May 22nd, 2017
The capital’s hotspot for protests and demonstrations turned blue on Sunday, 21 May, when over 10,000 people gathered in solidarity against the recent caste violence in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
The massive protest went largely unnoticed by the nation due to lacklustre coverage by the media. The huge crowd was led by the Bhim Army, a UP-based organisation that has been fighting for the rights of Dalits since 2015.
The Bhim Army
The Bhim Army was formed on 21 July 2015 by recent college graduates Vinay Ratna Singh and Chandrashekhar.
“We felt that if we can do anything for the country, for our people, it had to be with education. On July 21, we held the first meeting of the Bhim Army and decided to start paathshalas in our area to offer free education to our children,” said Singh, co-founder of Bhim Army.
The first paathshala was set up at Fatehpur Bhado village in Saharanpur nearly two years ago. Today, the Bhim Army manages around 350 paathshalas, not just in Saharanpur but also in the neighbouring districts of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and Meerut.
Singh said: “Near AHP College in Saharanpur’s Chhutmalpur area, a Dalit student was beaten up by members of the Thakur community for drinking water from a well. When we raised the matter with the administration, we received threats from various quarters. But we did not buckle under pressure. Besides, there were atrocities against women apart from cases of caste discrimination. We would raise these issues with the administration and hold protests in order to get justice.”
The 2017 Saharanpur riots
The recent riots in Saharanpur involved Dalits and Thakurs during the birth anniversary celebrations of Maharana Pratap. The violence took place on 5 May, when a mob, allegedly from the Thakur community, ransacked and burned down 25 houses belonging to Dalits, and injured 15 members of the community in Saharanpur. The Dalits retaliated, led by members of the Bhim Army.
Protest at Jantar Mantar
On Sunday, 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.
Meanwhile, Chandrashekhar, who is named in one of the 24 FIRs registered by UP Police for his alleged role in the Saharanpur violence, said he would surrender to the authorities. He said, “Mujhe laga ki meri kaum soyi hui hai, lekin aaj ki yeh bheed dekhkar lag gaya hai ki meri kaum jaag gayi hai. Ab mujhe koi dar nahin (I thought that my community is sleeping, but seeing the crowd today I see that they have woken up. Now I don’t have any fear).”
“We believe in the constitution of this country but we were branded as Naxals, because we opposed the picking up innocent young people and arbitrary police raids. We have received threats. We were told that if the society is yours, the government is ours, where will you run away? It is our contribution to the country which has resulted in this support,” Singh said.