Caste violence: In Saharanpur’s ghost villages, fear looms large among Dalits
The rubble of damaged Dalit houses tells the story of fear and arson that had engulfed Shabbirpur and turned it into a ghost village after a violent clash with Thakurs five days ago.
The men have either fled to safer places or are attending injured family members at Saharanpur’s district hospital while the women are left to pick the broken pieces of their lives.
Subhash Chandra Dubey, senior superintendent of police, Sahranpur said 25 houses were set on fire, but Dalits of the village 25 km from Saharanpur insist 55 houses and five shops were burnt down on May 5 after a Thakur youth was killed in caste clashes.
Relatives of affected Dalit families fear more attacks after the terror allegedly unleashed by Thakurs following a procession to honour Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap that triggered the clash last Friday.
Saharanpur district has 26% Dalit population spread across villages and 10% Thakurs. But in Shabbirpur village which home to 572 families, the total population of the village is 4,000 which include 2500 Thakurs and 600 Dalits and this lop-sided ratio worries the Dalits.
“Thakurs were always dominant as a caste in the area which also have Jatav Dalits in good numbers,” said Dalit activist Ram Kumar.
“Only women, who could manage to escape the wrath on that day are living in these ransacked houses. Most of the men have fled to safer places due to the fear,” said Nafe Singh at the house of his relatives Dal Singh and Kamla Devi, both of whom are undergoing treatment along with their four-year-old son Badal.
The Dalit houses and five shops in Shabbirppur were seemingly attacked one by one. The strewn grocery, cattle with burn injuries, damaged motorcycles, remains of utensils and other furniture still lie around in the half-burnt homes.
Ratan, 55, one of the eyewitnesses recalled how “a mob of over a 1000 youths on two-wheelers armed with swords and rods wreaked havoc and vandalised everything that came in their way till the row of Thakur houses started”. All this, he alleged, in broad day light and amidst police presence.
Sadly, incidents like these are not new in Saharanpur, a communally sensitive district of western Uttar Pradesh. The Thakur-Dalit animosity had also played out ahead of 2017 UP assembly polls when the BJP’s state vice-president Dayashankar Singh made derogatory remarks against BSP chief Mayawati. Dayashankar was expelled only to be reinstated later after his wife Swati Singh won the Assembly election from a Lucknow seat.
In April, similar clashes were reported from Sadak Dudhli village of Saharanpur when the BJP took out a procession, without permission, to mark the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
“Dalits fear that violence may erupt again any time. Thakurs will try to assert their dominance. They have already spread the word that a Jatav has killed a Thakur. No Dalit would dare to live here in future,” said Virendra Kumar, a resident of the village who works with a construction firm.
Main Lal, a member of the Bhim Army, a group of youth behind the Dalit protests said that they have more reasons to worry as “police sided with the Thakurs and would implicate Dalits in false cases.”
Virendra Rana, a local Thakur leader who switched from SP to BJP recently said Dalits were being instigated by some vested interests to resort to violence.
“Otherwise what is wrong in commemorating Maharana Pratap Jayanti. He was a national icon, not of any particular community,” he said.
But experts say that the fresh violence against Dalits is a tactical move by the ruling BJP ahead of civic polls scheduled in next two months.
“Even during the historic assembly mandate, BJP lost both assembly seats-Saharanpur and Saharanpur nagar to SP-Congress alliance. The party thus had only one representative-Raghav Lakhan Pal in the region,” said political analyst, Prof Sudhir Panwar.
Dalit activists also see a larger political motive behind the violence and blame the BJP. They apprehend that the fear may spread in 80 villages of the district with predominant Dalit population.
“It is pre-planned in accordance with consolidation of BJP votes. They (BJP) tried Dalit vs Muslims in April Sadak Dudhli but failed. Now they are putting up Dalits against Thakurs. It has been there since long,” said Ram Kumar.