A 35-YEAR-OLD man was killed, 16 persons seriously injured and at least 25 houses torched after clashes broke out Friday between members of the Thakur and Dalit communities in Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur in UP following a dispute over a procession in memory of Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap.
Officials said the clash was the latest incident in a three-month-old dispute between the two communities over the installation of an Ambedkar statue in the village. They said that while Shabbirpur is dominated by Dalits, the neighbouring Simlana village is a stronghold of Thakurs.
Police said the injured were rushed a local hospital where Sumit Rajput of Rasoolpur village in the area was declared dead. All the houses torched were those of Dalits in Shabbirpur, they said.
”Sumit had gone to Simlana to take part in a function to garland the statue of Maharana Pratap. His autopsy report states that there were no injury marks on his body and that death was caused by suffocation,” said Jitendra Kumar Shahi, DIG (Saharanpur range).
Local police said four separate FIRs have been lodged against Dalits in Shabbirpur on different charges, including murder and attempt to murder, on the basis of complaints lodged by Thakurs. None one has been arrested so far.
Shabbirpur village pradhan Shiv Kumar and his brothers are among the accused, said police. No complaint has been received so far from members of the Dalit community in the village, they said.
Subhash Chandra Dubey, SSP (Saharanpur), said tension rose in Shabbirpur after Thakurs in the village moved towards Simlana in a procession, with loud music, to attend the function. The procession was organised without official permission, he said.
Narendra Singh Rana, Circle Officer (Deoband area), said the procession was moving towards Simlana when Dalits in Shabbirpur, including village head Shiv Kumar, objected to the “loud music”.
According to police sources, Kumar called up Manoj Singh, sub-divisional magistrate of Rampur area, and local police to complain about this. By the time, police and the SDM rushed to the village, the groups had engaged in a minor clash, they said.
“Police pacified people from both sides and convinced members of the procession not to proceed,” said sources.
However, Rana said, some members of the procession later called Thakurs from Simlana to inform them about the development. Soon, around 300 Thakurs reached Shabbirpur with sticks and “sharp-edged weapons” and clashed with the Dalits, he said.
”The police force was outnumbered and attacked, too” said Rana.
Police from Badgaon station, under whose jurisdiction the villages fall, said that as tension escalated, around 2,000 Thakurs reached Shabbirpur and set fire to 25 houses belonging to Dalits.
”An additional police force, which was moving towards Shabbirpur, was stopped by Thakurs at Maheshpur village on the way. The miscreants had parked vehicles on the road to block police. It took around two hours for reinforcements and the fire brigade to reach Shabbirpur,” said Mahendra Pal, Station House Officer, Badgaon.
Officials said the fire tenders took several hours to douse the flames while the police force, including the SSP, DIG and IG (Meerut Zone), struggled to disperse the rioters.
When contacted, SDM Manoj Singh said, “The dispute between the two groups had been going on at Shabbirpur for the last three months… The Dalit community’s objections over the procession was a sequel to that incident.”