“Racism isn’t born, it is taught,” read one of the hundreds of posters that greeted Chandrashekhar, leader of the Dalit organisation, Bhim Army, as he addressed a gathering of thousands that had gathered at Jantar Mantar on Sunday afternoon to protest against “atrocities” committed on the community in Uttar Pradesh.
Amid chants of “Jai Bhim”, the 30-year-old lawyer, who has been evading arrest over his alleged role in protests by Dalits following a clash with Thakurs in UP’s Saharanpur on May 5, said, “Main kayar nahin hun. Meri awaaz aap tak pahunchana tha… isliye abhi tak chup tha. Main ab surrender karoonga (I am not a coward. I wanted to reach you, that is why I remained silent. Now I will surrender to police).”
Chandrashekhar, crepe bandage on his right hand, also said that the “stage is set for struggle” and claimed that many of his supporters could not attend as they stopped by police at Delhi border.
“Mujhe laga ki meri kaum soyi hui hai, lekin aaj ki yeh bheed dekhkar lag gaya hai ki meri kaum jaag gayi hai. Ab mujhe koi dar nahin (I thought that my community is sleeping, but seeing the crowd today I see that they have woken up. Now I don’t have any fear).”
Chandrashekhar is named in one of the 24 FIRs registered by UP Police for his alleged role in instigating violent protests by Dalits in Saharanpur on May 9. The protests were staged four days after one Thakur man was killed and 25 Dalit homes set ablaze after Dalits in Shabbirpur village objected to loud music being played by Thakurs in a procession to attend a function in honour of Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap.
According to UP Police, Chandrashekhar has been absconding since May 10, surfacing only through an audio message that asked supporters to join him at Jantar Mantar on Sunday. As the leader turned up at the venue at 12.15 pm, with protesters wearing blue “Bhim Army” Nehru caps and waving the Tricolour and pictures of B R Ambedkar, he was presented by the organisers with a blue turban, which he refused to wear.
“Ye sarva Dalit sangathan ka manch hai. Ye pagdi tab tak sweekar nahi karoonga, jab tak desh ke bhagwa aatankwad khatam nahi ho jaate (This is a stage for the gathering of all Dalits. I won’t accept the turban until Saffron terrorism is not wiped out),” he said.
Requesting the gathering to hand over letters to their respective district authorities on May 23 against atrocities committed on Dalits, he said, “Yeh desh hamara hai, aur is desh ko hum tootne nahin denge (This country is ours and we will not allow it to break up).”
In a final touch of drama to the proceedings, as he wound up his speech, Chandrashekhar appeared to be briefly jolted by a surge of electricity through the microphone he was holding. Pointing towards his chest, Chandrashekhar said, “Sun lo, is current se kuch nahi hone wala. Current toh yahan lagi hai (Listen, nothing will happen to me. The current has passed through here).”
When contacted, DCP (New Delhi) B K Singh said Delhi Police had not granted permission for the rally but did not disrupt the gathering as “around 10,000 people had already reached Jantar Mantar”.
“Besides, the protesters remained peaceful. In case of any eventuality, we had enough force to handle the situation,” said Singh.
A Bhim Army representative told The Indian Express, “After the rally, Chandrashekhar went to a court in Delhi to surrender. But he was told that he had to surrender in Saharanpur, where the cases had been registered. He will do so now.”
Vinay Ratna Singh, the organisation’s national convenor, maintained that they did not have any political affiliations and their work was focused on uplifting Dalits through education. Singh said that they would leave no stone unturned for their “cause”. “If there is discrimination, be it in the national capital, Jantar Mantar or even Parliament, we will raise our voices everywhere,” he said.