At least nine persons were killed and scores injured Monday as Dalit anger exploded on the streets in different parts of the country on the day the Centre filed a petition in the Supreme Court, asking it to review its March 20 order that called for changes in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Protesting this alleged dilution of the law, Dalits tried to enforce a Bharat Bandh and its impact was felt most in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. They repeatedly clashed with police and blocked rail and road traffic at several places. In the violence that followed, vehicles and public properties, including police posts, were torched.
Of the nine dead, six were killed in Madhya Pradesh, two in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan. Officials said seven of the nine killed were Dalits.
Hundreds were detained across states following incidents of arson, firing and vandalism. The Union Home Ministry, which sent 800 anti-riot police personnel to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, instructed all states to take preventive measures and maintain public order.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Gwalior-Chambal belt bore the brunt of violence. IG (Law and Order) Makrand Deuskar said the deaths and injuries resulted from gunshots fired either by protesters or those against the bandh. He said police did fire in the air at two places but no one was injured. He said the police will, however, await post mortem reports before making definite comments about the gunshot wounds.
Internet services in Morena, Gwalior, Bhind and Sagar were suspended. Appealing for calm, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the Centre had filed a review petition in the Supreme Court. “Our government is committed to protecting the rights of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,’’ he tweeted in the wake of the violence. He also issued a video appeal, asking people not to believe in rumours and warning of strict action against those taking the law into their own hands.
Express Explained | Rising pendency, falling convictions: what data on SC/ST Act trials show
In Rajasthan’s Alwar district, 53-year-old Jallaram Jatav found his son Pawan Kumar with a gunshot injury in the head near the Ambedkar Circle in Khairthal, a town in Alwar district. The 27-year-old was rushed to a hospital where he was declared dead. Jatav said his son was a commerce post-graduate with a B.Ed and was preparing for an entrance examination to become a lecturer. The grief-stricken father claimed that the police opened fire without any provocation.
Rajasthan ADG (Law and Order) N R K Reddy said: “One person died in police firing today in Alwar district during the violence. We have detained at least 400 people… we are yet to get the actual numbers. The main areas affected are Barmer, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Karauli, Bharatpur, Alwar, Dausa, Ajmer, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner.”
In western Uttar Pradesh, at least two persons, both Dalits, were killed during the protests. Prashant Kumar, ADG (Meerut zone), said a protester each had died in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. Muzaffarnagar Chief Medical Officer P S Mishra said Amreesh (19) died and ten others, including three police personnel, were seriously injured.
Amreesh hailed from Gadla village in the Bhopa police station area. Gadla gram pradhan Ashok Kumar said: “We received a call around 2:30 pm that Amreesh, who is a Dalit, has been injured in police firing… he had received a bullet in the chest, and died soon after.” On the Meerut death, ADG Prashant Kumar said Ankur was among the protesters.
Meanwhile, Meerut SSP Manzil Saini said former BSP MLA Yogesh Verma had been arrested since he was the “main conspirator” behind the violence Monday. “Roughly about more than 200 people have been detained and we are getting cases registered against them… they will be booked under the NSA (National Security Act) and very stringent sections,” he told reporters.
Meerut’s Basic Education Officer Satyendra Kumar said schools and colleges in Meerut will remain closed on Tuesday, except those which have examinations scheduled for the day. The Shobhapur police outpost was set on fire by protesters. Other than Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, Agra and Hapur too witnessed violence and arson.
In Punjab, the bandh was near total. The state government took state and private buses off the roads, shut all educational institutions, and snapped mobile internet services until 11 pm Monday, bringing Punjab to a standstill.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he had directed security personnel to remain on alert in view of the volatile situation in some of the neighbouring states.