Even as the Uttar Pradesh government scrambled with firefighting measures, violence-hit Saharanpur remained on the edge on Wednesday, after another murder was reported in the wake of inter-caste clashes that have rocked the city since early May.
The situation remained tense in the district, especially around Shabbirpur village, which is at the heart of the current crisis. In response, the state government imposed Section 144 in the region to clamp down on stray incidents of violence and to disrupt local leaders’ attempts to mobilise crowds, according to DNA. Section 144 Section 144 of CrPC prohibits any assembly of five or more people in an area where the section has been imposed. Every member of such “unlawful assembly” can be booked for “engaging in rioting”, maximum punishment for which is three years.
Mobile internet and messaging services were also suspended in the district to prevent rumour mongering. Besides this, the state government also sacked the district’s top administrative officers. According to news agency ANI, the state government sacked Saharanpur District Magistrate (DM) NP Singh, SSP SC Dubey, divisional commissioner and the deputy inspector general (DIG) in the wake of the continuing violence in the district.
The report also said that KS Emmanuel, who was SSP of Ghaziabad, has been appointed as new DIG with immediate effect. Bablu Kumar has been posted as the new SSP of Saharanpur while Pramod Kumar Pandey will be the new DM, the official said.
No official reason has been cited for the action, but it is believed that the officials were removed after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath expressed displeasure as they could not control the situation in Saharanpur.
Appealing to people to maintain peace and rule of law, Adityanath sought to reassure that strong action is being taken against all those responsible for the violence. He said people should not pay heed to inflammatory speeches and should help in maintaining peace and order. Adityanath also met governor Ram Naik late on Wednesday evening. They are understood to have discussed these developments.
The BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state had been drawing the Dalit community’s ire, following accusations of high-handed police action against members of the community, especially in the wake of the recent bout of violence. After the Saharanpur incident, the police arrested 30 people, mostly Dalits, in connection with the violence. Following this, thousands of Dalit protesters swamped New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Monday, protesting against police action against the community and the state government’s alleged silence on the issue.
The violence has also kicked up a political slugfest, with Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati blaming the BJP government, and a senior state minister in turn accusing the opposition party of “shedding tears”. Earlier on Wednesday, one Pradeep Chauhan was shot at in Janakpuri area by some motorcycle-borne men, superintendent of police Prabal Pratap Singh said.
Chauhan was rushed to the district hospital, from where he was referred to a speciality centre. Members of the Thakur community protested against the incident outside the district hospital. In another incident, some persons attacked two men while they were sleeping near a brick kiln in Mirzapur village, the police said.
One Nitin was shot at, while another person Yashpal was severely beaten up by the attackers, the police said. They suffered serious injuries and have been admitted to the district hospital. The police, however, said the incident could not be linked to the ongoing violence.
On Tuesday, a few unidentified people had set afire 12 houses belonging to Thakurs in Shabbirpur village ahead of the arrival of BSP chief Mayawati. A mob later attacked a group of people returning from Mayawati’s rally, killing one Ashish (24), who hailed from Sarsawa town, and injuring four others.
Saharanpur has been in the grip of sectarian violence since April, spurred by a minor scuffle between the Thakur and Dalit communities in Shabbirpur village.
Around 20-25 youths of the 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 Dalit locals objected to 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 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.