At the Mangta village in Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh a mob of more than 300 men of the Thakur community allegedly attacked the Dalit community on February 13 injuring more than 25 people. Around 18 people have been admitted to the Ursula Hospital in Kanpur town and most of the victims of the attack were women.
The Mangta village consists of 40% Dalits and the 60% of the upper-caste community.
Speaking to The Wire, Amit Kumar, organizer of the Bhim Katha said that tensions had been building up in the area for the past ten days. He had organized a week-long event – the Bhim Katha, in the village starting February 1 for the first time to celebrate the teachings of Gautam Buddha and Babasaheb Ambedkar. He said, “Various programmes such as theatre, singing and narration were going on. The Thakur community of our village didn’t like that we were having an event just by ourselves. They started provoking us.”
What irked the Thakurs, Amit thought was the fact that on the fourth day of the event they did not stop the event to accommodate the requests of a Thakur family where a wedding was taking place. Amit said that a wedding was to take place at the house of Jaideep Singh, a Thakur. A group from their house was sent to the ‘mohalla ground’ where the Bhim Katha event was taking place and the group asked the event organizers to stop the event for 3 – 4 hours. However, the organizers couldn’t do so, Amit stated, because 500 people from neighbouring villages were invested in the event.
While all was quiet on the days following this incident, on the Bhim Shobha Yatra taken out by the Dalits on February 12, a poster of Babasaheb Ambedkar was damaged by the Thakurs, allegedly by a teenage boy from the community.
On February 13, hundreds of people were allegedly heard chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in the village. “They had come for us, not less than 500 people,” Amit said.
Ashok Kumar Chamar spoke to Newsclick about the incident. He said, “The Thakurs attacked the Dalits while they were taking out the Bhim Shobha Yatra (a procession) in the village on February 12. They tore the posters of Babasaheb Ambedkar with the sticks due to which the dalits got outraged and stone-pelting started from both the sides in which about six persons were injured. Soon after this the police were informed about the incident, a dialogue was held between the dalits and the upper caste men. The situation returned to normal after that. Surprisingly, the Thakurs attacked the dalits the very next day, torching one of the houses and injuring more than two dozen people from the village.”
Another victim of the attack, 19-year-old Jyoti who received serious injuries on her head and legs said, “I was attacked with an axe that hit my leg and what else I remember is that they beat our people, torching one of the houses and even tearing the clothes of the women.”
5-year-old Adarsh Kumar too sustained a fracture in one of his hands during the assault.
The policemen who were present during the incident apparently did not stop the mob from attacking the Dalits and were seen taking videos instead. Anurag Vats, the SSP of Kanpur Dehat told The Wire, “Since the initial response team comprised only of three people, the police was helpless in the face of such a huge crowd. The backup team took 10-15 minutes to reach the place. The initial team took videos so they can later be used as evidence.” He also said that the police booked 13 people in the matter based on the videos taken on the charges of rioting, rioting armed with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, house trespassing, apart from sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
According to one victim, Shiv Devi, who is recuperating at the hospital and received five stitches to the head, the men had tied axes to the ends of their long lathis. Three women – Rashmi, Beenas and Bhagwati are in the emergency ward due to serious injuries on their head for which they have received 15 stitches.
What the Thakurs say
Speaking to The Wire, the Thakurs seemed to be nonchalant about the incident claiming that the conflict started because of a teenager who didn’t know better. Suresh Singh, a Thakur, claimed that they had promised to put up three new posters in place of the torn poster of Babasaheb Ambedkar, but the angry Dalits refused to listen.
Another Thakur, Chandu Singh said that during the yatra, “some very bad things were said about the savarna (upper caste) people”. He said, “They said things like, ‘Na koi Ramanaya ka noi Purana, Iss desh ko chala raha hai keval Ambedkar ka samvidhan. (Not Ramayana or Puranas, the only thing running this country is Ambedkar’s constitution).”
Chandu Singh also claimed that during the yatra, slogans of “Thakur Murdabad” were also raised. Indicating that there could be further violence, “We still haven’t retaliated,” later adding that the Thakurs were ready for a compromise.
Thakurs feeling threatened?
However, Amit Kumar and other Dalit leaders who visited the village after the incident say that it is more an ideological fight between the two communities. Post this, Amit Kumar says that the Dalits are now fearing their safety. He says they neither trust the Thakurs, nor do they trust the police.
Brijlal Khabri, a Dalit leader who visited the village on Friday, said that the conflict had nothing to do with the wedding at the Thakur’s house. “The wedding was happening two kilometres away from the venue of the Bhim Katha. This fight is simply about ideology. The upper castes simply don’t want us to spread Babasaheb’s word because it threatens their dominance,” he said.
Anurag Vats, a police officer has said that though the Dalits are shaken, they have no need to fear. He said that on the FIR filed on the complaints by the Dalits, all the people arrested have been from the upper-castes and more arrests are bound to happen soon.
He also said that the two communities have been cooperative and are looking for a long-term solution in the matter. “Women from both the communities recently met and reached a compromise. They have accepted that they want to live together. We are also trying for the same thing, to facilitate a dialogue between the two communities,” he said.