New Delhi/Bhopal: Dalit protesters blocked trains, clashed with police and set fire to vehicles in violent protests across seven states against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, leaving at least four people dead and many injured today, officials said.
Curfew was imposed in several places and the Army was called out in Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh. The Army and paramilitary forces were also put on standby in Punjab.
Transport and communications services were severely hit in many states with over 100 trains getting affected due to protests against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act, even as the Centre moved the Supreme Court seeking review of its recent judgement in the matter, maintaining that the verdict will violate constitutional rights of these communities.
While some states ordered closure of educational institutions, and curtailed internet and mobile services, incidents of arson, firing and vandalism were reported from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, among other states.
“Two people were killed in Gwalior while one person each died in Bhind and Morena districts in cross-firing during protests,” Inspector General (Law and Order) Makrand Deoskar told PTI in Bhopal.
The Union Home Ministry also asked states to take preventive steps and maintain public order to ensure safety of lives and property, and rushed 800 anti-riot policemen to Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed for peace, while Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was not a party to the Supreme Court decision on the SC/ST Act and “respectfully” did not agree with its reasoning behind the verdict.
Prasad also said the government has filed a very comprehensive review petition in the matter.
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, a prominent Dalit leader and head of NDA constituent LJP, appreciated the government’s quick decision to file the petition and accused the Congress of having done nothing for Dalit icon B R Ambedkar.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad alleged that incidents of atrocities on Dalits and minorities have increased in the country since the NDA came to power in 2014, while AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal extended his support to the protesting groups.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath appealed for peace and urged the people not to vitiate law and order, as violence was reported from many districts including Azamgarh where protesters torched two state-run buses, injuring several passengers.
As protests turned violent in Agra, Hapur, Meerut in western UP, Director General of Police (DGP), O P Singh, said, “We have sought more force from the Centre that will be deployed there. We are keeping an eye on the situation, which is under control.” Many trains, including premier Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses, were stopped by protestors while some were short-terminated as precautionary measures.
A group of about 2,000 people disrupted trains at the Hapur station as well, disrupting the movement of many goods trains, railway officials added.
Protests were also witnessed at Ambala and Rohtak in Haryana as well as in Chandigarh.
The CBSE has already postponed Class 12 and Class 10 examinations scheduled to be held today in Punjab at the request of the state government in view of the ‘Bharat Bandh’.
In the national capital region, protesters squatted on tracks at several places, stopping trains, including the Dehradun Express and the Ranchi Rajdhani, while a Northern Railway official said services were also disrupted by a mob in Ghaziabad.
The protesters gathered at Mandi House in Delhi and blocked roads.
Shouting slogans of ‘Jai Bhim’, the protesters also blocked one of the carriageways of Barakhamba Road affecting traffic movement on the stretch, police said.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 diluted certain provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, in a bid to protect ‘honest’ public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the Act.
The verdict is being widely criticised by the Dalits and the Opposition who claim that the dilution of the Act will lead to more discrimination and crimes against the backward community.
Nearly 30 people- 20 from Ajmer and 10 from Jaipur — were detained in Rajasthan as protesters blocked rail and road traffic and vandalised public properties.
In Patna, MLAs from the opposition parties, as well as some from the ruling side, demanded a resolution be passed by the House urging the Centre to take adequate measures to undo the recent Supreme Court order on arrests under the SC/ST Act.
Protesters stormed the Patna Junction where they forced closure of the ticket booking counters and squatted on railway tracks disrupting movement of a number of trains.
Normal life was also partially affected in several parts of Odisha. In the state capital of Bhubaneswar, activists of different Dalit organisations put up road blockades.
Major towns and cities of Gujarat also witnessed protests while civic-run transport services were halted after some of the buses were targeted by agitators.