Huge turnout at protest against Dalit atrocities catapults the group to national stage
Last week when Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, while being underground, called for a massive protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi against Dalit atrocities, many of the workers and leaders of the group were not sure if they would actually be able to mobilise crowds from their essentially rural support base in western Uttar Pradesh, to the national capital more than 100 km away.
‘Turnout an eye-opener’
“But the turnout was an eye-opener and gave us confidence that the Bhim Army had evolved and matured into a social movement,” said Satpal Tanwar, a leader in Saharanpur.
The crowd at Jantar Mantar on Sunday, according to the Delhi Police, was about 10,000. Bhim Army leaders and workers, however, disagreed and said the crowd was more than 20,000.
The caste clashes in Saharanpur and the “subsequent success of its Jantar Mantar protest has catapulted the Dalit group to the national stage and led to discussion about its possible role in Dalit politics and activism.”
The Bhim Army Ekta Mission is the full name of the group, which was established in July 2015 by Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan with the sole aim of empowering Dalits through education.However, the group, which has been silently working among Dalits and now runs almost 300 schools in Saharanpur and districts in its vicinity, shot to national prominence due to its protests against the atrocities in Saharanpur.
“We are aware that the Bhim Army has become a point of discussion in the mainstream discourse about Dalit politics but at this point we are still a social organisation and our complete focus is on Dalit empowerment through education,” said Mr. Tanwar. Mr. Azad Ravan and most of the other Bhim Army leaders remain inaccessible on phone due to police crackdown on them.
Mr. Tanwar said that if the demand for justice to Dalits at the Jantar Manatr protest did not reach the Yogi Adityanath government then the next venue would be the Ramleela Maidan.
The immediate priority is getting justice and compensation for the affected Dalits in Shabbirpur.
Protest call by Bhim army: Travelling by road and rail, thousands turn up at Dalit rally to protest Saharanpur violence
Khurrana, who was released on bail just two days ago, said the incident infuriated him so much that he decided to attend the protest.
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar addressed a rally protesting atrocities against Dalits in Saharanpur, at Jantar Mantar on Sunday.
As thousands shouted “Jai Bhim” while Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar addressed a rally protesting atrocities against Dalits in Saharanpur, at Jantar Mantar on Sunday, Sachin Khurrana (24) sat at the rear end of the stage, perturbed by the events of the last couple of weeks. Pointing to his bruised hands, he claimed he was beaten up by police soon after the May 9 clashes in Shabbirpur village.
Recounting the incident, he said he had been leading a peaceful protest in Sarsawa area in Saharanpur. “Later, when I was conducting a meeting in my village, police booked me under Section 144. I found that they had already booked me in connection with the May 9 incident, in which I had no role to play,” he claimed.
Khurrana, who was released on bail just two days ago, said the incident infuriated him so much that he decided to attend the protest. “I went to the railway station on Saturday night, but was told there is no train to Delhi… So I borrowed a friend’s car and reached the capital.” In front of the stage, a headmaster from Mathura, K L Mehra, and his wife seemed highly impressed with Chandrashekhar’s speech and enthusiastically shouted “Jai Bhim” every time he spoke about the “casteist society”.
They said they had not heard of the Bhim Army before the audio messages asking people to gather in the capital for the protest started doing the rounds. The couple travelled three hours by bus to reach the venue. “Before entering Delhi, I hid all my belongings. I had got prior information that some buses were being stopped at the border. Police checked our bus once, but did not find anything,” Mehra said.
The couple were not the only ones who travelled miles for the protest. Hundreds had travelled from far-flung villages and towns in buses, cars and trains. As the protest continued, Umesh Gautam, 30, sat on a carpet near the stage, resting his plastered right leg. Gautam was protesting for a fair probe into the May 5 incident, when police began lathi-charging the crowd to control them. To evade the beating, he tried to jump a wall and twisted his ankle in the process. He had, however, decided that he would turn up at the protest “at any cost”. “How long do we have to keep tolerating the atrocities against Dalits? We build your (upper castes) houses, work in your fields. Then you snatch our homes along with our rights?” he said.
Although there were very few women supporters at the rally at Jantar Mantar, three stood out in the crowd — Usha, Kusum and Saroj said they left their husbands behind in Saharanpur to join the protest. Disappointed that not many women had come for the rally, Kusum said: “What is the use if we can’t even stand up for our cause? We told our husbands that we needed to be in the capital to show our solidarity and rushed here.”
Bhim army went door-to-door to mobilise people
Despite the top leadership of the Bhim Army being on the run from police since May 9, members of the organisation managed to mobilise over 20,000 people to turn up for the rally protesting atrocities against Dalits in the capital on Sunday.
As people from across western UP poured in at Jantar Mantar, Kamal Waliya, a member of the Bhim Army from Nakud constituency, said, “We formed groups and went to each village in Saharanpur to make people aware of the event,” said. He added that social media too played a big role in the mobilisation. “We sent messages on WhatsApp groups and circulated Chandrashekhar’s audio message requesting people to turn up for the rally,” he said.
After the violence in the villages , protesters said that at least 10 people from each of the villages turned up for the rally.