India

India Dalits: Who is Raja Chauhan?

A man believed to be Raja Chauhan pointing his pistol in a photo that has gone viral Image copyright BBC Hindi
Image caption Mr Chauhan has quickly become the face of upper-caste aggression

Video of a man firing a pistol during massive caste-related protests that killed eight people on Monday went viral on Indian social media, sparking a manhunt. BBC Hindi's Faisal Ali finds out more about who he is.

"My son is an engineer," says Surendra Chauhan, an upper-caste landowner and businessman, at his home in Gwalior, a city in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. "He was away for work on 2 April [Monday]."

Mr Chauhan is worried as his son Raja has become the face of upper-class aggression against Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) who took to the streets in their tens of thousands across India to protest against what they say is the dilution of a law meant to protect them.

Gwalior saw some of the worst violence during the protests, where clashes between Dalits and upper-caste crowds left three people dead.

Police suspect Raja Chauhan, who in his mid-20s, is the man in the video. He is seen firing a pistol as a crowd of men around him shout slogans. It is not clear if he actually injured anyone.

A senior police official told BBC Hindi an order had been issued for his arrest and a search was on. He has been on the run since the video became public and the target of mainstream and social media ire.

The video began circulating on social media after it became clear the protests had descended into violence. It even appeared on regional television news channels.

Within hours, Devashish Jarariya, a local political activist, had identified the man in the video as Raja Chauhan, with whom he said he had studied in the same school.

Mr Jarariya also tweeted screenshots of Mr Chauhan's photos on Facebook in which he is seen holding a gun, and accused him of hatred towards Dalits. He accused him of killing the three Dalits

But Mr Chahuan's father insists that while the man in the video is Raja, the footage is old.

However, Raja's uncle, Narendra Singh Chauhan, told the BBC that men in his family had fired their guns that day. He insisted they had only acted in self-defence. He accused the Dalit protesters of turning violent, leaving them with no option but to fire their guns.

The Chauhans live next door to Bobby Tomar, who has been implicated in the death of Deepak Mittal, a 22-year-old Dalit killed during the clashes. Mr Mittal's family has said that the bullet that killed him came from the direction of the upper-caste Tomar family's home - a charge they have denied.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tens of thousands of Dalits took to the streets to protest against the Supreme Court order

Mr Mittal's brother, Rajan, said Dalits had begun throwing stones to keep the upper-caste men away. Though they were not part of the protest, he added, they were forced to defend themselves once people on the other side began firing.

Others who witnessed the protests told the BBC that while it was not uncommon to see people carrying swords or guns during political protests, that had not happened during the protest by the Dalits. Violence only broke out, they added, when the protesters were confronted by groups of upper-caste men.

The protests were triggered by a Supreme Court order that modified the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

In its ruling, the court stopped the automatic arrest of people and public servants charged with violence against low-caste people, saying the act had been "misused" in the past.

But critics say the ruling diluted the law, paving the way for officials to turn a blind eye to caste atrocities. They also say the provisions will lead to increased violence against lower castes.

The federal government has asked the court to review its decision.

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