Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh is on the boil for over one months as the Thakurs who are also known as Kshatriyas or Rajputs have been engaged in violent attacks on the Dalits in which several people have been killed, several other injured and houses burnt in village Shabbirpur. Western Uttar Pradesh is a very fertile land of powerful farmers of Jat and Gujjar communities who have dominated the politics with late Charan Singh, former Prime Minister of India, the tallest icon among them but now it is the most active place for the Hindutva strategists to plan their future politics in the state. It must be known to everyone that the BJP was never the first choice of the farmer communities in Uttar Pradesh. Charan Singh had actually created an alliance of Ahir, Jat, Gujjar Rajputs but later on the Janata brands of socialists converted this into MAJGR by adding Muslims in it. This was a powerful alliance and leaders succeeded through weaving this secular alliance. Some put ‘Harijans’’ too into it which was the term being used for Dalits before 1980s, of course, it is also a reality that before the arrival of Bahujan Samaj Party, the Dalits of this region could never use their franchise independently without any fear or favor.
But after the hugely successful ‘Muzaffarnagar experiment’ to control politics in Uttar Pradesh, BJP needed to break this alliance and convert it into Muslims verses non-Muslim binary which gave it high ‘return’’ of votes during the elections. An analysis of the beneficiaries from BJP’s strategy and harvest of hatred are the two communities of Thakurs and Brahmins who were absolutely marginalized in the post Mandal politics. Due to the over ambitious and narrow minded approach of the current day politicians and the Sangh Parivar’s dedicated work on the ground made it possible to use the contradiction among various communities and convince the upper castes that they are the victims of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and this made these communities highly charged. The problem with the current dispensation is that it has no time for governance as it continues to be on the election mode and it has learnt the art of democratic dividends through division of votes.
On April 20th Saharanpur saw an attempt to create rift between the Dalits and Muslims. BJP MP Ram Lakhan Pal Sharma wanted to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti through organizing a procession which was to pass through some of the Muslim dominated areas. The administration had denied permission as the Dalits had already celebrated the AmbedkarJayanti Programme on April 14th. Sharma’s supporters became violent and for the first time the police became virtually helpless in front of the goons of the MP. Superintendent of Police Lav Kumar’s house was raided and his family with little children and were terrorized, as per the statement of police officer. Instead of taking any action against Sharma, Uttar Pradesh government transferred the honest officer and brought in the officer Mr Subhash Chandra, who was mentioned negatively in the Muzaffarnagar riots judicial commission report.
The first engineered riots after April 20th was on May 14th when the Thakurs were organizing themselves to celebrate the Maharanapratap Jayanti who have become an ímportant’ icon for BJP. The fact is that Maharana Pratap and Prithviraj Chauhan’s birthday celebrations are an effort to assert Rajput supremacy. Two Rajput leaders V P Singh and Arjun Singh were widely regarded with the movement of social justice but for Rajputs these remains ‘traitors’ as they facilitated the Mandal recommendations at different levels. Recently, Yogi Aditynath was invited as chief guest to commemorate the birthday of former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar in Lucknow. Despite claiming to be a ‘socialist’ leader, a follower of Acharya Narendra Dev, Chandrashekar was essentially a Thakur and remained ‘proud’ of his values. In the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Thakurs still consider Chandrashekar as one among their top leaders. Now, this caste unity grows beyond party lines. After the ascendency of Yogi Adityanath, the Thakurs in Uttar Pradesh are virtually celebrating. There are reports of Thakur civil servants being given important positions in administration. RSS and other allied organisations are not that active in the state as Hindu Yuva Vahini has outnumbered them and most of the leaders of the Vahini hails from powerful Rajputs as well as dominant OBC communities resulting in violence against Muslims in particular and now against those Dalits who are asserting themselves.
