The Rise of the Bheem Army

 

Vinay Shende

Exclusive details on the recent caste incidents in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and the role of the Bheem Army. This report is based on a member speaking to Round Table India on the condition of anonymity.

the great chamar

History of Bheem Army

It started in a small village called Gagalhedi (name changed) in the district of Saharanpur. People from Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal would indulge in acts of violence, oppression on the Dalits- primarily Chamars there.

There is a junior college in the area, dominated by the Rajputs. The Bheem army chief, Chandrashekhar went to study there. There used to be separate seating places, separate place to drink water for the Dalits. That use to lead to skirmishes many times, as Chadrashekhar would not back off.

This led to the formation of the Bheem Army. It started in 2014.

The Model

Every Gram (Village) has a Adhyaksha (President). That person actually develops a school. The school is meant for Class 1 to 12. The scene of education in UP is pretty bad. Our focus is education and safety. In some places, we have Coaching Centres for competitive exams. Bheem Army has lots of participation. We have almost 30-35% women in our teams.

The village chief conducts a meeting every week and objectives are shared. Many people contribute. Some contribute directly while some indirectly- as many cannot have that known owing to their jobs. We lay special emphasis on our Dalit sisters.

Many times, we accompany them when they go to deep interiors for work as cases of eve-teasing, molestation are high there. We try to manage such cases peacefully. However, if anyone still doesn't listen, we are not afraid to take out the eye of the person.

Initial feud

There is a village named Ghadkoli. The Dalits have put up a signboard there saying "The Great Chamar" (first picture in this report). This has been a bone of contention with the Rajputs. The village has 1200 Rajputs and 600 Dalits. This board, which is a sign of assertion, has always been a eyesore for the Rajputs.

In November 2016, some people applied black marks on this board and tried to vandalise it. This led to skirmishes again.

Bheem Army has grown very rapidly now. So rapid that in a place like Saharanpur it has 10000 people. It has spread to Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab as well. It has people from Jatav, Chamar community as well as Muslims and Sikhs.

Context of the recent issue (as narrated to Vinay Shende)

There is a Ravidas temple in the village Shabbirpur. For several years, villagers have been demanding a statue of Dr. Ambedkar to be also installed there. However, the Government has not been giving permission, giving excuses that it will lead to violence. 

The Government also hasn't been giving permission to conduct Ambedkar Birth Anniversary (Jayanti) procession/celebration, for past several years. 

Part 1

Date: 17.04.2017

Some Rajputs started taking out procession of Maharana Pratap, without any permission by the Government. This irked the Dalits, as the Govt hadn't allowed any permission to Dalits for Ambedkar Jayanti.

Incident 1

(Picture from Dainik jagran)

When Bheem Army objected and tried to peacefully talk to the Rajputs, violence erupted. People got hurt on both sides. One Rajput man died, which we still don't know how as we didn't kill him. Post mortem reports are saying he died due to breathlessness

Part 2

Date 17.02.2017

The Rajputs unleashed terror openly against the Dalits. They used swords. They burnt about 52 homes of the dalit community. They cut one woman's hands and One Pradhan (Chief). Police didn't say a word nor did stop them from that. They treated women very badly. When we came to know and had reached, all had fled from the spot.

Incident 2

Date 18.02.2017

Then we did Mahapanchayat in Saharanpur. We put forward our demands to the District Magistrate (DM). They were:

1. Compensation worth Rupees 15 lacs(1500000) for every house burnt;
2. CBI enquiry into the whole incident;
3. All 7 Dalits that were arrested to be released.

Incident 3

We gave DM 2 days to respond.

Date 20.02.2017

Bheem Army wanted to do a Mahapanchayat in Saharanpur at Saint Ravidas Hostel. It was seen that PAC – The Police force was already there. We had gone for a peaceful procession.

Incident 4

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Incident 5

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Puniya

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(Pictures from Amar Ujala)

But Police started beating people mercilessly. We then went to Gandhi Park. 600 of us were there. Police again started lathi charge and started beating us. This resulted in violence and stone-pelting from both sides. Public's anger came out because of Police inaction for several days.

However, people from BJP/RSS took advantage of the situation. They put the buses on fire. The put the Police Chowki (station) of Ramnagar on fire. But Bheem Army's name was maligned.

Similar instances have happened in Meerut and Ambala.

Incident 6

In parallel, there was a fake Ambedkar Jayanti procession carried out by BJP in Saharanpur, to instigate tensions between Hindu-Muslim. That also led to riots, though Dalits were not at all involved there. The whole fake agenda has already been exposed now. The current BJP MP from Saharanpur is fuelling the issue and Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Mr. Puniya, has also said the same.

 Bheem Army wants peace. We believe in the Constitution. We are overwhelmed by the support pouring in from across the country. The situation is tough for them. 30 people have been arrested. 40 have had FIRs registered against them. There is a big witch-hunt going on.

We would reach out to like-minded people separately for all kinds of support. We also need our voice to be heard in the media and would like to thank Round Table India for reaching out.

Incident 7

We have people from other communities also supporting us. Many of our people are Buddhists. And we want to follow Babasaheb's words: "Though I was born a Hindu, I will not die as a Hindu". Many of us who are not Buddhists, will leave Hinduism and convert to Buddhism. That is our ultimate aim. We want our movement to spread across the country.

Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat!

 ~ As discussed with Vinay Shende, on the strictest condition of anonymity.

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 Vinay Shende is an Anti-Caste Ambedkarite, working in the corporate sector.