Once again, Saharanpur district of UP is in the news for incidents of caste violence. The latest incident of Dalit-Thakur clashes, which took place on May 5, left one dead and at least 16 others injured. Saharanpur has always been a hotbed of caste and communal politics. In 2014, the city witnessed violent clashes between the Muslims and the Sikhs. Even the last May 5 incident was actually the second case of Dalit-Thakur clashes in a Saharanpur village within a fortnight. On the last 20th April, a violent conflict was triggered in the district when the Dalits took out a procession commemorating B. R. Ambedkar’s birth centenary. Following the latest May 5 violence, additional police forces have been deployed in Shabbirpur and Simlana, the two Saharanpur villages where the clashes took place. The state government imposed section 144 and called in the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) force from the Muzaffarnagar headquarters. The authorities even temporarily suspended the internet service to check the spread of violence.
What exactly triggered the incident?
The statement made by the UP state government claims that the clashes occurred over a procession organized by the local Thakur community. According to the police reports, when the Dalit youths of Shabbirpur protested against the loud music played at a procession taken by the Thakurs to mark the birth anniversary of the Rajput king Maharana Pratap, full-blown clashes between the two communities erupted. The Dalits protested against the ‘raucous’ nature of the celebration and claimed that the organizers of the procession had no prior permission from the local administration. The Thakurs, on the other hand, are alleging that it was the Dalits of Shabbirpur village under the village head had blocked their procession which triggered the clashes. However, according to the local administration, the tension between the Dalits and the Thakurs of these two villages has been on the rise for the last three months. Installation of an Ambedkar statue in the Shabbirpur village, among other issues, has been a major source of discord between the two communities.
The scale of violence
The May 5 incident provided the ignition and the suppressed tension between the two communities snowballed into violent communal clashes in the two villages of Shabbirpur and Simlana. According to various reports, the Thakurs vandalized and torched at least 22 Dalit houses to take revenge. The mob also set police vehicles on fire. The clashes left at least 15 Dalit youths and a head constable severely injured and hospitalized. Sumit Rajput, a 35 year old Thakur who was part of the Maharana Pratap rally, was declared dead when he was rushed to the nearby hospital. Leaders of the Thakur community are now claiming that the newly formed Dalit organization Bheem Army, with support from the BSP and other opposition parties, has launched a violent attack on the Thakurs since May 9.
The police response
Leaders of both the communities have repeatedly complained of police inaction. Senior Superintendent of Police, Saharanpur, Subhash Chandra Dubey, has claimed that the situation is currently under control. The police have arrested 28 people so far and are searching for others in cases of arson, stone-pelting etc. The UP police have promised to take strong action against anyone trying to trigger communal tension by circulating inflammatory messages or posts on social media.