Saharanpur has been an active hub of BSP and powerful Ambedkarite assertive politics. The Dalits here have been active in the BSP movement for long and an alliance of them with Muslims is always a winning combination. The other powerful community in the district is Gujjar but unfortunately in the politics of farcical sloganeering, the Thakurs and Brahmins have dominated the art of manipulating things which has reduced Gujjars into political non-entity despite being in majority in the region. It has also come into notice that with the local bodies elections around the corner, it is reported Raghav Lakhan Pal Sharma is eyeing for his son to contest the elections. However, there are other side of the story too as reported by Sanjiv Chandan in the Forward Press, about the possible involvement of Sher Singh Rana, the accused of killing Samajwadi Party MP, Phoolan Devi at her residence in Delhi and who is now on bail. It is no secret that Sher Singh Rana used the murder of Phoolan Devi to promote his political credentials by suggesting that he has avenged the killings of the Rajputs in the Behmahi village in Kanpur Dehat allegedly by Phoolan Devi. Sanjiv Chandan who interviewed him, says, that Rana is political savvy and highly ambitious person and has been actively promoting Maharana Pratap as the pride of Rajputs. The rise of Bhim Army can be seen as a threat to Rajput supremacy.
Prime Minister has been paying glorious tributes to Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and misses no opportunity to profusely quoting him as the builder of modern India but he has to understand that a modern democratic Ambedkar can not go with the old Rajas, Kings, emperors and Monarchs. Personally speaking, there is no justification of celebrating the valor of the Rajas and Maharajas as they were the product of their period and definitely except for taking pride in their caste, there is nothing much to glorify and celebrate. Today, if we are talking of ending caste system, bringing out law against untouchability or affirmative action for the Dalits and other marginalized sections of society, it is because of the democracy. Were these possible if we had these regimes ? Why do India had a society which was so fanatic about caste and untouchability ? If those thinkers of the Sanghparivar who glorify these icons and deliberately try to bring one icon of each community to celebrate the ‘glory’ of the past, then they should tell us how many of these Rajas worked for ending caste discrimination, untouchability in their empire ? In fact the biggest victims are Rajputs , majority of their women still live in veils particularly in Rajasthan which is considered to be a region where Rajputs ruled for long and still have palaces and forts that makes all of us pride of these historical and beautiful structure but in the same place we have highly feudal system, caste system, child marriages and celebration of Sati too and that got justification from none other than Gwalior Royal family and one of the founding members of BJP Mrs Vijaya Raje Scindia.
The huge protest that BhimSena organized at the Jantar Mantar has shown the strength of the Dalits who may not be willing to depend too much on political parties for resolving their crisis particularly related to their integrity and dignity. Bhim Sena has grown in the region as it not only started working positively among the community by starting schools and engaged in developing entrepreneurship among the Dalit community. Of course, the primary strength of the Bhim Army is the Chamar Community and that makes us ponder whether the Hindutva forces feel the Sena as a threat or want it to eliminate BSP and Ms Mayawati who enjoyed immense power in this region. People were expecting Bhim Sena chief Chandrashekhar Azad to be arrested at Jantar Mantar but he has not been arrested so far. At the moment we will not speculate about his activities or future plan of action unless there are some more public action on his part.
On May 23rd, BSP President MsMayawati went to tour village Shabbirpur village where the houses of Dalits were ransacked by the Thakurs. The administration did not allow her to use a helicopter hence she went by road and it was a boon as thousands of BSP workers from Ghaziabad to Meerut, Muzaffarnagar were waiting for her enroute to Saharanpur. She had a road show and she spoke of maintaining law and order and asked for actions against the culprits. She also provided financial support from her party to families who had lost their houses, a work which the state government should have done. One may disagree with her but she has been measured in her response which many of her strong critiques in the community called as tame surrender to upper caste politics but people should not forget that you can’t expect a four time chief minister to speak tit for tat and ‘khoonka badla khoon se lenge’ kind of language which the Hindutva politicians have been speaking. MsMayawati showed much more maturity but it is also time for her to be aggressive and cater to the vast demands of the young educated Dalits who are now getting restive with slow or no responses by her party on these kind of issues. People felt that she has taken almost over a month to visit Saharanpur yet it warmed the already depressed cadres.
