AS POLICE in Saharanpur investigate how a clash between Dalits and Thakurs in Shabbirpur village spun out of control, leading to a man’s death and 25 houses being set on fire, an important clue lies within their own local station.
The Badgaon police station, with 52 villages under its jurisdiction including Shabbirpur and covering a population of over 2 lakh, has only 20 per cent of the sanctioned strength. Of the allotted strength of 111 personnel, this station has only 22.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mahendra Pal Singh, the Badgaon Station Officer who was transferred to the district police lines after Friday’s clashes, said that apart from the SO, the station has only 17 of the 87 constables sanctioned, one head constable out of 17, and three sub-inspectors out of seven.
“Of the 22 present, only 13 work in the field, including me. We cover 52 villages. The others are engaged in office work,” said Singh, who was at the station on Sunday afternoon to hand over charge to another officer.
“If my police station had even half of the sanctioned strength, this incident could have been averted… On Friday, it was six of us versus over 2,000 people,” said Singh.
SP (Rural Area) Rafiq Ahmed said there is a shortage of police personnel in every station. “It is true that if the strength of the police force was more, the incident could have been averted. The problem remains,” he said.
DIG (Saharanpur) Jitendra Shahi said the transfer of Singh was not because he had “not acted”. “He did whatever he could in his capacity to contain the situation. It’s just that both sides started complaining. So, in full fairness regarding the investigation, he was transferred,” he said.
The violence broke out after Dalits in Shabbirpur objected to loud music being played by Thakurs moving in a procession to an adjoining village to attend a function in honour of Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap. It was the latest incident in a three-month-old dispute between the two communities over the installation of an Ambedkar statue in the village.
Narrating the sequence of events, Singh said he received a call at 10.30 am on Saturday from the sub-divisional magistrate of the area about rising tension in the village and reached Shabbirpur at around 10.40 am.
“When I reached the village, I told the Thakurs to leave on their bikes without playing any music. They took a different route. However, some of them soon mobilised a crowd of around 200 people. At around 11.45 am, I requested senior officers to send additional forces immediately,” he said.
According to him, as soon as the group of Thakurs reached the village, the pradhan mobilised a crowd of Dalits and both groups started throwing bricks and stones at each other.
“A man, we later identified as Sumit Kumar, got caught in the violence and sustained injuries on his head and chest. He was taken to the hospital where he died. Soon, a crowd of around 2,000 people gathered and started moving towards the village. I tried to stop them several times and by then, the Inspector from Deoband had joined me. We were a total of six police personnel, but we went after them. I would have fired at the mob to control the situation, but we would have been lynched,” he said.
Singh said he still fired four rounds in the air, but the crowd did not budge. “They burnt some houses but we lathicharged them to keep them moving. In the process, many were injured. Additional forces reached us at around 1.45 pm,” he said.