Protesting against the alleged ‘dilution’ of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, thousands of people belonging to Dalit communities took to streets in many Indian states. Violent protests broke out in several states, as Dalit organisations spearheaded a Bharat bandh.
At least nine persons were killed and hundreds injured across several states as protesters blocked trains, clashed with police and set fire to private and public properties, including police posts.
There was widespread incidents of arson, firing and vandalism across over 10 states, which resulted in police detaining thousands of them. Curfew was imposed in several places in order to reduce casualties.
There were shocking incidences of protesters firing with pistols and rifles while roaming around in the streets. Media reports also suggest that there were brutalities on police officials, highways were blocked, railway lines being besieged, and shops looted.
The violent agitations were due to the Supreme Court’s judgment of dilution of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 on March 20. Under the strict provisions of this Act, an accused can be jailed without bail. Even if there are low rate of convictions under this act, there have been many instance of the misuse of the act by the accused.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau, out of the cases disposed of by the courts in 2015 more than 75 per cent cases have resulted in acquittal/withdrawal or compounding of the cases. Also, in almost 15-16 per cent cases, the police had filed closure reports.
Due to this reason, the Supreme Court ruled to mandate an inquiry to ascertain if the complaint filed is justifies or not. Also, the Supreme Court mandated the permission or approval of a senior superintendent or nodal officer before any arrest under the act. Every SC/ST leader and associations have come together on the streets against the recommendations ruled out by the apex court.
Apparently when such laws are modified in a modern and democratic society, it may create repercussions.
During the Bandh, there was violent chaos and mayhem on the streets. How ingenious and naive a person will be to claim that these protests were not engineered by professional rioters and stimulated by political leaders! There have been many instances where the political parties have supported such protests in the development.
After widespread pressure, the Centre had to file a review petition in the Supreme Court (SC) against its order that there would be no automatic arrest on any complaint filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In the past it has been visibly apparent that the opposition has tried to characterize the ruling government as anti-lower caste. With many politicians, activists and magistrates trying to find a side, the Congress and other opposition parties have been supporting the protests for political gains.
Last month, Maharashtra farmers led a peaceful protest and made quite an impression as they used there fundamental right in a non-violent manner. No amount of anger and rage is justified to create a protest in a democratic setup. Curiously, the southern states did not face this degree of inhumanity.
Interestingly, no political party has tried to condemn the violent demonstrations that caused destruction of properties, law and order and several casualties.
The violence by the Dalit communities under the name of ‘Bharat Bandh’ has no place in a democracy. The Dalit community has developed socially and politically so the bandh was certainly not the right way to put up their demands.
Clearly, as the citizens of the Republic of India, whether we are SC/ST, BC/OBC, we need to question ourselves shouldn’t all of us be treated alike by the law? Why some illusory or inconsequential “special” privilege?