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As Capt seeks to assuage Dalit sentiment, Phagwara again on the boil over chowk name

A clash had broken out between members of a Dalit outfit and Hindu “upper caste” right-wing groups when members of the former allegedly installed a board carrying a picture of Ambedkar and the “new name” at the chowk on NH-1.

punjab Updated: Apr 25, 2018 09:54 IST
Jatinder Mahal
Jatinder Mahal
Hindustan Times, Phagwara
Dalit sentiment,Phagwara,right-wing groups
A board with the name Samvidhan Chowk in Punjabi and a photo of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, who is regarded as the Constitution’s main architect, put up on April 13 at a roundabout otherwise known as Gol Chowk. This had led to violent clashes between Dalit groups and ‘upper caste’ Hindu right wing groups. (HT File )

Days after a clash on the issue, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh sought to assuage the sentiments of the Dalit community by giving approval to rename Phagwara’s Gol Chowk as Samvidhan (Constitution) Chowk. The Dalits, with this move, wanted to pay homage to the constitution’s main architect BR Ambedkar who was a Dalit too. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out in support of the general category, and sought to rename the crossing after revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh instead, here on Tuesday.

On April 13, a clash had broken out between members of a Dalit outfit and Hindu “upper caste” right-wing groups when members of the former allegedly installed a board carrying a picture of Ambedkar and the “new name” at the chowk on National Highway-1. Four persons were injured; one of them, Yashwant Bobby, is undergoing treatment in Ludhiana and stated to be in a serious condition.

On Tuesday evening in Chandigarh, the CM, who met a delegation of Dalit community including families of the victims, said, “There is nothing wrong in naming the roundabout as Samvidhan Chowk, as our Constitution does not belong to any particular caste or creed and we all Indians are proud of it.” He directed the local administration to follow “proper procedure” for renaming the chowk.

But Phagwara mayor Arun Khosla said at a protest organised by an outfit called General Samaj Manch: “I will call a special MC house meeting on Wednesday and ensure that it passes the agenda to rename the chowk after Bhagat Singh.” The Manch has called for a bandh on Wednesday.

Local MLA Som Parkash of BJP said, “The ruling party Congress should not play politics on this issue. The CM should try to pacify the situation first after visiting the Phagwara; but he is trying to widen the communal tension.”

The local police on Monday had removed seven Dalits’ name, including those of two men injured, from the FIR.

He claimed that councillors had made a proposal “seven years back” to rename the chowk after Bhagat Singh, but, “I do not know why it has not been done.”

The issue has led to tension beyond just Phagwara, in the larger Doaba region which has a significant population of Dalits. Punjab has 32% Dalits in its population, the highest proportion among all states. HT has also learnt that in support of the General Samaj Manch, some Congress councillors too have threatened to quit.

Earlier in the day, before the CM’s announcement, some people from the Dalit community forced a local shopkeeper to down shutters in Bansawala Bazaar. Following this, many other shopkeepers downed shutters and held protest on Banga Road against the police. Members of General Samaj Manch too joined the protest.

“We are cooperating with the local administration and police. But this is now intolerable that a group of people came and forced shopkeepers to shut down their shops without any reason,” said Fateh Singh, a member of the Manch.

Many shopkeepers have announced that they would keep their shops closed until Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) leader Jarnail Nangal and other Dalits booked in the FIR are not arrested by the police. A day after the clash, around 100 people, including 33 by name, were booked under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 295A (hurting religious sentiments), 392 (robbery), 353 (assault), 186, 427, 148 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and provisions of the Arms Act and the National Highways Act.

In the FIR, besides Hindu right-wing leaders, police have included some Dalits including the LIP leader Jarnail Nangal and Ambedkar Sena (Mool Niwasi) president Harbhajan Suman, blaming them for the clash. Four people, including Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) senior state vice-president Inderjit Karwal, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Suraksha Samiti state president Deepak Bhardwaj, Shiv Sena leader Shivi Batta and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha leader Rajiv Chahal, were arrested.

The local police on Monday had removed seven Dalits’ name, including those of two men injured, from the FIR.

First Published: Apr 25, 2018 09:54 IST