Bhim Army: From Social Media Mobilization to Violent Mob
Lucknow: An unregistered group and a movement as they call it, Bhim Army started as a social media phenomenon more than two years ago. In a short span of time, thousands of Dalits across the country started identifying themselves with this ‘aggressive’ and new kind of Ambedkarite politics.
The recent riots in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur have brought Bhim Army in the limelight. But much before the violent clashes between Dalits and Thakurs marred the streets of Saharanpur, jibes were being traded over social networking sites for months on end.
This shows that despite their claims of keeping a vigil on social media, law enforcement agencies of UP police failed to sense the outrage simmering on various internet-based platforms for more than a year.
After two-week-long violence in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh police has said it will investigate whether the Bhim Army members had any Naxal links. Police said it will not hesitate in using the stringent National Security Act on the Dalit organisation’s leaders if they were found to be colluding with the naxals.
“Bhim Army members used social media and social networking platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp actively to spread their propaganda for more than a year. Some of their posts were extremely offensive and led to a lot of resentment among the other groups. Yes, brewing tension on social media should have been tracked much earlier and we paid the price for not doing so,” said Subhash Chandra Dubey, SSP Saharanpur, who took over as the district police chief in April 2017.
Ten FIRs have been registered against administrators of hundreds of Facebook and WhatsApp accounts which have been spreading rumors and inciting communal hatred. The administrators named in the FIR mostly belong to the Bhim Army. Besides 10 cases registered under IT Act, Saharanpur police have lodged 14 other FIRs and have arrested 36 persons. In the past one week, 25 houses have been burnt down, 23 vehicles have been torched and several buses have been damaged.
Public relations officer of UP police, additional superintendent Rahul Srivastava said, “In the past three days, we have taken down close to 380 screenshots of disturbing messages which were exchanged between Dalits and Thakurs on social media against each other. It is clear that the two sides have been baying for each other’s blood.”
There is resentment among Dalits against Mayawati for her lack of strong response after the alleged assault on the community in Shabbirpur. “There is anger in Dalit society since there has been no concrete statement by Mayawati,” said Praveen Gautam, head of Bhim Army in Saharanpur town. “She is more interested in her vote bank than Dalit welfare.”
Bhim Army’s aggressive style is spreading beyond the boundaries of Saharanpur. On May 11, Dalits in Meerut felt insulted that Chief Minister Adityanath had allegedly refused to garland an Ambedkar statue while visiting a Dalit neighbourhoods. In response, Dalits allegedly shouted slogans against Adityanath and went on a rampage.