Bharat Bandh: 8 dead after violence erupts during Dalit protests in north India; Centre files review plea against SC order
While the administration in Punjab took preventive measures on Sunday in the wake of the “Bharat Bandh” called by Dalit organisations, including shutdown of schools, deployment of paramilitary forces and snapping of internet services, efforts in other states failed as a large number of protesters showed up.
Six persons died in Madhya Pradesh and one each in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in the violence that erupted during protests by Dalits on Monday against the recent Supreme Court order seen as diluting the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Violent protests were also reported in Gujarat and Bihar.
While the administration in Punjab took preventive measures on Sunday in the wake of the “Bharat Bandh” called by Dalit organisations, including shutdown of schools, deployment of paramilitary forces and suspension of internet services, efforts in other states failed as a large number of protesters showed up.
On 20 March, the Supreme Court banned automatic arrest and registration of criminal cases under the SC/ST Act. To prevent misuse of the law, it said action cannot be taken against public servants and private citizens without conducting an inquiry within seven days of the alleged incident. The Centre filed a review petition against the order on Monday.
In Meerut, two police outposts were torched and protesters attacked police on their way to control the outraged mob. The Meerut district collectorate was also attacked by a mob, and protesters resorted to firing. Several vehicles were damaged and torched.
While Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said there was no involvement of her party in the violence, she demanded strict action against those who took the law in their hands. “Though I support this movement, strict action should be taken against those who indulged in violence,” she said.
Additional police was sent to Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior, Morena and Bhind districts to douse the agitation as incidents of stone-pelting and loot were reported. Section 144 was also imposed in some parts of Gwalior, prohibiting assembly of more than four persons. Later, in Bhind, Indian Army was also called in to quell the tension. Over 19 persons are reported to be injured in the state.
Dalit protesters also targeted state-run bus services in Gujarat. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation halted the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) after reports of its buses being vandalised. Similar reports came in from Dani Limda, Naroda, Bapunagar and Kalupur. Agitation also spilled onto the roads in Rajasthan where nearly 30 persons involved in blocking highways in Ajmer and Jaipur districts were detained by the police.
In Punjab, there were reports of violence in Jalandhar and Bathinda districts when agitators entered into scuffle with shopkeepers and local residents. Three locals were injured in Bathinda. Almost all important highways connecting the northern parts of the country were blocked. Meanwhile, the mortal remains of Indians killed by the Islamic State reached Amritsar in the afternoon and headed towards different parts of the state. Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had on Sunday appealed to protesters to not disrupt the way of vehicles carrying the remains on humanitarian grounds.
Protests were also held in almost all districts of Haryana. In Karnal, protesters squatted on the national highway and disrupted traffic for some time in the presence of police personnel. Police struggled to remove them amid sloganeering against any changes in the SC/ST Act.
At Fatehabad district’s Tohana, forceful shutdown of shops to make the bandh successful resulted in scuffles. Protests in Rohtak remained peaceful. In Bhiwani, some protesters barged into a local mall and beat up two youngsters going to watch a movie. Alert mall employees saved the situation from getting out of hand.
Movement of several trains were disrupted in many parts of the country, including Bihar, Punjab and Odisha. In Bihar, there were attempts to damage rail lines. The administration was caught unawares despite Dalit organisations announcing date of protests well in advance. Movement of several trains were restricted owing to protesters gathering on rail lines.
In Punjab, rail movement between strategic Jalandhar and Amritsar stations were stopped. Trains to Jammu and Kashmir, also used by military, go through these stations. Effigies representing the central government were also burnt on rail tracks in Jalandhar.
SR Darapuri, retired IPS officer and Dalit thinker based out of UP, said despite the heavy participation of the community in protests, the violence could have been avoided. He speculated this was an attempt by some agencies to defame the Dalit movement, and blamed the government for not being able to contest changes in the SC/ST Act in the Supreme Court earlier.
Darapuri also stressed that there was no participation of political leaders during Monday’s protests, “that makes it clear that the Dalit of India stood for himself and demanded his rights that have been denied to him”.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said the government was committed to the welfare of Dalits and minorities. “I urge the protesters to calm down. The state government and the Centre is committed to the welfare of minorities and Dalits. The protest should always be peaceful and such violence will not at all be tolerated,” he said.
The authors are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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