The Bhim Army was catapulted into the news as it protested caste violence in Uttar Pradesh. On May 5, Thakurs burnt down the Dalit quarter of Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur district. In response, the Bhim Army, a volunteer organisation that works in the district for Dalit emancipation, organised a large protest meet in Saharanpur town on May 9. This meet descended into Dalit-police clashes, with each side blaming the other for starting the conflagration.

Following the May 9 incident, the Uttar Pradesh administration cracked down hard on the Bhim Army. Top officials even spoke of investigating the organisation for terror links. As a result, the top leadership of the Bhim Army, including its founder, Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan” went into hiding, emerging in Delhi on Sunday at the head of a 50,000 strong protest meet to demand justice for the victims of the Shabbirpur violence.

Chandrashekhar appeared towards the end of the function, speaking of a protracted struggle against the Bharatiya Janata Party, which currently rules Uttar Pradesh. “Will fight to the last drop,” he said. “Not only the Modi government, no government will be able to stop us”.

He also spoke strongly on casteism. “Hum acchoot nahin hain, hum neechi jati ke nahin hain. Hum sabke baap hain,” Chandrashekar said to cheers. “We are not untouchables, we are not lower castes. We are everyone’s father.”

Unlike the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Bhim Army seemed ready to revive Ambedkar’s thesis that conversion would lead to emancipation. “These Sanghis, these low people are scared of Buddhism,” Chandrashekar said. “If we don’t get justice, we will convert”.

At the rally, a man holds up a flag which reads "Bhim Army" in Hindi | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
At the rally, a man holds up a flag which reads "Bhim Army" in Hindi | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
"Forget the [Ayodhya Ram] mandir, pick up the pen" | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
"Forget the [Ayodhya Ram] mandir, pick up the pen" | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Attendees wearing caps which read: “The Great Chamar”, referring to the largest Dalit caste in Uttar Pradesh | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Attendees wearing caps which read: “The Great Chamar”, referring to the largest Dalit caste in Uttar Pradesh | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Signing up to join the Bhim Army | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Signing up to join the Bhim Army | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
A man perched on someone's shoulders holds up two Buddhist flags  | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
A man perched on someone's shoulders holds up two Buddhist flags | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
The poster carries a quote by Ambedkar: “After I left Hinduism, it feels like I have left hell” | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
The poster carries a quote by Ambedkar: “After I left Hinduism, it feels like I have left hell” | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Left: Death to saffron terror. Right: Death to the BJP | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Left: Death to saffron terror. Right: Death to the BJP | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
"If the RSS if your mummy, that government is a dummy" | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
"If the RSS if your mummy, that government is a dummy" | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
People perched up on the walls to hear Chandrashekar speak | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
People perched up on the walls to hear Chandrashekar speak | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Man with “Jai” on one cheek and “Bhim” on the other | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal
Man with “Jai” on one cheek and “Bhim” on the other | Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal