Saharanpur caste violence: Too scared to work for Thakurs, Dalits get squeezed for jobs

Hindustan Times, Saharanpur | By
May 30, 2017 06:35 PM IST

Dalits work as labourers on Thakur-held farms. But Saharanpur’s caste violence has scared them and Dalits fear more attacks.

Not so long ago, Om Veer, a Dalit labourer and Amarpal Singh, a Thakur landlord were dependent on each other for work. But today, these two residents of Shabbirpur village do not want to even meet each other.

Kamla Devi, 55, was one of the affected Dailt woman whose house was burnt down. She fears a repeat of the attacks.(HT Photo)
Kamla Devi, 55, was one of the affected Dailt woman whose house was burnt down. She fears a repeat of the attacks.(HT Photo)

Two clashes in twenty days have widened the caste fault lines between the two communities in Shabbirpur -- the epicentre of the Thakur-Dalit clashes in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh.

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“We used to work for Thakurs in the farms. Now, we are too scared to even venture near their houses. Even they will not give us work,” said Om Veer, 30.

Unwilling to work for Thakurs, Dalits, like Veer have lost jobs. Upper caste Thakurs like Amar Pal don’t want to hire them anymore. Prior to strife, the Thakur landlords would easily employ Dalit labourers from the village itself. Today, they struggle to hire outsiders.

“We don’t even look at them, forget giving them work” Veer’s employer Amar Pal said.

A five- hour drive from the national capital, Shabbirpur hit the headlines on May 5 when over 50 Dalit houses were burnt down allegedly by Thakurs after one of their youths was killed during caste clashes. On May 23, violence returned and a Dalit was killed after Thakur houses were allegedly torched before BSP chief Mayawati’s visit to the affected families. Since then, there are more policemen on the road than residents in the village of 600 households.

“Our men used to work in their fields for the longest of time. But, the divide has widened, the hatred intensified. We may be attacked again,” said Kamla Devi, 55 one of the affected Dailt woman inside her half-burnt house. She was discharged from hospital after 15-day treatment this week.

Villagers said the situation had started returning to normalcy between two arsons on May 5 and May 23.

“We had started mingling with them (Dalits) before May 23. But everything has changed now. Working with them seems out of question,” said irrigation department employee Ashok Kumar, a Thakur alleging Dalits torched his cow shed that day.

The village adopted by Saharanpur’s BJP member of parliament (MP) Raghav Lakhanpal is home to 4000 people comprising 40 % Dalits and an equal proportion of Thakurs .

Amid uneasy calm, fear looms large among the Dalits who are picking up the broken pieces of their lives. Thakurs, it seems, have found reason to further establish their supremacy.

The Thakur community says it doesn’t step into Dalit settlements. (HT PHOTO)
The Thakur community says it doesn’t step into Dalit settlements. (HT PHOTO)

“If a cyclist moving wrongly on a road hits a truck and gets injured, people will continue blaming the truck driver,” said Amar Pal Singh, referring to Dalits as a cycle and a Thakur as a Truck.

The two communities living in two separate groups of houses divided by a concrete road have stopped passing through each other’s area.

“The route to Deoband goes through their area. But we prefer to take a longer route from the neighbouring village but will not pass by their houses,” said Karan Singh, a Thakur.

Experts say that the clashes will have a long-lasting impact on the caste dynamics not only in Shabbirpur but neighbouring villages too.

“Dailts apprehend violence will return. Thakurs are asserting their dominance. No Dalit would dare to live here in future,” said political analyst Sudhir Kumar.

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    Gulam Jeelani writes on politics, national affairs and socio-economic issues for Hindustan Times. A journalist for seven years, he worked in Lucknow and Srinagar, before moving to New Delhi.

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