Saharanpur on edge again after Bhim Army leader's brother's death stokes communal flames; kin blame police, administration

Saharanpur: There has seldom been any love lost between the Thakurs and Dalits of Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh. And the death of Sachin Walia on the afternoon of 9 May, a member of the Dalit Bhim Army in the district, from a bullet wound has raised the hackles of both communities again in this sensitive region.

File photo of the deceased. Image procured by PC Mahesh Kumar

File photo of the deceased Sachin Walia. Image procured by PC Mahesh Kumar

"The district administration got him killed," said Samrat Gautam, a cousin of the slain Bhim Army member. "Sachin was a very down to earth man and kept cordial relations with everyone, be it Dalit or Non-Dalit."

"Prima facie it looks like an accidental fire from his own country-made gun while cleaning that killed Sachin," said Saharanpur senior superintendent of police (SSP) Babloo Kumar. "

But that is not the final conclusion. The police has launched a probe into the death." Police are yet to recover the gun.

But Samrat alleges that police officials knew about the plan to kill Sachin. "Despite knowing that all was not well between we Dalits and Thakurs, the district administration gave them permission to hold the programme and swords and guns were being displayed by the Thakurs," said Samrat.

Blue shroud for Bhim Army soldier

The programme in question was the annual Maharana Pratap Jayanti event in Rajput Bhawan in Saharanpur town. "We gave permission as the programme is organised every year, except in 2017," said Praval Pratap, SP City, Saharanpur. But the situation turned ugly after news of Sachin's death spread.

Hundreds of Bhim Army members took control of the district hospital demanding compensation of Rs 50 lakh, a government job and immediate action against the officer who issued permission to hold the programme, and the sealing of Rajput Bhawan.

Kamal Walia, in blood stained clothes, the brother of deceased talking to government official on Wednesday. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

Kamal Walia, in blood-stained clothes, the brother of deceased talking to a government official on Wednesday. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

The last rites of Sachin, draped in a blue shroud, were held in Ram Nagar village, which is just seven kilometres from the district headquarters, with hundreds of people in attendance. People from the Dalit community poured into the village, not only from Uttar Pradesh but from nearby states as well.

Not willing to take any chances, the district administration cut internet access in the district for 24 hours and called in three companies of rapid action force and two companies of the PAC to avoid any untoward incident.

Sachin's body was handed over to his family after the police conducted the postmortem around 4 am on Thursday morning.

Bhim army member Sachin Walia's body draped in a blue shroud being taken for last rites. Image courtesy Kamal Bhargava

Bhim Army member Sachin Walia's body draped in a blue shroud, being taken for last rites. Image courtesy Kamal Bhargava

While the official autopsy report has not been made public, it is understood that one bullet has been recovered, though no details of make or calibre have been revealed officially. "Nothing concrete has been found as yet and the police is doing its work," said SSP Kumar. Though sources indicate that the bullet is of 315 bore.

"Our priority is to maintain law and order," said district magistrate PK Pandey. "Internet services were suspended for 24 hours but we are thinking of extending it. The whole district has been turned into a virtual fortress."

Dalits protest after death of Bhim army member Sachin Walia in Saharanpur UP. Image courtesy Kamal Bhargava

Dalits protest after death of Bhim Army member Sachin Walia in Saharanpur. Image courtesy Kamal Bhargava

'We will not sit quietly'

In the complaint filed by Sachin's mother Kanti Walia, four persons – Deepak Rana alias Kanaha, Sher Singh Rana, Updesh Rana and Nagendra Rana – have been named. The complaint also alleged that local authorities, especially the police, are responsible for Sachin's death.

"It was a plot by the district administration," said Kamal, Sachin's brother and district president of the Bhim Army. The allegation is echoed by cousin Samrat. "We have registered the complaint," he said. "The next step will be taken after the last rites, but it is sure that we will not sit quietly."

RAF deployment in the Rampur village on Wednesday evening. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

RAF deployment in the Rampur village on Wednesday evening. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

After the incident, two videos of nine and 26 seconds were released by the police. In these videos, people are seen washing blood stains in Ram Nagar village, where Sachin died. "Whatever happened is an accident," claimed Pratap. "We are probing the matter. Actual facts would be out very soon." He also claimed that the situation was under control and normal.

It is quite a coincidence that in May 2017 too about 12 people were seriously injured and over 50 houses burnt after clashes between Dalits and Thakurs broke out in Shabbirpur village. Five policemen and an additional district magistrate were among the injured in the bloody clashes.

Several FIRs had been filed and many were taken into custody, including Bhim Army's founder Chandra Shekhar alias Ravan, who was booked under NSA and is still behind bars. Then too internet services had been suspended for many days and a few police and administrative officers were transferred.

Procession of Thakurs on the occasion of Maharana Pratap Jayanti on Wednesday before Sachin was killed. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

Procession of Thakurs on the occasion of Maharana Pratap Jayanti on Wednesday before Sachin was killed. Image courtesy PC Mahesh Kumar

With inputs from Mahesh Kumar.

The author is a Meerut-based freelance writer. Contributors are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.


Updated Date: May 10, 2018 17:54 PM

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