Saharanpur caste clashes came back on the boil on Tuesday as one more person was killed and around 13 others injured in fresh violence. According to The Indian Express, the victims were targeted in different areas when they were coming back after attending a public meeting called by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati in Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur. Apart from one Muslim, who was injured, all other victims were Dalits. Some of the victims told IE that they were attacked by Thakurs, with rods, lathis and knives.
On Wednesday, UP police said they have arrested 24 people in connection with the clashes between two communities in Saharanpur so far. While one hopes that the arrests would bring calm to the tensed atmosphere in the district, the clashes present one of the biggest challenges for the new Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh. Reason: Such caste clashes are not just law and order challenge but come with huge political implications. It was probably this realisation that forced former UP CM Mayawati to visit the area several days after caste violence broke out in the area.
The spiral of violence started on May 5 when a Thakur man was killed and around 25 Dalit homes were set ablaze in clashes that lasted around 5 hours in Shabbirpur, which is home to around 600 Dalits and over 900 Thakurs, according to PTI.
Reports say that it all began when Dalits were allegedly stopped from installing a statue of BR Ambedkar on the premises of Sant Ravidas temple in the village. Later on May 5, says a PTI report, a Dalit group objected to a procession of Thakurs to mark the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap. This triggered violence leading to the death of a Thakur man and 15 others were injured.
Saharanpur caste violence became a national news and acquired political colours on May 22 when members of a Dalit Organisation, Bhim Army, organised a massive protest rally in Delhi. The leader of the group Chandrashekhar, who is named in one of the 24 FIRS for instigating violent protests by Dalits in Saharanpur on May 9, said the rally was a stage for “gathering of all Dalits” against “saffron terrorism”.
“I won’t accept turban until Saffron terrorism is not wiped out,” he said, signalling that the protest in New Delhi was not just to seek justice for the victims of the caste violence, but something more.
In an article on Wire.in, authors Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar note that Saharanpur protests have led to the emergence of a more “complex and challenging” phase of Dalit politics. With BJP also making inroads into Dalit constituency, the writers say that divide between the “Ambedkarite and Hindutva” Dalits has been widening. At the same time, they say that Dalits have shown unity and closed ranks when attacked by the upper caste.
The Dalit constituency in Uttar Pradesh is up for grabs. More so because of the decline of BSP. It reflected when Mayawati didn’t bother visiting the area for weeks after the violence.
For Yogi Adityanath, who came to power riding on a wave of support from almost all castes and communities of the state, the challenge is two-fold. First, his government needs to win over the victim Dalit families of Saharanpur and at the same time quickly think of ways to prevent upper caste zealots from resorting to violence. Secondly, as a politician, he needs to ensure that the promise of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” is realised soon. And both challenges are not easy to overcome, especially in a state as complex and big as Uttar Pradesh.