphere to gain political and electoral victory, the casteist, mischievous and criminal elements in the BJP and RSS are now bent upon unleashing casteist violence.” The former CM continued to add that the ruling party has failed to stop its own brigade from attacking the weaker sections. She blamed the Yogi Adityanath government for forming a conspiracy with the BJP and the RSS against Dalits.
Former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had demanded a judicial probe into the matter last month, calling it a “test for the state government.”
The CPI (M) has also condemned the attack and blamed the state government for failing to maintain peace. The party has demanded the arrest of those allegedly assaulting community members.
The Logical Indian Take
The tension between Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur has been simmering for more than a month now with the ruling and opposition parties blaming each other for the violent clashes.
The riots started when a Thakur was killed in a conflict in April. Since then, several people among the Thakur community have been arrested for assaulting Dalits. Several people from the Dalit community have also been taken into custody on charges of inciting violence. Newspapers, TV channels and social media have been widely filled with images of brutal violence, mainly against Dalits.
Saharanpur is considered a communally sensitive area which has been visibly uneasy due to caste based tensions. Various political campaigns and agendas have further polarised the region.
Political parties are supporting their favoured communities, instead of calming the animosity. The blame games are causing more and more people to get hurt.
The need of the hour before the Yogi Adityanath government is to repair the tattered communal tensions in the region. As the BJP undertook social engineering to win office, it is essential that the party signals its brigades for development and change in that regard.