Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had barely settled in his high-profile seat when violent inter-caste clashes began rocking some sensitive areas in his state, meriting firm and effective handling. Saharanpur, the important west Uttar Pradesh district, saw the violence of the worst kind in the very recent past when the Rajputs and the Dalits clashed over issues asserting supremacy over one another.
Violence erupted first on 20 April when a procession marking Ambedkar Shobha Yatra held under the aegis of the Dalits was allegedly targeted by the Rajputs and that reportedly incurred the wrath of the Dalits who retaliated with fury. Then on 5 May, there was another nasty clash between the two castes.
The whole issue now stands heavily politicised and there is an evidently vertical division between the Rajputs and Dalits. There are also allegations that the BSP, smitten by the recent rout in the Assembly elections provoked the Dalits to take on the upper caste — a charge that's contested by the BSP leadership. Authoritative sources, meanwhile, also point out that it's all about electoral prospects and politics of vote bank. Sadly enough, Saharanpur has not had local body elections for the last ten years allowing political parties to exploit the situation resulting in intercaste riots. Saharanpur has seen Hindu-Muslim riots but caste based violent incidents are gaining currency as there doesn't seem to have been any sincere attempt by the political players to narrow down their differences due to parochial reasons encouraging violence time and again.
It is really ironical that violence erupted thrice in the last three weeks claiming two lives and saw so many houses set ablaze. Significantly, a police post was also set ablaze by a frenzied mob. Such was the intensity of the clashes that senior police officers had to escape the onslaught by running away to safety. This indicates that law and order machinery was caught unawares in coping with the extraordinary situation and the district magistrate admitted that the local intelligence did not anticipate the extent of violence.
Both the warring castes are using the names of their icons to the hilt. The Rajputs wanted to observe the birthday of Maharana Pratap which was violently objected to by the Dalits. Similarly, the Dalits wanted to hold a mahapanchayat last Tuesday but fearing clashes, police did not accord permission thus further escalating the prospects of violence.
As the warring castes were drifting apart due to lack of anticipation by the administration as also due to indifference, over the years saw the emergence of Bheem Army formed by the Dalits to take on their adversaries.
The architect of this army as well champion of the Dalit cause is a young lawyer called Chandrashekhar. He is seen as a firebrand leader of the Dalits who left no stones unturned in exploiting other national issues affecting the Dalits. Notably, he highlighted the suicide of Rohith Vemula and also brought into focus the Una incidents when Gaurakshaks allegedly beat up and perpetrated physical acts of violence on the Dalits. The division between the two castes is so sharp in Saharanpur that last year most objectionable and unparliamentary language was used in front of the statue of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as charged by the activists of the Bheem Army.
To infuse fresh confidence among the people of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh government has removed two superintendents of police bringing in two new faces. Yet, people are gripped with fear and uncertainty. Saharanpur has a sizeable Dalit population and they remain fraught with fears of attack by the upper castes. The same sense of feeling is nurtured by the Rajputs.
The recent incidents have unfortunately split Saharanpur under two iconic leaders of history. They tend to distort history by conveying a message that Maharana Pratap stands for the Rajputs alone and Ambedkar only for the Dalits. This misconception must be dispelled at the earliest for larger peace and caste amity. A tiny spark in Saharanpur has the potential to ignite sensitive districts in Uttar Pradesh which have already been volatile. Writings on the wall must be carefully read by the new Uttar Pradesh government or else it may be too late to control a very complex province already saddled with multiple challenges.
In the meantime, reports trickling in indicate that the eastern Uttar Pradesh district, Deoria is tense following caste-linked problems. Immediate damage control is need of the hour. Adityanath has carefully chosen a competent DGP heading the humongous police force. Expectations run high among the public from Sulkhan Singh to rein in any disturbing trend affecting peace in the state lest it goes out of control. Saharanpur seems to be a test case from the law and order point of view. Should it succeed, people would feel assured and live in a carefree and secure environment.
The writer is a retired IPS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre and a senior fellow with the India Police Foundation. Views expressed are personal.
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Updated Date: May 12, 2017 17:21:42 IST