Uttar pradesh

The Dalits of Shabbirpur wait for Ambedkar statue

A view of the Ravidas temple in Shabbirpur village.

A view of the Ravidas temple in Shabbirpur village. | Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

More than four-and-a-half years after violent clashes broke out between Thakurs and Dalits in Shabbirpur, a sprawling village 15 km from Deoband town in Saharanpur district, both the communities are still grappling with the distrust caused by the May 2017 incident that left one dead and several others injured.

It was one of the first incidents that tested the Yogi Adityanath government on maintaining law and order. The clash was rooted in the Dalits’ demand for installing a statue of B. R. Ambedkar, which the Thakurs objected to. Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) consistent effort to appropriate Ambedkar, the statue has not been installed in Shabbirpur.

“It is peaceful as long as we are not responding to the call of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with ‘Jai Bheem’,” Kapil, a rickshaw puller, said, pointing to the procession of tractors moving through the Dalit locality to participate in the Chief Minister’s roadshow in neighbouring Badgam town on Saturday.

While the Thakurs hold the Jatavs responsible for the death of a Thakur youth from a neighbouring village, the Dalits said he died in mysterious circumstances after he desecrated the idol of saint Ravidas in the Dalit temple.

The communities differed on how they played out but both agree that the commotion started after Dalits tried to install a statue of Ambedkar on the periphery of the Ravidas temple. A saint of the Bhakti movement, Ravidas advocated a caste-less society and is venerated by Jatavs.

“We were not allowed to install the statue of Babasahib [Ambedkar] on our land inside our Ravidas temple on Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14,” recalled Satish Jatav, an aged farmer with three bighas of land. “We were asked to seek permission from the administration that dilly-dallied.”

On May 5, when Rajputs took out a procession with a disc jockey to celebrate Maharana Pratap Jayanti, the Dalits objected. “When the SHO (Station House Officer) stopped the procession, the agitated Thakurs, many of whom were outsiders, ransacked the Ravidas temple and torched at least 50 houses,” claimed Mr. Satish.

The Thakurs maintain there was a commotion but the Dalits torched their houses themselves after they had killed one of the Thakur boys in order to seek compensation and sympathy from the media and political leaders. “Everybody visited them, none of them paid us a visit,” Sunny Rajput, an upper caste farmer, said.

Rameshwar Das, an unemployed Industrial Training Institute (ITI) graduate, felt both the communities were at fault for taking the conflict too far but none would admit it. He pointed to the newly built water tank on the periphery of the village that had come up in 2021 because of the efforts of the erstwhile Dalit pradhan and Thakur MLA. “Both the communities get water supply from the same tank but we don’t sip water of each others’ house,” grinned Mr. Das.

Mr. Satish said the Dalits survived the pressure applied by the upper caste because they had landholdings, albeit small. “Had we been only farm workers, we would have been driven out. We received [₹]25,000-50,000 as compensation. It was not enough, but we didn’t raise a fuss for we wanted peace to return,” he said.

Voters here are notably devoted to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, and Azad Samaj Party chief Chandra Shekhar Azad Ravan, who emerged on the political scene after the incident, had no takers here. “His organisation helped us but he should not have looked to make a political future out of it. If he could go to the Samajwadi Party to forge an alliance. Why can’t he approach Behenji [BSP chief Mayawati] with folded hands?” Dilip Kumar, a Dalit activist, asked.

Concerned over the privatisation of jobs, Mr. Kumar said the government had also created a quota within quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS) among the upper castes. “Instead of reservation, ensure one government job for each Dalit family as per the education of the candidate,” he said.

On the perils of the BSP aligning with the BJP post polls, Mr. Kumar said Behenji knew how to turn a dog into a donkey and ride it. “She has done it in the past,” he chuckled. Most of the Dalits this correspondent spoke with said they wanted to defeat the BJP but would vote only for the BSP. “Even if we think to change sides, our vote will be be counted with the BSP,” said Saurabh, a Dalith youth.

Apart from dignity, the Dalits of Shabbirpur are concerned about inflation and rampant unemployment, and swear they will vote for Ms. Mayawati, who visited the village in 2017. Out of around 2,500 voters in the village, about 600 are Dalit voters and about 1,200 are Thakur voters. The rest are Muslims and Other Backward Classes.

Young Saurabh and Parminder wished to serve the nation by joining the forces. While Saurabh is a graduate, Parminder has a degree from a polytechnic institute. “During the COVID pandemic, we had to work as daily wagers in a brick kiln. We are waiting for the recruitment process to start. Perhaps it will bring us dignity,” Mr. Parminder said.

“The BJP is making claims about providing ration but nobody talks of the money this government takes out from our pocket. After COVID, I am forced to work for 12 hours instead of eight for the same salary,” chipped in Rakesh Kumar, who works in a factory in Saharanpur.

An agitated Mr. Kumar said, “We want to defeat the BJP and our vote will go only to Behenji. She has given us atma bal (self confidence).” During her rule, he said, when a Dalit went to register birth and death, the official was found in office on time. “Some officials would even approach us for government schemes. Now we are made to run around,” he added.

The Dalits felt their experience with Samajwadi Party was not good as the party tried to crush Jatavs in the rural areas. “This Samajwadi coming together with Ambedkarwadi is a pretense. They have cheated the BSP in the past,” Mr. Parminder said.

In the Thakur locality of the village, residents were assured of a BJP win. “The party has done no wrong and deserves a second chance. “Where is the inflation? The media is coming all the way here, burning expensive diesel. Isn’t it?” remarked Bijendra Singh, a shopkeeper.

On the possibility of bringing Jatavs into the BJP fold, Mr. Singh said there was no point in asking for the votes of Jatavs as they knew even if they were blindfolded, they would find the elephant (the BSP’s symbol) on the electronic voting machine (EVM).

On Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath praising B. R. Ambdekar in their speeches, Mr. Rajput said it could be good political move by the top leadership. “But not here. They can install it inside the temple but humko chamakni nahin chahiye (it should not be visible to us). Even otherwise, the ball is now in administration’s court,” he said.

How could the administration afford to antagonise them? “Had that been the case, eight upper caste people would not have to spend days in jail and several others were named in FIRs (first information report),” said Shriom Singh, who claimed that he was one among the eight.

Meanwhile, the Ravidas temple is being repainted for the upcoming Ravidas Jayanti to be celebrated on February 16, two days after the village will exercise its franchise. “ Samaj kara raha hai (the community is getting it done),” said Shriprakash, a painter. The Ambedkar statue, however, remains conspicuous by its absence.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 2:35:16 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly/the-dalits-of-shabbirpur-wait-for-ambedkar-statue/article65046364.ece