New Delhi: Thousands of Bhim Army supporters and members gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar Sunday demanding the release of their leader Chandrashekhar Azad and other Dalits arrested in relation to the Saharanpur violence by the Uttar Pradesh Police.
The gathering, attended by around 2,500 Bhim Army supporters, saw Dalits from several parts of the country to arriving at the heart of the national capital and voicing their anger against the arrests. Azad’s mother Kamlesh Devi and brothers Kamal Kishore and Bhagat Singh, Bahujan Samajwadi Party's founder Kanshi Ram's sister Swaran Kaur were also present at the gathering.
Wearing blue caps with ‘Jai Bhim’ written, protesters thronged to the road between Parliament Street police station and the New Delhi Municipal Council Convention Centre around 10 am chanting ‘Jai Bhim’.
Over a dozen speakers took the opportunity to condemn the Uttar Pradesh administration’s role in the violence that started on 5 May in Saharanpur and took the lives of two people.
Addressing the crowd, Azad’s younger brother Kamal threatened to start a “jail bharo andolan” if his brother and other Dalits arrested on “false” charges were not released soon. Azad's mother, Kamlesh Devi, who has taken the mantle of Bhim Army chief from her son since his arrest, said that her son had been targeted for voicing the atrocities against Dalits.
"I am proud of my son and all my other sons who do not hesitate in even laying their lives for the cause of Dalits. For ages, the upper caste zamindaars have trampled us under their feet. It is time to rise up," she said.
Chandrashekhar, a lawyer by profession, was arrested on 8 June by the Uttar Pradesh Task force from Himachal Pradesh's Dalhousie in connection with his alleged role in the Thakur- Dalit clash in Saharanpur.
Using the Saharanpur incident as a catalyst, some of the speakers voiced their anger over the larger issue of discrimination faced by the Dalits in the country and even called to take up arms to counter the atrocities meted out to the members of the community.
“We built the Bhim Army to fight for the causes of our community, and to save ourselves. If we can use plough, axes and other equipment deftly, surely we can use the stick as well to protect ourselves. The time has come to use the stick not as a tool but as a weapon,” Kalyan Singh, spokesperson, Bhim Army, addressing the crowd said.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram's sister Swarn Kaur who was aslo at the venue, said, "(BSP supremo) Mayawati built her entire career on my brother's work. This is a new movement spearheaded by the youth. Whenever there's injustice, the youth will rise."
After the gathering, representatives of the Dalit outfit went to the President’s House and handed over a memorandum to the officials.
“Fifty-five houses were burnt in Shabbirpur, but the Uttar Pradesh government registered names of only four houses for compensation. We demand that compensation should be given to the rest of the 51 people as well and new houses should be built for them under Indira Awas Yojna,” said Singh.
Accusing the Uttar Pradesh Police of inaction and colluding with the Thakur community, Bhim Army’s representatives said the local police didn’t stop the perpetrators of violence from the upper caste community members on 5 May despite being present there.
“There should be strict action against police officials present at Shabbirpur village that day,” Singh added.
However, sharp divisions within the ranks of the emerging outfit came to the fore during the demonstration with the organisers pushing down a member from the dais, accusing him of attempting to "hijack" the movement, triggering chaos and confusion.
The organisers also raised funds for the victims of the clash during the demonstration and people were given slots to speak based on the amount donated by them.
"It is apparent that Bhim Army lacks discipline. But it comprises largely of youths and they will learn with time," Ummed Singh Gautam, the chief patron of the Samta Sainik Dal, founded by BR Ambedkar in 1926, said.
The protest had started after the recent violence involving Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur during the birth anniversary celebrations of Maharana Pratap.
The skirmish took place on 5 May, when a mob, allegedly from the Thakur community, ransacked and burned down houses belonging to Dalits, and injured 15 members of the community in Saharanpur.
With PTI inputs
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2017 20:16 PM