Dalit protest across Gujarat turned violent on Monday as mobs took to the streets shutting down shops, indulging in arson, attacking buses and halting trains to enforce the bandh called by various Dalit organisations to protest the “dilution” of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court. The police also detained several protesters, releasing them later in the day. There were reports of attacks on police in Ahmedabad. According to the police, there were about 50 cases of arson, stone pelting, halting of transport services and so on.
Several tribals also joined the protests with the Dalits, especially in south Gujarat. While Dalit leader and Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani led protests in the Sarangpur area of Ahmedabad, Balu Sarvaiya, father of the 2016 Una flogging victims, led a huge rally of his community members in Una town of Gir Somnath district as part of the nation-wide bandh.
Mevani sat on dharna at the statue of B R Ambedkar with hundreds of Dalit activists, and announced that he and his supporters would not allow any ruling BJP leader to garland the statue of Ambedkar if the Central government failed to file a review petition against the apex court order.
Speaking to reporters, he condemned the violence during the bandh, and urged protesters to not take law in their hands. “I am 110 per cent against violence… I have urged people to come out in large numbers and protest, but shun away from destroying public properties at any cost. After all, these public properties are tax payers’ money.” He also added that the Supreme Court and the BJP government at the Centre should try to understand what has made the Dalits so angry.
“What has led to the anger among Dalits, it has to be understood by the Central government and the honourable apex court. Even today, a case of Dalit atrocities takes place every 15 minutes. Everyday, six Dalit girls are raped. Despite that, if the apex court says that in most of the cases the (SC/ST atrocities) law is misused for blackmailing, then Dalits would come out on the streets,” he added.
In the Capital Gandhinagar, Balu Sarvaiya’s son Vashram accompanied by other Dalit families met Governor O P Kohli and submitted a memorandum, demanding protection of the Constitution. Their meeting with the Governor coincided with the conclusion of ‘Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra’ that began from Una on March 28.
In Una, two men were detained for stone pelting as Dalits took out a rally. “People of Una supported our protest by keeping their shops and offices closed today after our appeal. People from all communities supported us,” Sarvaiya told The Indian Express over phone. Balu was joined by his son Ramesh and family members of Ashok Sarvaiya. They were among the seven Dalits who were publicly flogged by alleged cow vigilantes while they were skinning a dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala village of Una taluka in July 2016.
Vasant Khuman, police inspector of Una, said the bandh remained peaceful. “Vehicular traffic was affected for some time as protesters assembled at Ambedkar Chowk in large numbers. But no untoward incident was reported from anywhere during the day. We detained two men for about an hour as a preventive measure. But they were released subsequently,” said Khuman.
In Ahmedabad, bus services were suspended after reports of buses being attacked came in from areas like Chandkheda, Meghaninager, Panjra Pole, Ambawadi, Vadaj, Sarangpur, Gomtipur, Kalupur and Sarangpur among others.
Six BRTS buses were attacked and 32 incidents of mobs deflating tyres and nine incidents of window panes being shattered were reported.
There were reports of protests turning violent in Surat and Navsari as well. In Surat, 90 persons were detained, and 40 were detained in Navsari. Congress leaders Hasmukh Desai and Praful Togadia were among the politicians who participated in the Dalit protest rally in Surat. Protesters urged the business community to shut down their textile market on Surat’s Ring Road by handing roses to the traders.
In Navsari, mobs burnt tyres on the highway, stalling traffic. In the towns of Dharampur, Kaprada and Chikhli in Navsari, the bandh was total. Here, tribals also participated in the rally. At Surendranagar district collector’s office, Naushad Solanki, the Congress MLA from Dasada, led the demonstration. The Supreme Court’s order diluting the provisions of the Atrocities Act has made the law toothless and it would encourage atrocities on Dalits, instead of curbing it, Solanki said.
On Tuesday, state Congress president Amit Chavda and Congress Legislature Party leader Paresh Dhanani are scheduled to meet the Governor and hand him over a memorandum on the issue. In Vadodara, crowds disrupted rail traffic for several hours. Around noon, Dalits gathered at Kothi junction, blocking the road leading to Raopura and to the office of the District Collector. The protesters brought handcarts filled with garbage and spilled the filth on the roads.
Chanting slogans against the government, the groups, which comprised a large number of sanitation workers, sat in demonstration at Kothi for the entire day even as heavy police deployment was in place at the office of the District Collector.
Many other Dalit groups also held protests at the Vadodara railway station, holding up two goods trains. The protests delayed the flow of regular train traffic from the busy junction as several passenger trains were delayed and rescheduled. The protesters also disrupted traffic outside the railway station, causing commotion and inconvenience to travellers.
“Over all, the protest has been very peaceful. It was a delicate issue and if not handled well with tact and patience it could have turned violent. It did not degenerate into violence or allegations of police atrocity. We had deployed mobile teams who reached places to monitor the situation. We did not allow them to take extreme steps to show their protest,” said Commissioner of Police Manoj Sashidhar.