New Delhi: Six people were killed and several were injured on Monday as a Bharat Bandh by Dalits against a judicial order that allegedly dilutes the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, or SC/ST Act, sparked violent clashes between the police and protesters.
The Dalit protests came on a day the central government moved the Supreme Court challenging its 20 March ruling that prevents automatic arrests under the provisions of the 1989 law. The apex court had placed safeguards over arrests made under the law.
On a day of widespread protests, four people were killed in Madhya Pradesh and one person each in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. As many as nine states were hit by the protests, prompting authorities to impose prohibitory orders in parts of northern India. At least 100 train services were disrupted, affecting movement across several parts of the country.
“The centre was not a party in the proceedings at all. And therefore, on behalf of the ministry of social justice, a very comprehensive review petition has been filed (against the dilution of the SC/ST Act). The government of India with great respect does not agree with the reasoning given by the Supreme Court in the matter," Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters outside Parliament.
Press Trust of India quoted officials as saying the Bharat Bandh saw clashes between protesters and the police, and vehicles being torched across several states.
The home ministry said it was “closely monitoring the situation in the wake of the Bharat Bandh and protests in the country.... The ministry has asked the states to take all preventive measures and maintain public order and ensure the safety of lives of people and property."
This is not the first time that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has faced the anger of Dalits—Monday’s protest follows two major anti-government mobilization by Dalit organizations in the last four years of NDA rule. The first major protest took place in Una, Gujarat, in July 2016 after a group of Dalits were beaten by self-styled cow vigilantes. Protests also erupted after the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad central university in January 2016.
The opposition on Monday attacked the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government over the issues raised by the Dalit protesters. Describing the allegations levelled against the government by opposition parties as “baseless", Union home minister Rajnath Singh said that it was the moral responsibility of all political parties to ensure that no caste or communal violence takes place anywhere in the country.
The opposition Congress blamed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). “It is in the DNA of RSS/BJP that Dalits should be kept at the lowest of the social hierarchy. Violence is used to suppress all those who challenge this thought," Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
During the day, Madhya Pradesh police imposed curfew in Gwalior, Bhind, Morena, Sagar and Jhabua districts. Authorities also banned the use of the internet in all these districts till 6AMon Tuesday. The death of four people in Madhya Pradesh, which goes to polls later this year, is likely to create political problems for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP state government.
Maharashtra remained largely quiet except minor incidents of stone-pelting at state buses in Nandurbar district while Dalit organizations staged protests in Dadar.
Abhiram Ghadyalpatil in Mumbai, Maulik Pathak in Ahmedabad, Shaswati Das in New Delhi and PTI contributed to this story.