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The Bhim Army - About Bhim Army | History | Philosophy | Origin | Inspiration | Ideology |

Bhim Army : An Inspiring Era Of India’s Dalit Rights Movement

The Bhim Army - About Bhim Army | History | Philosophy | Origin | Inspiration | Ideology |

The Ambedkar Army or Bhim Army Bharat Ekta Mission or is an unregistered organisation started by lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad and Vinay Ratan Singh, who is its national president. It originated in western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district.

Its first meeting was held on July 21, 2015, when Chandrashekhar Azad and Singh decided to start free-of-cost paathshalas (schools) for children from the community. The first such paathshala was set up at Fatehpur Bhado village in Saharanpur in 2015. As of now, the Bhim Army runs more than 350 such schools in western Uttar Pradesh, in Saharanpur, Meerut, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar.

The organisation is named after B. R. Ambedkar. The main objective behind the movement is the social upliftment of the lower caste by peaceful means of education and social empowerment.

The Bhim Army Bharat Ekta Mission or the Bhim Army is a fledgling group of mostly Dalit volunteers who claim to champion the Dalit cause. Focussed on quick redress of caste-based atrocities and discrimination, promoting education and social awareness among Dalits and propagation of Ambedkarite values, the group considers itself a social counter-movement to Brahmanical ideology.

It lacks a formal structure and is an unregistered body, but claims to have over 20,000 members in and around Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, where it is based.

The prime attraction of the group is its stress on direct action based on confrontation to preserve, protect or restore the dignity of Dalits. Its co-founder and most recognisable face is a charismatic lawyer named Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, whose close team members sport ink blue scarves and ride on stylish bullet motorbikes.

“Through the Bhim Army, the Dalit youth become aware that they can struggle for their constitutional rights and they will no longer tolerate oppression. The Bhim Army is not to scare off anybody but for the security of Dalits,” Mr. Azad said in a recent interviews.

How did it come about?

The Bhim Army was formed 21 July 2015 after a group of Dalit youths raised its voice over stray cases of discrimination and oppression in Saharanpur. It came into the limelight when Chandrashekhar Azad put up a board in his native village extolling his caste identity: “The Great Chamar of Dhadkauli Welcome You.

This symbolic assertion by Dalits provoked the dominant Thakurs, who smeared the signboard with black ink. This led to bouts of caste tension, with the Bhim Army not shying away from taking on the dominant castes.

Mr. Chandrashekhar Azad became the local Dalit hero.

Chandrashekhar Azad
Chandrashekhar Azad / From -Tweeter

The outfit has been in the news over the last two months for its intervention in calming tension between Dalits and Muslims, when the BJP took out a ‘Shobha Yatra’ in Saharanpur without permission through communally sensitive areas, and the Dalit-Thakur clashes a few weeks later in the same district on the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap. The State government held the Bhim Army responsible for inciting violence, while the latter claims that the government was targeting it to malign the movement and shield upper caste offenders.


Why does it matter?

The Bhim Army claims it is politically independent but bases its ideology on Ambedkarite principles, just like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The group is, however, still not clear whether its movement is for assertion of Dalit identity or a larger Ambedkarite movement.

Most Dalit thinkers agree that the Bhim Army arose out of the social vacuum created by mainstream political parties, particularly the BSP, and their failure to address issues like unemployment, land distribution, atrocities and real empowerment, despite seizing political power. At a time when the BSP has lost ground electorally and the BJP has begun mobilising Dalits, the Bhim Army is a symbol of resistance from within Dalit society. Noted Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde writes that its emergence “may be likened to the Dalit Panthers in Maharashtra in 1972, which in turn was the by-product of the bankrupt politics of the erstwhile Republican Party of India.”


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