Saharanpur: Rampage by Communal-Casteist Forces

THE attack on dalits in Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur district is symptomatic of the communal and caste forces unleashed in Uttar Pradesh after the BJP victory in the assembly election and the formation of the Adityanath government.

Immediately after the new government assumed office, attacks on Muslims and dalits began. The closing down of meat shops and abattoirs directly affected the livelihoods of lakhs of Muslims and dalits. What is ominous is that with Yogi at the helm, rabid communal and upper caste forces are asserting themselves. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, a private army of violent vigilantes, formed by Yogi Adityanath in 2002 is gaining thousands of new recruits throughout the state who are acting as unrestrained Hindutva storm troopers.

On May 5 in Saharanpur, upper caste Thakurs took out a procession which had been refused permission by the administration, in connection with the installation of a statue of Maharana Pratap in Shimlana village.  One of the groups marching towards the venue went through the dalit basti of Shabbirpur shouting aggressive slogans and playing loud music to which the dalits objected. It should be noted that the dalits in this village had tried to install a statue of Dr Ambedkar on April 14 this year, to which the Thakurs had objected.  The administration had stopped the installation.  In this background, the dalits correctly objected to what was a blatant demonstration of upper-caste arrogance and bravado. When the police intervened, the Thakurs joined by many of their caste-brethren brutally attacked the dalits. 

65 houses, agricultural implements, cattle fodder and motor cycles were destroyed in the arson attack. Scores of people, mainly elderly men, women and children were beaten up, of whom 14 to 15 persons were seriously injured.  The police remained mute spectators to this violent assault.

The role of Hindutva forces now strengthened by the Hindu Yuva Vahini became very apparent in the very first case in Saharanpur on April 24 when BJP leaders took out a procession which was refused permission by the administration ostensibly to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti.  Hardly any dalits participated in it and the real motive for organising the procession became clear when in entered the Muslim-dominated area and anti-minority slogans were raised leading to a clash and to the burning of Muslim vehicles.  Because the police intervened, a BJP mob attacked the home of the SSP himself. He was ignominiously transferred two days later making the intentions of the Yogi government crystal clear and, obviously, emboldening the Hindutva vigilantes.  

The results are the attacks taking place in a number of districts.  A few days before the Shabbirpur incident, 54-year old Ghulam Ahmad of Sohi village, Bulandshahr district was beaten to death by Yuva Vahini men who claimed to have been ‘enraged’ by the elopement of a Hindu woman with a Muslim man in a neighbouring village.

The administration in Saharanpur seems to have fallen in line now.  On May 9, dalits from across the district planned a protest rally in the district headquarter to demand compensation and justice for the Shabbirpur victims.  They were denied permission and when they collected in the Gandhi Maidan and started a peaceful protest, they were viciously lathi-charged.  There was some stone-throwing and arson in retaliation but no ordinary citizens were attacked or harmed.  Since then, the administration is resorting to search operations in villages and targeting dalits.  No compensation of any kind has been announced for the victims.

If these forces continue to be encouraged, Uttar Pradesh will become a cauldron of caste and communal violence.

The Uttar Pradesh government cannot be allowed to transgress its elementary constitutional duties.  The administration has to extend relief and provide compensation to all the affected people in Shabbirpur.  All those guilty of the violence against the dalits must be arrested and prosecuted.  The police must be given clear direction to curb the Hindutva vigilantes. 

(May 17, 2017)

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