Rise of Bhim Army & Saharanpur riots

Rise of Bhim Army & Saharanpur riots
Saharanpur caste clashes are a manifestation of the reassertion of the upper castes for a dominant position with a Thakur Mahant (Yogi Adityanath) – a prominent face of aggressive Hindutva – taking over as chief minister of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh (UP). It would be worth mentioning here that a series of caste clashes took place in Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur district in May, resulting in the death of three people. Following the arrest of the president of a prominent Dalit outfit – Chandrashekhar of the Bhim Army – Saharanpur is tense and this has forced the government to put security agencies on alert and cancel the visit of members of the SC&ST commission to probe the incidents.

Going into the background of the incidents, the first attempt was made on April 20 to create tension between Dalits and Muslims by BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma when he forcibly took out a ‘Shobha Yatra’ on Ambedkar Jayanti in a predominantly Muslim area. The Dalits, particularly Jatavs, were also opposed to the yatra as the participants were shouting “Jai Sri Ram". Following the resistance of the local administration, the procession could not continue but they gathered again and attacked the residence of SSP Luv Kumar, who was not present at his residence.

Dalit activist and former IG S R Darapuri said that Kumar’s wife had to take shelter in a cow shed with her two sons. The CCTV cameras installed at the residence of the SSP were destroyed. Instead of taking action against the BJP MP, Adityanath transferred the SSP to Noida. Had the Adityanath government taken prompt action by posting more efficient officers, the situation would not have gone beyond control in the following days.

According to Darapuri, the news about the death of a Thakur boy spread like wildfire and Thakurs retaliated with an attack on a Dalit hamlet. Their huts were put on fire and women were also attacked. A Sant Ravidas temple was also damaged. More than 15 Dalits were injured and 30 houses were damaged. Darapuri said the mob was targeting only those Dalits who had not voted for the BJP and made it clear that they were raising slogans of “Jai Sri Ram” and openly said they had the backing of the government.

Again on May 9, Dalits staged a dharna under the leadership of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan’, who was demanding compensation for Dalits who lost their homes and action against the culprits responsible for the earlier incident. When the police tried to disperse the crowd, the Dalits, under the leadership of Chandrashekhar, not only damaged two police chowki through arson but also damaged a large number of vehicles and other properties. The emergence of the Bhim Army is attributed to the reassertion of Dalits youths who were frustrated with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati who was not approachable and never bothered to visit any site where Dalits were subjected to atrocities from the “upper caste” people or the police.

Show of strength

Bhim Army exhibited its clout in New Delhi when more than 20,000 Dalits from UP and other states staged a dharna at Jantar Mantar to protest against the atrocities on Dalits at Saharanpur. Chandrashekhar, absconding since May 9, also managed to surface there and addressed the gathering. Though Chandrashekhar, wanted in 32 cases, has been arrested, he is getting support from not only other Dalit groups but also from the Left parties and the Congress.

Firebrand Congress leader from Saharanpur, Imran Masood, has openly announced his support to the Bhim Army and Chandrashekhar for their struggle.

There are other organisations in UP like the Dalit Sangarsh Morcha, whose convenor Ravi Prakash participated in the Jantar Mantar dharna. Prakash said: “The Yogi Adityanath government in UP cares more about cows than Dalits. We are not against cow protection, but it is human beings whose lives should be protected first. Our brothers in villages of UP live under fear, but we will not tolerate it anymore.”

Shocked by the emergence of the Bhim Army, BSP supremo Mayawati visited Shabbirpur and disowned the BJP’s claim that the Bhim Army had been supported by her younger brother Anand, but on the contrary, she alleged that it was the BJP which was behind the Bhim Army to target her.
But Mayawati’s visit added more fuel to the fire and a mob retaliated with attacks on Dalits who were returning from the meeting, resulting in the death of two persons.

Adityanath may have handed over the probe to a Special Investigation Team, which would look into 40 cases, but the fallout of these caste clashes are very serious. Adityanath is also facing a tough challenge from his own ministers, MPs, MLAs and other workers who are often seen creating law and order problems and threatening officials.

While on the one hand Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen playing an aggressive Dalit card to lure members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe into the BJP, but on the other hand the “upper castes”, especially Thakurs are confronting Dalits, mainly Jatavs, who have been voting for the BSP.

Dalit politics is also in for a change in UP with the emergence of new groups with huge youth following as the BSP is losing its support with every successive election.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Lucknow)

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