Bharat Bandh: 9 killed in Dalit protests, govt moves SC to protect SC/ST Act
Nine people were killed in clashes on Monday as Dalit groups – angered over an alleged dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – carried out protests across several northern states, even as the Centre moved the Supreme Court seeking a review of its recent judgment in the matter. (Bharat bandh live updates)
Clashes with the police, attacks on buses and government property, and blockades of trains and roads were reported across states including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar.
The maximum deaths were reported in Madhya Pradesh, with the police saying three people were killed in Gwalior, two in Bhind and one in Morena. Curfew was imposed in many parts of the state and internet services were withdrawn to prevent rumours. The home ministry said central forces were sent to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to control the protesters.
The protests also claimed two lives in Uttar Pradesh -- one in Muzaffarnagar and another in Meerut. One person was killed in Rajasthan’s Alwar as the police
opened fire to disperse a mob, according to officials.
At most of the places, the protesters were seen carrying blue flags bearing the name of Bhim Sena.
The protests continued in several places even after home minister Rajnath Singh said the Centre had filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act. “The government is appealing against the court order but it is a responsibility of everyone including all political parties to ensure peace,” Singh said in Delhi, where the Dalit protests caused traffic chaos.
Protesters squatted on tracks in several places outside Delhi, stopping trains including the Dehradun Express and the Ranchi Rajdhani. They also gathered at Mandi House blocked the road outside the metro station, bringing traffic to a halt in adjoining central areas. Protests and traffic snarls were also reported in Noida, Faridabad and Gurgaon
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was not a party to the SC decision on the SC/ST Act and, “with due respect, does not agree with the reasoning given by the apex court”.
“On behalf of the Ministry of Social Justice, a very comprehensive review has been filed (against the dilution of the SC/ST Act),” he said.
Prasad said the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Centre were committed to the welfare of SCs and STs and alleged that political parties, including the Congress, were using the issue for political gains – a charge denied by the Opposition.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 allegedly diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Act, ruling that government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens, too, be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.
On Monday, law ministry officials said the government should have been a party in the case, questioning the SC’s move to read down the law.
Dalits make up 200 million of the country’s 1.3 billion population and are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. They are angry at the Supreme Court’s ruling that bans the automatic arrest of the accused in cases under the SC/SC Act, a 1989 legislation meant to guard marginalised groups against discrimination and harassment.
Shortly after the protests broke out on Monday, the Congress alleged that incidents of Dalits atrocities had increased in the country since the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party for the plight of Dalits, saying he saluted the “brothers and sisters” from the community who were agitating to demand the protection of their rights. Responding to Gandhi’s remarks, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said he had no moral right to attack the BJP over Dalit issues, as his party did “nothing” for the community or its icon BR Ambedkar.
Communication and transport services were severely hit across states, with over 100 trains getting affected due to the protests. Trains including the Saptakranti Express, Utkal Express, Gatiman Express, the Bhubaneswar and Ranchi Rajdhanis and the Kanpur Shatabdi were stopped ahead of Ghaziabad, a Northern Railway official said. In the Agra Division, around 28 trains were delayed, including the Shatabdi Express.
The protests spread across Uttar Pradesh, where a police post near Meerut was set on fire by protesters. Public buses were also torched in the state’s Azamgarh district.
Punjab and Haryana also saw widespread protests. Hundreds of protesters carrying swords and sticks forced shopkeepers in Jalandhar, Amritsar and Bathinda to shut down.
In Bihar, activists disrupted rail and road traffic. Mobs shut down markets and shops as well as educational institutions, police said.
The widespread agitation came after Dalit organisations, including the the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, and some political parties said they feared the move would lead to an increase in violence against Dalits.
(With inputs from agencies)