Dalit protests during Bharat Bandh: Why does Madhya Pradesh become epicentre of violence during anti-govt agitations?

Dalit agitation took an ugly turn when two groups — Dalits and right-wing bodies — clashed in Gwalior and Morena; and it turned violent when both the groups resorted to taking up weapons and attacking one another.

Debobrat Ghose April 03, 2018 12:34:15 IST
Dalit protests during Bharat Bandh: Why does Madhya Pradesh become epicentre of violence during anti-govt agitations?

Madhya Pradesh again became the epicentre of violence against the decision of the incumbent establishment.

As was the case during the farmers’ agitation in 2017 when six people were killed due to police firing in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, the state again reported maximum casualties during the Bharat Bandh protests on Monday which was organised by various Dalit organisations.

Six people were killed in the mob violence in Gwalior, Bhind and Morena in Madhya Pradesh, and many more were injured. On Monday morning, incidents of violence and rail blockade were reported from Meerut, Agra and other parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. However, as the day passed, Madhya Pradesh turned into the hotbed of violence.

The rallies and demonstrations by Dalits turned violent and incidents of armed attacks hit the headlines.

Dalit protests during Bharat Bandh Why does Madhya Pradesh become epicentre of violence during antigovt agitations

Protesters threw stones during the Bharat Bandh. PTI

According to eyewitnesses, Dalit agitation took an ugly turn when two groups — Dalits and right-wing bodies — clashed in Gwalior and Morena; and it turned violent when both the groups resorted to taking up weapons and attacking one another. Police resorted to lathicharge and gradually the situation worsened. The violence spread to other districts from Chambal belt comprising Gwalior, Bhind and Morena to other districts as well, like Rewa, Bhopal, etc. but it didn’t become volatile.

Security forces conducted flag march, imposed curfew and the state administration stopped internet services in three districts of Chambal to prevent further rumour-mongering on social media.

Why Madhya Pradesh?

Within Madhya Pradesh, the Chambal region – historically infamous for dacoits or baagis (rebels) (as they called themselves), became the epicentre of mob violence, rioting and police highhandedness. The agitation has to be viewed in the larger demographic and sociological backdrop of the region:

Highest concentration of Scheduled Castes and Dalits

Out of 15.2 percent of Scheduled Caste population in Madhya Pradesh, the highest concentration is in the Chambal region. It is a stronghold of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the party has always posed a tough challenge for the BJP and the Congress during Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The credit for consolidation of Dalits under BSP banner goes to its former state president Phool Singh Baraiya, who quit the party in 2008 after a major dispute with BSP supremo Mayawati and formed his own Bahujan Sangharsh Dal. The dilution in Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 led them to mobilise and stage strong protests against the government and fight united during the Bharat Bandh.

Chambal—land of dacoits

Historically, the Chambal region has been infamous for its 'dacoits' who ruled the ravines. While some of them in the earlier phase like Man Singh, Malkhan Singh, Paan Singh Tomar, etc who were thakurs, a majority of bandits in the later phase like Phoolan Devi, Rambabu and Dayaram Gadariya, Dadua, to name a few were Scheduled Caste and Dalits. Post 2000, the community instead of taking up guns as dacoits, chose politics.

"That phase of dacoits in Chambal is almost over now. Instead, they want to be politicians, corporators, MLAs and MPs. Phoolan Devi, who was a Dalit, went on to become an MP. The Dalits of this area are politically aware and refuse to accept nonsense. This helps Dalits to consolidate and mobilise during Bharat Bandh and they aggressively took on the Right wing activists, when the latter attacked them during rallies in Gwalior, Bhind and Morena,” said Vikram Chowdhury, a Dalit political activist from Sagar in Madhya Pradesh. Chowdhury also holds a doctorate degree on social philosophy of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Oppression

The Dalits of Chambal region have been facing oppression from upper castes since pre-Independence days. Though things have changed over the decades, oppression still continues. Even today, a scheduled caste, who has moved up the social ladder, will suppress an economically-weaker Dalit.

Highest cases of atrocities against Dalits

"Within the state, the cases of atrocities against Dalits have been the highest. Dalits fail to get justice in most cases. Oppression and atrocities against them have led to suppressed anger. During Bharat Bandh, the RSS and BJP goons along with the police attacked Dalits and it was a retaliatory action that led to violence,” CPM central committee member and state secretary, Badal Saroj, told Firstpost. Saroj hails from Morena.

Farmers’ agitation of 2017

The farmers' agitation which led to a mob violence which left six farmers dead in Mandsaur is a case in point for Dalits. The farmers agitation was against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government's inaction on the promises made in 2014. Protesters on Monday took lesson from the 2017 agitation and came prepared — some even with weapons while staging demonstration against the dilution of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act. There are a large number of Dalit farm labourers in the state who participated in the rally.

Government’s inaction

The opposition Congress has blamed Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his government for failing to maintain law and order in the state during the bandh.

“Both the central and state governments ignored the anger among Dalits. Modi government could have ensured through an ordinance in Parliament that the Act wouldn’t be diluted, which it didn’t. Despite knowing that Chambal is a sensitive area, the Chouhan government failed to ensure maintenance of law and order. It’s similar to what had happened in Mandsaur. Chouhan’s only focus is upcoming election in MP,” Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was in Bhopal on Monday for a party meeting, told Firstpost.

What actually happened?

Besides, dalit organisations in MP, individuals in large numbers participated in rallies and demonstrations across the state.

According to many eyewitnesses and dalits who had participated in protest demonstrations told Firstpost that ‘right-wing’ bodies allegedly attacked dalit rallies with weapons and as a reaction, the latter counter-attacked and the situation gradually went out of hand.

The news channels showed images of a bespectacled person firing from his pistol on dalits. The photo became viral on social media. According to sources in Gwalior, this incident infuriated dalits and they retaliated. Devashish Jarariya, a BSP member, on Twitter said, "The person who’s firing from his pistol is Raja Chouhan from Gwalior. He turned Bharat Bandh into caste violence and killed three dalits." Veracity of Jarariya's claims could not be independently verified by Firstpost. The tweet was quickly picked up by the social media.

"The agitation was the result of suppressed anger among Dalits against the dilution of SCs/STs Act. But it became violent when rallies were attacked by the BJP and its affiliates in the presence of police. The police remained a mute spectator and in turn thrashed Dalits. Their houses were burnt in many places,” alleged Morena-based Jugal Kishor Pippal of Dalit Shoshit Mukti Morcha.

CPM member from Madhya Pradesh Ashok Tiwari alleged incidents of police high-handedness and said that there was targetted repression against Dalits. "Rallies and protest demonstrations have been going on for last three days but on Monday, police brutally beat up Dalit protestors who gathered peacefully at Ambedkar Park in Gwalior for a meeting. We’ve supported the cause of Dalits. We’re gathering evidences against this state-sponsored crime and take it up at the highest level."

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