But as soon as the Dalits were returning from Ms Mayawati’s programme in Shabbirpur, Saharanpur there were clashes and violence. The Thakurs attacked the Dalits resulting in several deaths. It is ironic that the Uttar Pradesh chief Minister or the Prime Minister has not spoken a word on it. Mere condemnation of the things will not work. The fact is that these kind of contradictions that BJP tried to manage during the elections with one agenda of anti-Muslim rhetoric will not work for long. The Rajputs have become hyper during this government. Economically, they are not a power house with land getting fragmented they have no strength of population to control politics of the region. In the government services the percentage of Rajputs is very low and one of the reasons for this was community’s disdain as it always thought in highly feudal value term. Even when over the past few decades, Rajputs were not engaged in social violence and seems to have accepted the social reality that they don’t have numbers, nor they have the financial power of Mukesh Ambani kind of people to dictate the politics but with the growth of Hindutva and its muscular politics, Rajputs again are being ‘militirised’ which is a desperate attempt and will only be suicidal for it as it is 21st century world where each one is being watched and observed. It is the age of human dignity and human rights too. In the age of democracy Rajputs can’t live in their present through the ‘past’ pride which may not be ‘ glorious’. A Maharana Pratap can be an icon for community in terms of valor but in today’s world you celebrate it through ideas and guns. If they want to take any solace, it is time for all of them to come in the path of Buddha and that would guarantee their liberation along with all others. The creation of ‘’community’ based heroes is a political construct of Sangh Parivar so that we all are stuck inside our communities and do not accept any other thought of liberation. Such confinement makes look Maharanapratap as a Rajput icon while relegating Dr Ambedkar merely as a Dalit icon. The Rajputs and for that matter any other Sawarna caste must liberate itself from the prejudices of the past and that is possible only when it is able to positively understand the writings of Dr Ambedkar but the political parties which want to use Ambedkar just to garner Dalit votes will never be able to do justice with him.
Dalits are responding to it from different angles. Many believe in political response, others thinking of a mighty Bhim Sena and a few of them through religious conversion. Over 180 families converted to Buddhism in Saharanpur. Earlier, in Sambhal, Balmikis, which is a community of manual scavengers left Hinduism and embraced Buddhism because of their continuous isolation. The tragedy is that even the barbars were not cutting their hair. How has it happened that all of a sudden the anti Dalit feelings in the state are growing? We need to probe it. The fact is that Barbers are one of the most humiliated communities in India and at many places their job is not just cutting hair but in our traditional village system of Manu, they are supposed to help both the bride and grooms side which means they wash feets of the baratis and do all kind of work which none would advise in modern democratic society but such is the ‘power’ of varnashram dharma that even a humiliated Barbar enjoy humiliating those who he feel are ‘lower’ than him. Long ago Baba Saheb Ambedkar called it graded inequality, ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt.
While conversion definitely has been a liberation theology for the Dalits in India but the pressure of the government is that they can’t use this right to faith in todays time. The right to faith is frankly provided to them just conversion to Buddhism as the Hindutva forces consider Buddhism part of their dharma though which is incorrect but they don’t feel too much of threat from it. Other than this, any conversion to Islam or Christianity by the Dalits will not only be violently protested by the Sanghparivar’s various offshoots but also by the state apparatus. Even when the Sangh Parivar is not thinking Buddhism as a threat in broader level but there is another fact which make them glee is that there has not been any measured call for conversion to Buddhism since the passing away of Dr Baba SahebAmbedkar who embraced Buddhism in Nagpur on October 14th, 1956. Can any organization give a call to Dalits over the country to embrace Buddhism on October 14th 2017 this year ? When political parties fail Dalits, they will either embrace militancy or spiritual liberation through conversion. Is there any other way which can give them justice and sense of belonging ?
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: firstname.lastname@example.org