Bharat Bandh: Dalit protest over SC/ST Act turns violent, nine dead

Meerut: Vehicles set on fire by a group of protesters during the strike call
The Centre on Monday filed a petition for reviewing the Supreme Court order on the law on preventing atrocities on Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes even as the ‘Bharat bandh’ call by Dalit outfits was marked by widespread protests, including incidents of violence in several parts of northern India, in which at least half dozen people were killed and property damaged.

The bandh call, supported by nearly all opposition parties, was given to protest the Supreme Court order of March 20, which changed certain provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act related to arrest and registration of cases. 

Opposition parties, Dalit organisations, and also Dalit members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies had criticised the order and asked the Centre to file a review petition.

If the BJP accused opposition parties of politicising the issue and thus contributing to the violence, the opposition alleged in several places, particularly in Agra and Gwalior, it was BJP workers and sympathisers who attacked protesters. 

The Congress said the Centre took the Bharat bandh call “lightly”, resulting in the violence.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) accused the Centre of reacting late in filing the review petition, which led to the “successful” bandh call. The BSP criticised incidents of violence, but said the BJP governments in states should refrain from stoking trouble.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh termed the violence unfortunate and criticised those spreading a “poisonous propaganda” on the issue against the Sangh, when the decision was the Supreme Court’s. It welcomed the Centre’s review petition in the apex court, and appealed to people to “not fall victim to propaganda”.

In Uttar Pradesh, two people were killed and 75 people, including 40 police personnel, were injured, and 448 detained on charges of damaging public property and other offences. Violence was reported in Agra, Hapur, Meerut, Azamgarh and other areas. 

Delhi: People belonging to the Dalit community shout slogans as they take part in the strike
In Rajasthan’s Alwar district, a Dalit was killed in police firing, and 26 others, including nine policemen, were injured. Reports of violence and police action to control crowds came from Punjab, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country as well.

In Madhya Pradesh, at least six people were killed in violence. Curfew was imposed in Morena, Gwalior and Bhind districts of Madhya Pradesh after a student leader died in firing and several others were injured.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh gave a call for peace. 

In a tweet in the morning, Congress President Rahul Gandhi saluted Dalit protestors. “It is in the DNA of the RSS/BJP to keep Dalits at the lowest level in Indian society. 

Anyone who challenges this thought is crushed with violence,” Gandhi tweeted.  Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said Gandhi had no moral right to attack the BJP over Dalit issues because his party did “nothing” for the community or its icon B R Ambedkar while the present government, he asserted, had done a lot. 

Patna: Bhim Army Sena members stop a train during the bandh call given by Dalit organisations
In Patna, the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s 80 legislators marched in support of the bandh call.  

All India SC/ST Samaj Convener Ashok Bharti, who has been at the forefront of giving the bandh call, said Dalit organisations planned a huge public meeting in September if the Centre did not meet their demands by then. Its chief demand is to have SC and ST representation in the judiciary.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel