One person was killed and at least 20 others injured in a fresh episode of violence that erupted in western Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district. This is the third time in less than three weeks that clashes have broken out between Thakurs and Dalits in the area.
The trigger for the latest round of unrest comes on the heels of a rally by Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) chief Mayawati in Shabbirpur village, though it's not clear who, or what specifically, set it off.
According to some reports, a few Dalits threw stones at Rajput homes before the rally, which reignited the conflict between the communities. Others claim heaps of hay and dung were set to fire in a Thakur locality and at least 12 homes were torched. Still others say a truck bearing Dalits back from the rally was stopped and attacked, allegedly by the Thakurs of the area.
According to The Indian Express, the dead man has been identified as 25-year-old Ashish Meghraj, a resident of Sarsawa, who was stabbed in the abdomen. The Adityanath government has announced a compensation of ₹15 lakhs to his family.
However, Mayawati said the state government has till now not provided relief and compensation to the earlier victims of the violence. She announced the BSP would provide assistance of ₹50,000 to all those whose homes have been burnt and ₹25,000 to those injured in the violence.
"This is not right as it is the party of all communities. We want to create an equal society in the country. The party follows the path shown by Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. The BSP maintained the brotherhood and didn't let a single communal riot to take place during its rule," Mayawati was quoted as saying by ANI.
Inderpal, 50, who is grievously injured, also told the newspaper that he was attacked by a group of 10 people, 5 of whom are Thakurs from his village, with rods. Others chimed in with similar testimonies as well.
According to ANI, the police have arrested 24 people so far. Several senior officials, along with additional reinforcements, have been stationed in Saharanpur until the situation returns to normal.
The district has been on the boil since April, when a group of Thakurs attacked Dalits for planning to install an idol BR Ambedkar at a local Ravidas temple to mark the birth anniversary of their iconic leader.
Days later, on 5 May, the Dalits retaliated at the Thakurs while they were on their way to garland a statue of Maharana Pratap. In the ensuing conflict, a 35-year-old Thakur man of injuries after being pelted with stones and 16 people, including a head constable of the police, were injured.
However, some reports said the police stopped the Maharana Pratap procession after some Dalits informed them of it. This angered the Rajputs, who, allegedly, resorted to violence. On 9 May, several Dalit homes in the village were set to fire, which led to widespread protests across the state.
As many as 2,000 Dalits in Aligarh, for instance, have threatened to convert to Islam as a mark of protest against the atrocities they routinely face at the hands of the Thakurs. At least 50 individuals (or families, it's not clear which) from the Valmiki community in Moradabad also said the same and immersed idols of Hindu deities in the Ramganga river in a symbolic gesture. After being refused haircuts by Muslim barbers, the Valmiki community in Sambhal also took a similar pledge to stand up to the upper castes.
Chandrashekhar Azad, the elusive founder of the Bhim Army, a reactionary group behind the Dalit violence in Saharanpur, appeared at a massive protest event at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi recently and promised to surrender to the police, but not before urging his people to "prepare for a long battle ahead".
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