On 21 May 2017, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Delhi, answering a call for a rally by Chandrasekhar, an advocate who is the leader of the Bhim Army—a two-year old grassroots-level organisation comprising members of the Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh. The Bhim Army had organised the rally to protest an attack by dominant-caste Thakurs on a Dalit neighbourhood, on 5 May, in Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh. The attacking mob had set over 25 houses on fire, and severely injured over ten Dalit villagers.
Two days after the rally in Delhi, members of the Thakur community allegedly attacked Dalit residents again, near the same village. Over 20 Dalits were injured during the violence, and Ashish Meghraj, a 25-year-old Dalit resident of Saraswa village, was subsequently declared brought dead to Saharanpur district hospital. BS Sodhi, the chief medical officer at the hospital, told me that Meghraj had been shot and inflicted with a deep knife wound. By 7 pm that evening, a large number of Dalit residents from villages near Saharanpur city had gathered outside the hospital to protest the attack. Several ambulances began arriving, bringing young, injured Dalit men to the hospital.
Earlier that day, on 23 May, Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo, visited the Dalit neighbourhood in Shabbirpur village and met the residents whose houses had been set on fire during the attack on 5 May. Mayawati also held a rally in the village, which members of the Dalit community from several villages in Saharanpur went to Shabbirpur that day to attend. While returning from the event, several attendees told me, they were attacked at various places between Shabbirpur and Saharanpur city.
At the hospital, I entered two emergency wards, diagonally opposite each other. According to Shivam Khewadia, a member of the Bhim Army from Ladwa village, both wards had at least eight Dalit residents of the district who had been attacked. In the first ward I visited, I met Tinku Kumar, a 26-year-old resident of Halalpur village in Saharanpur district. Tinku sustained multiple minor flesh wounds and a severe head wound for which he said he received stitches. “I had gone to attend Mayawati’s speech and I did not even get to see most of it,” he told me, adding that he reached Shabbirpur late for the rally, at around 4 pm. He said that he had gone there on his motorcycle with two friends. While they were returning to Halalpur, he said, the three of them were attacked by a mob of Thakurs. Tinku told me that the attackers stopped them near Ambheta Chand, a village in Saharanpur, and began to hit them violently with lathis and with their bare hands. The attackers “kept chanting ‘Maharana Pratap Ki Jai!’ and ‘Vande Mataram!’” he told me.
Across the bed from Tinku Kumar, was his friend Narsingh who had sustained minor head wounds and had dark bruises on his face. “I was punched in the face repeatedly by one of them,” he told me. His father, Rajkumar, who was not present at the rally, had come to the hospital and was seated beside his son. Rajkumar told me that he had warned his son not to go there, fearing that something terrible would happen at the rally. I asked him why he had not attended. “Her [Mayawati’s] presence was needed the day after the attacks in Shabbirpur, but she came only after a big group went to Delhi, I was disappointed by that,” he said.