A sea of blue flags walked from Mandi House to the Parliament Street, to the chorus of ‘Jai Bhim’, on Monday morning. More than 1,000 members of the Dalit community participated in the Bharat Bandh to protest what they called the dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, by the Supreme Court.
The protest brought parts of the city to a standstill, with traffic snarls as protesters blocked a carriageway of Barakhamba Road, Mandi House Metro station, Connaught Place, and Karkari Mor in east Delhi. “Leaders of SC/ST groups of various government offices contacted each other and met at GTB Hospital on March 24, and formed the Joint Action Forum: Fight for Atrocity (JAFFA). We mobilised in colonies through RWA volunteers and on social media too,” said Brahm Prakash (51), who works at Mausam Vibhag.
While the protest was diverse — with lawyers, farmers, students and civil servants participating — only a few women joined in. Rajesh Kumari (47) said, “Patriarchy is still so ingrained that the men in the family will go out and protest while we are expected to stay indoors.”
The Indian Express spoke to protesters to find out what brought them to the streets:
Manju Rani, 44, insurance agent, Delhi
My two sisters were raised in Raispur village in Ghaziabad. In school, their wooden slates would be taken away by upper caste students. They were mocked for wearing slippers… My father was made to drink tea in broken cups, which were kept near the buffalo shed, at upper caste homes. My own children grew up wanting to hide their caste; ticking the ‘general’ category box in forms instead of ‘SC’. I want them to know what my father and sisters underwent; and what people of our community are facing even now.
Ram Bhaj, 60, farmer, Karnal
In 1963, I won a game against another child from an upper caste family, and within an hour, my family was barred from crossing their house, not to play with their children, and the behaviour of school authorities towards me changed. I hoped it would be different for the next generation but even now my grandson’s identity is his caste, and I fear that.
Manish Kumar, 28, PhD student, Kolkata
When I began studying at Delhi University, I was made to realise my caste identity, as students of ‘general’ category would often assert that I’m not worthy of the seat. I was denied entry to homes of people in Palwal due to my caste. My education didn’t matter.
Sunita, 41, Govt hospital staff, Delhi
A Brahmin friend of mine was beaten up by her mother because she shared food with me in Class V. At work, too, there is less faith in me because of my caste. If we don’t unite now, worse treatment will be meted out to the next generation.
Krishna, 56, nursing superintendent, Delhi
I once worked at an upper caste farmland. The men would harass us and get away with it because of their caste. When I was in school, only a Brahmin could give me water from a lota, it didn’t matter how thirsty I was. I remember when I was in Class IX, in 1975, that students of all communities were allowed to drink from same water cooler in school.
KM Gautam, 75, Retd civil servant, Jewar
The protest is a show of strength and unity. As a child, I sat on the floor in front of a Thakur; I wasn’t allowed water from a well in their area, I wore their second-hand clothes. Years ago, members of the Rajput community in my village beat us up for bringing a chariot. I studied hard just so my own children don’t have to go through this — but little has changed.
Vivek Vishal Gautam, 23, law student, Delhi
Just a few days ago, a Dalit youth who owned a horse was killed. With the dilution of the SC/ST Act, such instances will increase. While growing up, my father would tell me not to react… he feared what would happen if my caste identity was revealed