Saharanpur riots: Clandestine social-media centres in Uttarakhand inciting Rajputs

Using the recent violence in Saharanpur, there have been attempts online to stir up social animosity in other states. The Uttar Pradesh police and intelligence are keeping an eye on the developments. If investigative agencies are allowed to do their job without any political pressure, Sher Singh Rana, who has been trying to whip up frenzy since walking out of jail on bail, will soon be back behind bars

Things might have cooled down in Saharanpur, primarily because of the tough stance of the police, but the flames of caste violence seem to be spreading to other states and reports of skirmishes between the Rajputs and the Dalits are pouring in from Haryana, the state bordering Uttar Pradesh. Provocative videos are being uploaded on WhatsApp and Facebook. Twitter and other micro-blogging sites are being used to fan social enmity by posting banners (photo-posts with offensive content). Both the sides are indulging in this nefarious activity but a close scrutiny would reveal that while the material from the Dalit camp is amateurish, the material from the Rajput camp is slick and professionally produced, and there is a lot more of it. Most of the youths being featured in the videos uploaded on WhatsApp are from Roorkee and the nearby areas in Uttarakhand.

A study of the profiles of the individuals uploading these videos from Meerut, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc reveals that they either hail from Uttarakhand or have studied in educational institutions based in that state. Sources say that social-media centres have sprung up at various places in Uttarakhand where posts designed to spread rumours and hatred are being produced and uploaded.

Some of the posts show members of Bhim Army humiliating Rajputs. Then there are doctored videos of the speeches Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravana”, the head of the Bhim Army, in which he is shown spewing venom against the Rajputs.

Doctored video on Chandrashekhar

Intelligence, administration, Saharanpur media and outsiders   

At the root of this entire campaign is the Shabirpur incident. The state government’s intelligence reports say that “outsiders” had set houses ablaze in the village on 5 May. The Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary Mani Prasad Mishra told a press conference in Saharanpur on 25 May that the riot was the handiwork of “outsiders”, that the police were on the lookout for them and that tough action would be taken against them. When he was asked whether Chandrashekhar would be arrested, he only said, “Action would be taken against whosoever is guilty but the innocent would not be harassed.” Following this press conference, the Saharanpur edition of some newspapers ran headlines like “More than Rs 50 lakh in Bhim Army’s account” and “Chandrashekhar will be arrested” and so on. Some websites did carry a true account of the press conference but the home secretary kept mum on the distorted reporting in the local newspapers. He must have thought it prudent not to take on the powers that be, which control both the media and the government.

Chandrasekhar’s own voice in real footage

Who are the outsiders?

On 5 May 2017, a function was held in Shimlana, about 33km from the district headquarters, Saharanpur, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap. According to local newspapers, when some Rajput youths, accompanied by a ‘DJ’, were leaving for Shabirpur, about 4km away, to attend the function, the Jatav Pradhan of the village opposed it and the Jatavs of the village rained stones on the youths, injuring Sumit Rana, 35, who later died in a hospital. Subsequently, to avenge the stone-pelting, around 1000 Rajputs stormed Shabirpur and burnt down more than 50 houses of the Jatavs.

A video in honour Sher Singh Rana

These reports create an impression that Shabirpur was a simple case of the Rajputs attacking a neighbouring village as their feudal pride was hurt. But there is more to the incident than meets the eye. Rajputs from Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Punjab and many other states were invited to the Shimlana function and the attendees included members of militant organizations like Rajput Regiment and Karni Sena. Around 2500 had gathered at the venue, of which a majority were from Shimlana and the nearby villages. But some 800 were from other states, including around 200 from Haryana and Rajasthan.

According to other sources, when the pradhan objected to the “DJ” being played, Rajputs raised slogans of “Ambedkar Murdabad” in Shabirpur and he was pushed and shoved. It was only then that the Dalit youths and women pelted stones. No “outsider” was involved in this incident; “outsiders” were at Shimlana and they were waiting with their chemical-filled inflammable balloons for the news of the pre-planned clash at Shabirpur to come in (more on it here).

