April 24, 2018

Dalit protests intensify across country during 'Bharat Bandh', 4 killed

05 April 2018, 12:29 | Rufus Hill

Dalit Anger Boils Over Across India

Protests Dalit Bharat Bandh

The states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh turned into arenas for widespread violence on Monday the 2nd of April, as initially peaceful protests turned deadly in response to the Supreme Court's ruling on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Bishop Paul Toppo of Raigarh, a member of the Indian bishops' commission for indigenous people, said it was "a good sign" that both the Dalit and the indigenous people came together to protest because "unity is a sign of progress". Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh set an example by closing all educational institutions on Monday and taking effective administrative steps to minimise the flow of traffic in order to avert clashes. Police added that about 20 people had been injured.

In UP, one person was killed in Muzaffarnagar and another in Meerut, while almost 75 persons including 40 policemen were injured in violent protests in various parts of the state.

"It is our right to voice our concern and protest against violation of our rights, but we can not support violence of any sort", said Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak, who heads the Indian bishops' office for Dalit and indigenous communities.

The ANHAD Insaaf Yatra was in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli to express solidarity with the families and children in Khatauli who had been arrested and jailed unlawfully, protest the state government's move to erase 131 cases against those accused of 2003 Muzaffarnagar pogrom and to protest the spate of extra judicial killings in the state. "Dalit groups had called for a 'Bharat bandh" on Monday morning to apply greater pressure on the government to take concrete action.

In the central state of Madhya Pradesh, senior police officials told BBC Hindi that six people had died. Reports suggest that hundreds were injured in clashes with police, or in some places, with upper caste organisations like the Karni Sena in Rajasthan. So do Rajasthan, where SCs are 17 %, and Chhattisgarh, where 12% of the people are SCs.

The 1989 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was meant to guard against the harassment of Dalits and other groups. 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.

Meanwhile, police and other forces maintained a tight security all over Maharashtra to prevent any untoward incidents in the wake of the shutdown call. Police in Azamgarh district told AFP that public buses were set on fire by protesters.

Dalits are some of the country's most downtrodden citizens because of the Hindu caste hierarchy that condemns them to the bottom of the heap.

Last week a young Dalit farmer in Gujarat was beaten to death for owning a horse, which is seen as a symbol of power and wealth.

Dalits makes up some 200 million of India's 1.2 billion people.

Government data shows that by the end of 2016, about 90 percent of about 145,000 cases involving Dalits were still awaiting trial, the Times of India reported.

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