‘For elections, we are Hindu. After that we are Dalits’: Bhim Army founder explains his ideology
The Bhim Army is being blamed for violence in Saharanpur. But it claims it is being victimised for fighting for Dalit rights.
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Uttar Pradesh promising better law and order. Yet, since the Adityanath government was sworn in in March, western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur has already seen three instances of communal and caste riots.
On April 20, the BJP took out a march which set off a small riot in the Muslim quarter of Sadak Dhudhali village. Later that day, BJP workers, led by BJP MP Lakhanpal Sharma, attacked the house of senior superintendent of police.
On May 5, upper caste people sacked the Dalit quarter of Shabbirpur village, burning houses, assaulting Dalits, and desecrating the Ravi Das temple. Later, on May 9, as Dalits protested the Shabbirpur riot in Saharanpur city, clashes between Dalit activists and the police broke out.
For the May 9 violence, the Uttar Pradesh administration cracked down on an organisation known as the Bhim Army. It blamed the organisation for orchestrating the violence and even hinted that it might have Naxal links – without, however offering any evidence.
The Bhim Army is an Ambedkarite organisation active in Saharanpur district since 2015. Its founder Chandrashekhar Azad “Raavan” is now in hiding from the police crackdown – but has promised to emerge on May 21 in Delhi.
In this interview (video above) to the Chalchitra Abhiyaan, Chandrashekhar explains the dynamic behind the Bhim Army. He started the organisation in 2015, to battle the caste atrocities prevalent in a local college. Here Dalit boys would be beaten up for drinking water, not cleaning benches and even sometimes for simply studying hard.
“To fight against this sort of caste oppression, we felt the need for an organisation,” explained Chandrashekhar.
He also warns of attempts to finish caste-bases reservations – either directly or through the back door, by encouraging privatisation. “We will now demand that caste quotas be applied even in private organisations,” says Chandrashekhar.
Criticising the Adityanath government’s anti-Romeo squads, Chandrashekhar argues, “Women have the freedom to go anywhere they want in a democracy. They can take their own personal decisions”.
Chandrashekhar also gently critiques Mayawati’s approach to wooing Muslims in the recently concluded 2017 Uttar Pradesh election. He argues that social cohension between Dalits and Muslims should have come before a political alliance.
Read more: Saharanpur’s Bhim Army signals the rise of a new, aggressive Dalit politics.