Punjab shut down almost entirely on Monday in response to the Bharat Bandh call by various Dalit organisations against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act, with stray incidents of violence marring an otherwise peaceful protest. With the state government too pulling state and private buses off the roads, closing all educational institutions, and snapping mobile Internet services from 5 pm Sunday to 11 pm Monday night, normal life in Punjab came to a standstill.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh praised the police and security agencies for ensuring peace. In a statement, he said he had directed the security forces to continue to remain on alert in view of the volatile situation prevailing in some states, including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, which witnessed major incidents of violence during the day.
Amarinder also thanked the people of the state for heeding to his appeal to exercise restraint and not allowing the situation to escalate out of control, as had happened in 2009, when violence had erupted in the state in the wake of the attack on a Guru Ravi Dass gurdwara preacher in Vienna, leading to serious loss of life and property.
The CM said, “Had the erstwhile SAD-BJP regime taken adequate precautionary measures at that time, the state would not have witnessed the unnecessary violence.”
Punjab DGP Suresh Arora said barring a “few tense moments, the bandh was by and large peaceful”. While a head constable of Punjab Police, Pargat Singh got injured in Mansa as the protestors hit him with a stick, the police had to resort to mild cane charge to disperse agitators in Bathinda.
DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta said barring some incidents of stone pelting and breaking of window panes of vehicles, the bandh passed without any major incident. A vehicle was vandalised in a village near Talwara after two factions, one led by Dalits and other led by other community members clashed.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s office said there were 10 incidents of blocking of railway tracks, 11 major road blockades, involving national/state highways, and 12 incidents of minor road blockades, with about three to four incidents of minor injuries to people.
Protesters broke windows of shops in Ferozepur market to force traders to shut down. In Doaba region, agitators blocked the highway by setting tyres on fire. In Jalandhar, a number of women joined the protest to ensure a complete shutdown.
Arora said: “I would say field officers, Deputy Commissioners, Commissioners of Police and Senior Superintendents of Police worked as team and handled the situation. Minor sporadic incidents like stone pelting did happen at some places, but there were no big incidents”.
Arora added that protest leaders too played a positive role. “One of the police commissioners was telling me that a Dalit leader made agitators hand over the swords they were carrying to the police,” said Arora.
Protesters also stopped trains by staging protests on the tracks and pelting stones at moving trains. The Sachkhand Express was stopped in Amritsar. An Amritsar-Chandigarh (12412) train was cancelled.
Six trains were cancelled in Ferozepur division, and an equal number of trains were short-terminated as they were stopped by protesters, six more trains were short-originated.
Dinesh Sharma, Divisional Railways Manager, Ambala division told The Indian Express a large number of trains were delayed due to the bandh at various places. “So far we have not received reports of damage to the trains,” he said.
Several trains that would remain cancelled on Tuesday include Amritsar-New Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi (12014), and Chandigarh-Jaipur Express(19718). For Wednesday, Jay Nagar-Amritsar (14673) has been cancelled.
Vijay Danav, chief of Bhartiya Valmiki Dharam Samaj and one of members of ‘Samvidhan Bachao Morcha’ formed in Punjab by Dalit groups, said, “We are thankful to all shopkeepers and businessmen who cooperated with us and implemented bandh call. Our protest in entire Punjab was completely peaceful. However we are not satisfied with central government just filing a review petition in the Supreme Court. Work of judiciary is to protect laws, not change them. We demand that PM should immediately call for a Parliamentary session and pass a resolution that SC/ST law will not be changed. We have called a meeting tomorrow to decide further course of agitation.”
Amit Khosla, Jalandhar president of Valmiki Sabha said if Centre had represented the case properly, the verdict would have been different,“This shows their seriousness towards our community,” he said.
Satish Bharti, president of Guru Ravidass Dharam Youdh Morcha, Punjab said, “We will educate people as to what the constitution provided us and how these people are tinkering with those provisions.”
President of Punjab Samaj Bachao Manch and member of Punjab SC commission Gian Chand, said, “If SC has given this verdict then the Parliament can bring in a legislation to quash it and restore the original Act.”