Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh violence
Police reinforcements are drafted in to contain clashes in Saharanpur district in western Uttar Pradesh Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters file photo

Sectarian violence has flared up in sensitive areas of the northern Indian state, Uttar Pradesh after a lower-caste Dalit man was killed during clashes. Security has been beefed up in the Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh due to the simmering tension.

Clashes broke out in Saharanpur on Tuesday, 23 May when unidentified people attacked a group of Dalits, often considered the lowest in the caste hierarchy, when they were returning from a political rally. At least one man was killed due to gunshot wounds and several injured during the violence. Dalit groups have resorted to pelting stones damaging businesses following the killing.

As soon as the news about the violence emerged, police reinforcements were called in to contain the spillover. Security forces have launched a massive search and arrest operation in the district to apprehend miscreants, who are suspected to fuel the violence. Police are thought to be conducting door-to-door raids in the area.

"Yes, we have received reports of a person's death at the local hospital. Two people are seriously injured. We are still investigating the exact circumstances of the death, whether it has anything to do with the rally. The district police chief is at the spot," Anand Kumar, senior police officer in the region, said, according to local media.

By the morning of Wednesday, 24 May, police arrested more than 20 suspects. High-ranking state government officials have rushed to the district to deal with the situation, and Uttar Pradesh's newly installed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is now facing a serious law-and-order challenge, has urged local government to handle the situation immediately. There were also political blame-games between the ruling and opposition parties.

This is the fourth time caste-motivated clashes have occurred in the communally sensitive Saharanpur district in the last three weeks, where 26% of the population are Dalits. The bout of violence started on 5 May witnessed houses of several lower caste members being torched and one man killed.

Uttar Pradesh is India's most political vital and populous state, and has witnessed a string of sectarian violence in the past as well. If it were a separate country, the state would the world's fourth-largest democracy.