Issue beyond law and order
The daylong Bharat Bandh organised by Dalit organisations on Monday to protest the March 20 ruling of the Supreme Court was marked by extreme violence. The bandh threw normal life out of gear in at least 12 states across the country where protesters turned violent, resulting in the death of 14 people. Four people died as ambulances carrying them could not reach the hospital in time because of the traffic jam caused by the protesters. The Dalit organisations were protesting against the dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The Supreme Court in its March 20 order has cancelled certain provisions in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act including automatic arrest and registration of FIR. Though the government has filed a review petition against the Supreme Court order, the court refused to hear the petition on an urgent basis. The protestors created a massive law and order problem across the country. The maximum number of deaths took place in Madhya Pradesh where at least seven people were killed. At least 10 districts in the state witnessed extreme violence, with three deaths reported from Gwalior, three from Bhind, and one from Morena. The protesters damaged toll plazas and set vehicles on fire. Curfew has been imposed in the three worst-hit districts. Even mobile phone and Internet services were closed and Rapid Action Force was deployed in Gwalior, Bhind, and Morena. In Uttar Pradesh, Dalit protesters attacked vehicles and destroyed government property. Many districts in western UP including Meerut, Agra, Hapur, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur witnessed violence. One person died each in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. About 500 people including a former BSP MLA were taken into custody in UP. In Rajasthan, Alwar was the worst-hit. One person died in police firing in Khairthal. The protestors were indulging in widespread destruction and arson. In Barmer, Dalit organisations and Karni Sena clashed with each other, resulting in injury to 25 people. In Jodhpur, a police inspector suffered a heart attack while dealing with the protestors who were hurling brickbats. In Bihar, three persons died when their ambulances got stuck in the traffic jam caused by the protestors. In Hajipur, a woman called Rashida had given birth to a baby and because of the ill health they were going to hospital. But their ambulance got stuck in a traffic jam and they could not reach the hospital. The baby died in the ambulance. In a similar incident, a person called Lokman Singh died when the ambulance carrying him got stuck in the traffic jam and the driver left the vehicle abandoned. In Haryana, at least seven districts including Faridabad and Gurugram were hit by the violence. They blocked Delhi-Mathura and Delhi-Jaipur highways. Train services were also disrupted as the protesting mob blocked the tracks and attacked running trains with stones. Monday's protests across the country have been unprecedented in terms of intensity and scale of the violence. For some time, the opposition parties were mobilising SC/ST organisations in their favour. There were clashes between the Dalits and the upper caste landlords in UP's Saharanpur last year in May. This was followed by Bhima-Koregaon violence in Maharashtra in January this year. The victory of independent candidate Jignesh Mevani from the Vadgam constituency in Gujarat further underlines the fact that the SC/ST votes are for real. And more recently, Dalit leader Mayawati had supported Samajwadi Party candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur byelections. The election was significant as it underlined the importance of Mayawati who was able to influence the voters to vote for a party she had supported. After Monday's Bharat Bandh and the show of strength, the SC/ST has emerged as one of the largest chunks of votes, who could vote en bloc nationally.
For Monday's show of strength, various opposition parties including Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress had mobilised SC/ST organisations. Even though the government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court, the opposition parties termed BJP an anti-Dalit party. Somehow, BJP stands at the receiving end of the Dalit anger expressed through Monday's protests and widespread violence. Besides opposition's ongoing unity drive, the Dalit protests are aimed at the BJP government at the Centre. The violence on Monday was more notable in BJP ruled states -- Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Even Gujarat has witnessed widespread protests and violence. However, the government is unlikely to allow the impression to go that BJP is anti-Dalit. It has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court and it is expected to offer an olive branch to the Dalit leadership.