LUCKNOW, India – Police rushed forces to a north Indian town on Wednesday and arrested dozens of people to stop clashes that erupted when upper caste Hindus fired on Dalits belonging to the lowest rung of India's caste hierarchy.
Police officer Aditya Mishra said one person was killed and dozens injured in the violence Tuesday. Angry Dalits set the homes of some upper caste Hindus and police vehicles on fire in retaliation.
Mishra said the Dalits were attacked while they were returning from a rally led by their leader Mayawati in Saharanpur, a town in Uttar Pradesh state. Mayawati, who uses one name, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party of supporting the upper caste Hindus.
Akbar, a 50-year-old fruit-seller, said Dalits were attacked by upper caste Hindus with spears, sticks and handguns as they were returning to their homes after attending Mayawati's rally. "I was injured in the neck," he said from his hospital bed.
"Police are on high alert and people have been advised not to venture out," Mishra said.
No fresh violence was reported as of Wednesday afternoon.
The area has been simmering with tensions since one person was killed in a clash earlier this month. The violence erupted when upper caste Hindus objected to Dalits installing a statue of their leader Bhim Rao Ambedkar in a temple complex in Saharanpur.
Dalits then objected to a procession by upper caste Hindus on May 5 to observe the birth anniversary of their Rajput King Maharana Pratap, triggering violence in which one person was killed and 15 others were injured.
Dalits in India continue to face discrimination and acts of violence by upper castes. Indian society is divided by clan loyalties, caste divisions and religious animosities.
Caste-related violence is common as Dalits and ethnic tribespeople continue to face discrimination and exclusion. The government says it provides them protection through stringent laws, but the laws are loosely implemented by local authorities.
On Sunday, thousands of protesting Dalits converged on the streets of New Delhi, defying a police ban on the rally. They alleged that dozens of their homes had been burned by the upper caste Thakur community in Saharanpur, and that police arrested 30 members of their community to frighten them.