Saharanpur violence: Dalits, Thakurs' assiduous efforts to assert caste identity come at cost of development

Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur are spending enormous resources on asserting caste identities. These resources could have been used for their development.

Vivek Anand May 07, 2018 16:44:22 IST
Saharanpur violence: Dalits, Thakurs' assiduous efforts to assert caste identity come at cost of development

Editor's note: The BJP, its ideological lodestar RSS, and even the BSP, a party with moorings in Dalit identity, have, in recent months, outdone themselves to court the Dalit constituency. The community itself has found new ways to assert its leverage over Indian political parties and reinforce its place in society. Firstpost will travel across UP, the test bed of India's Dalit politics, to record how these changes have altered life in its villages, towns and cities.

In Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, the presence of statues of Dr BR Ambedkar and Maharana Pratap has increased. There appears to be a kind of contest between the Dalit and the Thakur communities to assert their identities. Ambedkar statues are being erected in every other Dalit-dominated area. As a reaction to this, the Thakurs are putting in place statues of Maharana Pratap.

For a dominant caste, the assertion of collective identity through statues in this manner is uncommon.

The population of Saharanpur is 34 lakh, out of which 17 percent are Dalits and about 10 percent belong to the Rajput community.

Saharanpur violence Dalits Thakurs assiduous efforts to assert caste identity come at cost of development

A damaged car in Saharanpur after caste clashes. File image. PTI

A similar contest plays out in the way Ambedkar Jayanti and Maharana Pratap Jayanti are celebrated in public spaces. During such celebrations, DJ consoles and loudspeakers are becoming a common feature. In Maheshpur, which falls in the Deoband tehsil, along with Maharana Pratap, statues of a saint from Rajasthan who holds spiritual significance for the locals, are also being seen at some places. On 5 May, which marked completion of one year since gory caste clashes took place in the district, a group named Rajput Chetna Manch garlanded a large statue of the Rajput king of Mewar and also offered a candlelight tribute to Sumit Rana, who lost his life in the violence. Communities are finding ways to remind themselves of the enmity through performance and prayer. Members from either caste are still locked up in jail, which also keeps hatred alive in public memory.

Sudhesh Kumar is the brother of the former gram pradhan Shiv Kumar, who is still in jail under the National Security Act, 1980. Recounting what led to last year’s incident, he says that  some Dalits were planning on setting up an Ambedkar statue inside a Ravidas temple and a stage was being pieced together inside the temple on which the statue was to be placed. But the Thakurs complained to the police who showed up at the temple and halted the construction. The Ravidas statue is still damaged. Sudhesh Kumar cites this as proof that the local administration isn’t sensitive towards Dalits. The land, he says, belongs to the gram samaaj, land granted to the village for welfare of local communities and the prime reason for last year’s clashes was the resistance towards Dalit identity assertion by dominant castes and the police administration.

Just outside Shabbirpur is Badgaon, inhabited by Pundir Rajputs. Here, Manoj runs a small chaat stall next to a statue of Maharana Pratap that stands on a shaky pedestal. He says that some years ago, a bunch of Thakur boys fought with the police to place the statue in the Deoband constituency. However, BJP MLA Kunwar Brijesh Singh says there isn’t any controversy regarding this particular statue as it has been around for long.

Nearly 35 kilometres away is a village named Khushalipur that has been adopted by BJP MP from the region Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma. Here, members of the Dalit community complain that lanes haven’t been cemented, drains haven’t been built and the construction of small bridges over drains hasn’t been completed.

Meanwhile, Vinod Singh, a Dalit farmer from Khushalipur, says that on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar (14 April), a large celebration with food and music was organised for the first time and Dalits from neighbouring villages were invited too.

The assertion of caste identities in a place like Shabbirpur also causes financial strain on communities and may end up redirecting their limited resources away from exercises that could have led to the development.

This article  is the second part of a series of articles. You can read the first part here.

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