Defying the denial of permission to hold a protest rally, thousands of Dalits have swamped New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, protesting against the Uttar Pradesh government's alleged silence on the Saharanpur caste-based riots.
The Dalit leaders spearheading the protest had reportedly approached the Delhi Police for permission to hold an assembly of around 15000 Dalits from Uttar Pradesh to protest against the alleged 'selective' police action against Dalits in the recent Saharanpur violence. However, the infuriated leaders decided to go on with their agitation after the administration denied there request.
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The protestors, led by a newly formed Dalit outfit the Bheem Army and comprising youths from Saharanpur district and nearby towns, were joined at Jantar Mantar by members of the All India Students Association, student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
"We demand cancellation of charges pressed against Chandrashekhar Azad (Bheem Army's founder member) and strong action against so-called upper caste men who rioted and ransacked Dalit villagers' property," AISA National President Sucheta De told IANS.
An AISA member present at the protest spot said the new Dalit rights group had managed to draw a "huge crowd" -- which they claimed to be 10,000-15,000 strong-- for its maiden protest.
The Bheem Army is a group of educated youths at the grass roots from the region who differ from the traditional narrative of Dalit rights centred around job and educational reservation only, the AISA leader told IANS.
After the Saharanpur incident, the police arrested 30 people, mostly Dalits, in connection with the violence. The protesters allege that the Saharanpur police was high-handed in their action against the police. They are demanding that all cases against Dalit youths be scrapped and a proper enquiry should be launched in the issue. The protesters also demand adequate compensation for those whose houses were burnt by the members of upper caste in the ensuing unrest.
"Our people were targetted, our peope were thrashed, our homes were burnt and cases are also being lodged against our sons," a protester told CNN-News18.
The Delhi police has deployed strict security measures near the venue of the protest to ensure that the situation remains under control. So far, no attempts have been made to evacuate the protest venue, by the administration.
Saharanpur was engulfed in a bout of violence earlier in May spurred by a minor scuffle between the Thakur and Dalit communities in Shabbirpur village, in which one person was killed and at least 15 others were injured.
Around 20-25 youths of upper caste Thakur community were on their way to take part in a function to garland the statue of Rajput warrior-king Maharana Pratap, when the Dalit locals objected to the loud music being played by them. It soon snowballed into a full-blown clash with both the groups throwing stones and bricks at each other.
The Dalits asked the processionists to turn off the music blaring out of loudspeakers as they passed by a Ravidas temple.
A police team, which rushed to the spot, managed to pacify the Thakur youths and asked them to return to their village, but they soon returned with more people and indulged in brickbatting and arson, torching 15 to 20 Dalit houses as well as vehicles including those of the police.
Before this, on 20 April, communal clashes had broken out in the district during a Dalit procession to celebrate BR Ambedkar's birth centenary. Around a dozen people were injured in the clashes that erupted after members of another community objected to the procession.
BJP MP from Saharanpur Raghav Lakhanpal was among those booked in connection with the incident.
Updated Date: May 22, 2017 15:18 PM