Shimlana Rajputs had objected to outsiders’ involvement

It is important to note that prominent Rajput residents of Shimlana had opposed the holding of such a big function on Maharana Pratap Jayanti in the village. Veerpal Singh, a Rajput, whose wife Sushma Rani is the elected pradhan of the village, was not happy about it. He said that the function was organized at the behest of outsiders and the village pradhan’s permission was not sought – she was not even informed about it. He said that some outsiders had organized the function by taking 6-7 youths of the village into confidence. However, he refused to reveal the names of either the outsiders or their associates in the village. Some Shimlana residents said that the organizers bypassed the panchayat obtained permission for the function directly from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM). One of the residents said that it was like some mischievous elements sneaking into a marriage function and setting the village afire. (See video)

Conversations with the husband of Shimlana’s pradhan and other residents

Conspiracy was hatched four months earlier

The residents of Shimlana said that the Maharana Pratap Jayanti function, which was held on 5 May, was originally scheduled a month earlier and preparations were going on for the past four months. For unspecified reasons, the programme was postponed to 5 May. Curiously, one name that consistently emerges in any discussion on this issue is Sher Singh Rana.

Posters seen in different parts of Saharanpur. The poster on the right announces Suresh Rana as the chief guest

Many posters of the function can still be seen in Shimlana, Shabirpur and other villages. In one of them, Rana is described as the organizer/requester. Another poster says that Suresh Rana, a minister of state in the UP government, will be the chief guest at the function. Why so many different kinds of posters, with different organizers and different guests? Many Rajput politicians, MLAs and others were also invited to the function but none of them turned up. Despite his name being announced, “chief guest” Suresh Rana declined the invitation. The villagers say that when no prominent personality accepted the offer, Sher Singh Rana decided that he himself would be the chief guest. Among those at the dais were Hem Singh Pundir, independent member of the UP legislative council, and block president Vikipal Singh Rana.

A poster for Maharana Pratap Jayanti celebrations in Shabirpur. Sher Singh Rana has been named as the organizer

Was the programme postponed for a month to enable the organizers to make preparations for violence? Had the MoS Suresh Rana and others got wind of the real intent of the organizers and turned down the invitation at the eleventh hour?

Photos in social media reveal Sher Singh Rana’s role in organizing the Maharana Pratap Jayanti programme in Shimlana. In the photos on the left, a young man is seen publicizing the Maharana Pratap Jayanti programme. In the photo on the right, his closeness to Sher Singh Rana is evident. These photos have been obtained from Sunny_Shimlana’s page on poup.org

Suresh Rana said that he had never given his consent for attending the programme; in fact, he did not even know that such a programme was being organized. But it is difficult to believe that his name was carried in bold relief in hundreds of posters but he was not even aware of it. He told FORWARD Press, “Some people are not comfortable with the fast pace of development initiated by the Uttar Pradesh government. We have been informed that some people are trying to use their ill-gotten money for fracturing society. Such people are being investigated.”

Why chemical was not subjected to forensic examination

That Shabirpur incident was the outcome of a conspiracy is evident from the fact that chemical-filled balloons were used to set houses afire. The local residents showed the marks of the chemical to the FORWARD Press team (see video). The use of the chemical indicates that the arsonists had planned in advance. Interestingly, Aditya Mishra, additional director general of police (law and order), UP, who is now supervising the investigation, had no idea about the chemical, whereas all eyewitnesses are repeatedly asserting that the chemical was used. Are the police not talking to the victims?

Mishra, the ADG, told FORWARD Press that he had reached Saharanpur only two to three days ago and his first priority was restoration of peace and order. That done, he would now concentrate on minutely investigating the incident. He said that since the FORWARD Press has informed him about the chemical, he would get the marks examined in a forensic lab, adding that if the investigation revealed a conspiracy, its authors and executors wouldn’t be spared. According to him, 50 arrests have been made so far and more would follow.

Tension in Haryana and Rajasthan

In the meantime, reports of escalating tension between the Rajputs and the Dalits have been coming in from Haryana and Rajasthan. Some Rajputs from Haryana had attended the Shimlana function and since their return from UP, they have been posting inflammatory material on social media. This caused deep resentment among the Dalits, who have reported the matter to the police. On 25 May, two Rajput youths were arrested for making provocative comments on social media, and Karni Sena, an organization of the Rajputs, created a big ruckus over the arrests. Around 250 Rajputs converged on the police station and confronted the police and the top district administration officers. Buckling under their pressure, the police released both the youths. Two days later, another row over a video followed at Tigara village, in Yamunanagar district of the state. The Rajputs said that they had posted a video, which they had received from elsewhere, in response to a video posted by the Dalits. Enraged over the video, a Dalit youth reached the home of a Rajput and opened fire. Fearing breach of peace, the police have taken the Rajput family into protective custody and are conducting raids to nab the Dalit youth.

