A marker of Monday’s Bharat bandh against purported dilution of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act was that it was perhaps the first such nationwide mobilisation in recent times of Dalit and adivasi groups that was not led by any political party but was the result of concerted efforts by disparate national and local-level organisations. Ashok Bharti, chairman of National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), was among the first to call for a Bharat bandh on March 22, two days after the Supreme Court ordered safeguards against the Act’s ‘misuse’.
Bharti said that on March 25, a motorcycle rally was taken out in Delhi to spread the word, messages were disseminated through WhatsApp, and hundreds of meetings were held across the country by different organisations in the run-up to Monday’s nationwide protests.
Besides NADCOR, others involved at the national level include All-India Dalit Rights Federation (AIDRF), Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, and Bhim Army. The numbers grew as several regional groups joined in, as did SC-ST employees’ associations, civil society organisations, NGOs, and political parties, such as the BSP, openly supported the bandh.
Bharti said, “We have been pushed to the wall by the present (Narendra Modi-led) dispensation. Sabr ka pyaala bhar gaya hai (We have run out of patience). When even Supreme Court decides to deny justice to 30 crore people, they have no option but to take to the streets.” He alleged that in several places, including Meerut, Agra and Gwalior, peaceful march was disrupted by saffron groups Monday.
Vinay Ratan Singh, national president of Bhim Army, said that for the first time people from SC-ST communities from across the country came together not under the banner of a central leadership but through social mobilisation at local level. The Bhim Army, he said, was largely instrumental in organising mass protests in Haryana, Punjab, UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka.
Singh said: “The government wants this conflict — first between Hindus and Muslims, and now they have waged a battle against Dalits and adivasis. The Union government was a party to the Supreme Court case, and yet they did nothing to protect the sanctity of the legislation. It was left to the poor daily wage labourers to give up their day’s earnings for this march – pitt toh hum rahein hai (we are the ones affected).”
Part of the mobilisation process also involved releasing standardised leave application format to all SC/ST government, semi-government, and private employees so that they could officially state the reason for leave on April 2.
K Ananda Rao, AIDRF national president, said that even though the government has now filed a review petition, his organisation will also file a review petition in the apex court. “There is no implementation of the Act. Where is the question of misuse? The Supreme Court has the power to dismiss the case it was dealing with but it cannot change the Act.