On Saturday afternoon, 85-year-old Parmal Jatav and his 80-year-old wife Tungli sit outside their half-burnt house, staring at the smoke billowing out of the haystack. Inside, the room is bare, except for a few soot-covered utensils. The couple said their two sons had been admitted to the district hospital with injuries. “Kuchh nahi bacha, beta (There is nothing left, son),” says Tungli. “Ab is umar mein kya karein (What do we do at this age).”
Across Shabbirpur, a village in Saharanpur district that was the site of a clash on Friday afternoon between Dalit and Thakur communities and which saw the death of a Thakur, there are similar stories — of a pregnant woman who had jumped off the first floor of her house, of Dalits and Thakurs who had fled the village, of women and the elderly who were attacked. And sights — ransacked grocery stores, a buffalo with burns, charred remains of TV sets, motorcycles and utensils in the Dalit homes.
Around 15 Dalits, who were attacked allegedly by the Thakurs with rods and other sharp objects, are currently undergoing treatment at the Saharanpur district hospital and around 22 Dalit homes stand charred. Police said three FIRs have been registered and 17 people — 11 Thakurs and six Dalits — have been arrested so far. Among the Dalits arrested is village pradhan Shiv Kumar. The Station Officer (SO) of Badgaon police station, under whose jurisdiction the village falls, has been sent to the district lines.
The two communities had clashed over a procession that the Thakurs wanted to take in honour of Rajpur ruler Maharana Pratap. Thakurs in seven villages in the area, including Shabbirpur, were to take out separate processions that were to end in Shimlana, a neighbouring village. Before the procession could start in Shabbirpur, the Dalits allegedly objected to the loud music being played by the Thakurs. Villagers say they were already upset with the Thakurs for allegedly preventing an Ambedkar statue from being installed in the village.
Saharanpur Range DIG Jitendra Kumar Shahi said the SO of Badgaon police station was informed and he went to the spot to stop the music. However, this irked the Thakurs, who called the Thakurs of Simlana village and soon, a crowd of 50 people gathered in the area. “Then, a few people from the Jatav community pelted stones at the Thakurs and there was chaos. Amidst all this, one person named Sumit Rapjput collapsed. Though the initial medical report says he died out of suffocation, his death set off rumours that the Jatavs had killed a Thakur. Soon, more Thakurs from nearby villages poured into Shabbirpur – there were more than 500 of them,” said Shahi, adding that the mob started ransacking Dalit homes and “torched a few”.
Dalit families, however, disagree that they pelted stones at the Thakurs. They say that most of the Dalits work as labourers on land owned by Thakurs and that they would never have attacked them.
Kamla Devi, 50, who is in the emergency department of the district hospital with a deep cut below her eyes, says, “The Thakurs used caste slurs against us and ransacked our Baba Ravi Das temple. They even broke the glass casing of the idol and desecrated our God.”
Shyam Singh’s house was among those torched. He now lies in the emergency ward, nursing severe injuries. “I had gone to drop one of my relatives up to the main road. While I was on my way back, I saw a group of people pouring petrol on a few houses and setting them on fire. When they saw me, one of them rushed at me with a sword and slashed my hand. Others started beating me,” he says, adding, “We are the ones who work hard on their (Thakurs’) fields… how could they beat us?”
There are around 3,000 voters in this village, of whom 600 are Dalits.
DIG Shahi said that apart from three FIRs, they are in the process of registering a few more. “We have filed three FIRs so far – one based on the complaint of the father whose son died, a Thakur whose leg was broken in the incident, and of police vehicles that were damaged. We have got some complaints from the Jatavs and we are in the process of registering some more FIRs,” he said.