29 May 2017
On 14-15 May 2017, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) visited violence-affected Shabbirpur and neighbouring villages in Saharanpur district, Uttar Pradesh, as part of a national level fact-finding team led by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Together with the team, CHRI strongly condemns the mass attack on Dalits in Shabbirpur village on 5 May 2017 and the failure of the local administration in preventing and stopping the violence.
Armed with swords and small firearms, the mob burnt up to 55 Dalit homes, looted cash and jewels, ruined crop, injured buffalos and cows, destroyed agricultural implements and damaged motorcycles. At least 12 Dalits were seriously injured, all from sword wounds. The team was told that all throughout, the mob was shouting slogans like “Ambedkar Murdabad” and “Jai Shri Ram”. Witnesses also shared that some of the assailants damaged parts of the Ravidas temple and urinated inside its premises.
CHRI joins the team and other voices in demanding justice for all the victims who are now left with no means of livelihood. Additionally, CHRI wishes to draw attention to the systemic breakdown of the police so glaringly evident in the Shabbirpur attack and the subsequent violence that continues to rage on in the area.
Trouble had been building up in the area since April, and yet, the police neglected to take any of the preventive measures allowed under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and Rules (1995) to prevent violence from breaking out. Measures such as revoking arms licenses and seizing illegal fire-arms, in this instance of the Thakurs, or setting up a vigilance and monitoring committee to closely monitor situation on the ground, may have helped contain the violence.
On 5th May, the police failed to ensure adequate security at the event to commemorate Maharana Pratap Jayanti. As a result, when the situation got out of hand, and the mob turned violent, the police found themselves heavily outnumbered. When Dalits tried to get FIRs registered, they were reportedly ill-treated at the police station, and the FIRs that did get registered do not include several important sections of the POA Act.
The scale of alleged police negligence suggests total apathy towards the Scheduled Castes in the department.
The Saharanpur District Magistrate and the Senior Superintendent of Police have since been suspended. CHRI sees this as an important yet insufficient step in accounting for this gruesome attack on the lives, property and dignity of the Dalits.
In line with the recommendations of the fact-finding team, CHRI demands an independent inquiry into the performance of all concerned units of UP Police to identify all acts of negligence, complicity and/or violation, particularly against its duties in the POA Act. At the minimum, the inquiry must include a review of:
Those found guilty of negligence, misconduct or violation are liable not just for disciplinary action by the department but also for criminal proceedings under the POA Act. This is important if the police want to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring justice to the victims of the attack. CHRI urges the police leadership to use this moment as an opportunity to send a strong signal that police negligence of violation will not be tolerated.
The fact-finding report can be seen here.