Dalit anger erupts

Changes to the SC/ST Act were just the trigger. The Bharat Bandh gave expression to the pent-up anger of disadvantaged sections against casteism in our society.

WrittenBy:Chandrani Banerjee
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The recent protests by Dalit youths across the country protesting dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 indicate a huge shift in the Indian social fabric. The upsurge of Dalit community is significant and a positive shift against the oppression that existed for decades.

The immediate protest is against the changes in the SC/ST Act but there was already simmering anger among youths. Dalits have been killed for growing a moustache, daring to watch an upper-caste folk dance, allegedly for owning and riding a horse, for all kinds of defiance of social norms that prevent them from enjoying the simple pleasures of being human.  

On April 2, there was a significant difference in the attitude of the community. Now the youth speaks about reality and discrimination before the world. They point towards the traditional age-old bias in India due to caste discrimination.

Dalit movements are common in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Somehow in Uttar Pradesh, a national party represented Dalits while in Maharashtra protests have taken place before on issues related to the community.  However, there was no awakening in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. The recent protests across the country were disorganised, unmanned and without a political leadership. What prompted this awakening? This question surfaced after the day-long protest.

On Monday, more than 100 passenger and mail train services were affected as protestors squatted on the tracks to enforce an all-India shutdown against the dilution of the SC/ST Act. The protestors blocked rail and road traffic in Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi.

The Bharat Bandh strike was called against the Supreme Court’s order to dilute the stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act. The bandh was reportedly supported by several groups such as the Peasants and Workers Party, the Prakash Ambedkar-led Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the Jati Aant Sangharsh Samiti, the Rashtriya Seva Dal, and National Dalit Movement for Justice, among others.

The railways said across its zones, the protestors started gathering at the rail yards since early morning. The services were disrupted when a mob arrived at the Ghaziabad yard around 10 am, Northern Railway officials said. Many trains, including the Saptakranti Express, Utkal Express, Gatiman Express, the Bhubaneswar and Ranchi Rajdhani and the Kanpur Shatabdi, were stopped ahead of Ghaziabad at Meerut and Modinagar.

A mob of about 2,000 people disrupted train services at the Hapur station. In Agra, the protest turned violent when local cops reportedly tried to contain a large group. Massive protests have also been reported from several other parts of the country, including Punjab’s Ludhiana and Zirakpur. Protestors stopped a train that came from Odisha’s Sambalpur. In Bihar’s Aara district, activists of different groups stopped the train.

According to media reports, the protestors belonged to Bhim Army in Bihar and were carrying posters, flags and banners. They blocked national and state highways — apart from long-distance trains. In several localities in Patna, supporters of the Bhim Army forced shops to close and blocked roads by burning tyres, claimed police reports.

“While the violence is condemnable the nationwide protest shows a shift. In the current scenario to me, the Dalits could see that there is a pattern that is targeting them. Cutting scholarships, dilution of the minimal protection that they would have had and a pattern to be dismissive about their rights. I feel that is the reason this nationwide anger was witnessed on April 2.  The current government is not independent and influenced by RSS. People pay more attention to the words uttered by Mohan Bhagwat than the prime minister. And Mohan Bhagwat believes in ‘Varna System’, So there lies the problem,” said professor Kancha llaiah, renowned author and Dalit scholar.  

Meanwhile, social media was used to highlight the problems and to hurl abuses at the Bhim Army for calling Bharat Bandh. Viral India posted a video using abusive language and threaten them not to dare again to come out on the streets for anything. @Gagan posted, “It is horrifying when you are inside your train to reach your destination for regular business, and outside you see is some hooligans thinking they can do a better job by standing against the judiciary. Stop violence. Protest peaceful. #Bharatbandh. “Urgent help needed !!!!!# BharatBandh,#KarnatakaExpress No food. No water. No electricity. Protestors sitting on tracks. Threatening to burn train,” tweeted Nikita, who was on board the Karnataka Express, which she said was stuck in Agra for three hours.

“Earlier there were issues that were only restricted to a particular village. The social and digital media has served it on the table of people who matter. Every individual has an android phone today and he reads whatever is there on the internet. Two days ago, a Dalit youth has been killed for owning and riding a horse in Gujarat. And this was read by many. The simmering anger was out on the streets on April 2. India is changing for better,” said Harish Wankhade, assistant professor of Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

The Rashtriya Adhikar Dalit Manch led by Jignesh Mevani believes that the organisation acknowledges the advantages of social media. The negative and positive both works for the growth of the organisation.   

Subodh Parmar of Rashtriya Adhikar Dalit Manch says, “A change in the law that is already rickety in its ability to prevent atrocities, to me the dilution is removal of even the little nominal protection that we have. Prevention of atrocities does not lie in a more effective law, but in empowering the country’s oppressed communities to democratise society and make living according to the law of the land. Equality should be the norm for every section of society without considering the background of privileged or deprived ancestors. Every individual should be allowed to enjoy the essentials of humanity.”

While the political blame game is going on in full swing, the apex court has refused to reconsider its decision to look at the SC/ST Act. Dalit activists are monitoring the issue closely. Politician, lawyer and Dalit activist Prakash Ambedkar of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, that was part of the Bharat Bandh call, says, “This is not the end. This is the beginning. There will be bigger protests and the community will try to draw attention towards the issues that they are facing”.   

This article was first published in the Patriot.


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