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JAGPAL’S HOUSE, locked. Sovraj’s house, locked. Chatrapal’s house, locked.
The sense of fear that has gripped Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur, nearly a week after clashes broke out between Thakurs and Dalits, is most visible in the homes of Dalits here — many are locked and empty.
Left behind are “traumatised” couples like Bablu and Babli, both Dalits in their 40s. Bablu says his children fled, fearing police action and a Thakur backlash, but he had to stay to be with his wife who can’t move after suffering a paralytic attack three years ago.
Babli, struggling to speak clearly, whispers to her husband from her charpoy: “Mujhe chod ke mat jaao (Don’t leave me).”
Trying to calm her with a wave of his right palm, Bablu says, “Before the incident, she was able to perform her daily chores and was recovering. But after witnessing what happened on May 5, her condition has deteriorated. She screams at night, she is fearful and wants to go to the toilet frequently.”
Soon, Bablu gets up to leave with a neighbour to hunt for work somewhere nearby. “I wanted to run away from the village that day… even now a sense of insecurity prevails. My two sons and two daughters left in fear,” he says. On May 5, a Thakur man was killed and 25 Dalit homes set ablaze in clashes that lasted around five hours after Dalits in the village objected to loud music being played by Thakurs in a procession to attend a function in honour of Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap.
On Thursday morning, an eerie silence hung over Shabbirpur, broken occasionally by the sound of passing vehicles. At the entrance to the village, a few children were busy playing, a handful of policemen were seated on chairs reading newspapers. But just a few metres ahead were grim reminders of six days ago — a string of houses, charred and locked.
Dalit residents of the village claim that at least half of the 200 houses belonging to members of their community have been locked by their owners who have since fled.
Of the 30 Dalit houses that the The Indian Express visited, 20 were locked. In a few, the residents said they had stayed back to feed their cattle. “Who will feed them? A few in them belong to Thakurs, but we have to take care of them,” says 50-year-old Raj Dulari.
Dulari says she was injured on her hip when a Thakur mob attacked her home and has had trouble walking since. Her husband Birbal lies on a charpoy, his body covered with a towel. “We are a family of 12. But my sons and their families left because they feared a backlash from police and the Thakurs. We are alone now,” she says.
Roshni, a 50-year-old widow, says she has managed to clean most of the mess, but the burnt wooden doors, broken charpoys remain. “I have two cows and used to work in the fields to earn for my family. My son and her daughter have left. I haven’t spoken to them since May 5. I have some potatoes and a few kilos of rice. This is what I have been eating since that day,” she says, breaking down.
“My husband had died a few years ago and it became very tough to run the house. We sold cow milk and worked as labourers to meet basic expenses. I don’t have the strength to do it all over again,” she says.
To add to her troubles, Roshni says, one of her cows has gone missing last Friday. “I call her ‘Barro’. I thought it had run away in the violence, but I spotted it outside the house of a Thakur in the village. She had an injury on her leg, which seems broken. A veterinary doctor came on Wednesday to put a plaster over that leg,” says Roshni.
On the other side of the divide, some Thakur residents say a few of their family members who were allegedly involved in the violence have left fearing police. But there were no locks outside the doors of around 20 houses belonging to Thakurs in one stretch that The Indian Express visited.
In one of them, Naresh Rana, a land-owning farmer, says, “Some Thakurs have left because of the fear of police. Whatever has happened has happened. It’s over now.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Saharanpur District Magistrate N P Singh admits that peace is still some way away in Shabbirpur. “We have to conduct a face-to-face meeting with the Dalits and Thakurs. They have to vent their anger and only then will things move forward. We are working for it,” he says.