Photos like this one, which hurt Dalit sentiments, are being circulated in social media

It may be mentioned here that Karni Sena, active in Rajasthan and Haryana, has links with the newly constituted Rajput Regiment of Uttar Pradesh. It was at a function organized by the Karni Sena that Sher Singh Rana had threatened to slap Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director/producer of the film Padmavati. And two days later, Rajputs slapped Bhansali at a shoot. A report from Kota, Rajasthan, said that youths of Rajput Pratap Sena took out a motorcycle rally on 28 May to celebrate Maharana Pratap Jayanti. The rallyists were openly flaunting arms. Sher Singh Rana had told FORWARD Press that he would be travelling to Kota to attend this function. It could not be confirmed whether he attended the event.

Will Sher Singh Rana be reined in?

In its last two reports, FORWARD Press exposed the links of Uttarakhand-resident Sher Singh Rana to the Shabirpur violence (see here and here).

Members of Karni Sena and Rajput Regiment show off their weapons at a rally held in Kota, Rajasthan, on the occasion of Maharana Pratap Jayanti

The Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary, in a telephonic conversation with FORWARD Press on 27 May 2017, had hinted at who the real culprit behind the Saharanpur violence is. He said that representatives of different organizations had mentioned Rana and his involvement in the incident was being probed. ADG (Law and Order) Aditya Mishra said that the police are looking from all angles into who provoked Saharanpur violence and more arrests would follow.

Top UP police officers say that the state intelligence is aware of the conspiracy being hatched to spread casteist violence to other districts of western Uttar Pradesh.  Anand Kumar, ADG of Meerut Zone and Ramkumar, Inspector General of Meerut Range, have fully deployed Social Media Lab, Meerut, into monitoring online activities. Anand Kumar has appealed to the people not to forward or share objectionable material related to caste or religion on social media. M.A. Ganpati, the DGP of Uttarakhand, said that he had no information about the existence of any clandestine social media centre in the state that had anything to do with the Saharanpur violence.

Phoolan Devi was shot dead on 25 July 2001. She was a Samajwadi Party MP at the time (Photo courtesy: BBC)

Sher Singh Rana is a convict in the murder of Phoolan Devi, a bandit from a backward caste who was known as the bandit queen. After laying down arms, she was elected to the Lok Sabha twice as a nominee of the Samajwadi Party. At the time of his surrender, Rana had said that he had murdered Phoolan Devi to avenge her slaying of 21 Rajputs in Behmai.

After spending 13 years in jail, Rana was recently released on bail. On 22 October 2016, the Delhi High Court suspended Rana’s life sentence and granted him bail. The high court, in its order, said that after his release, Rana would keep the trial court and the SHO of the Parliament Street Police Station, New Delhi, informed of his address and telephone number. If he changed his telephone number or address, he would have to inform the court and the SHO. He has also been asked to present himself before the Superintendent of Police, Roorkee, twice every year – on the second Saturdays of December and June. He has also been directed not to meet the family members of Phoolan Devi. But in blatant violation of the orders of the court, Rana is holding meetings of Rajput organizations in different cities and towns of UP and has launched a campaign to lure Rajput youths into joining conservative religious organizations. According to Ummed Singh, spokesperson for the Bahujan Samaj Party, Rana is known for whipping up frenzy and has been an active member of the Hindu Vahini, founded by Yogi Adityanath. He and his associates have also been charged with demolishing a mosque. Ummed Singh, however, said that Rana was more of a pawn and that a top BJP leader of the state was the real author of the violence against the Dalits.

Be that as it may, now that the Home Secretary and other top officers of the Uttar Pradesh government have taken note of the material and circumstantial evidence regarding the incident, there is hope that pressure of caste-based politics will not be allowed to come in the way of a free and fair investigation and the perpetrators of violence and their patrons will be brought to book.

(With inputs from Pramod Ranjan, Anil Kumar and Arvind Kumar)  


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