Violence has erupted across north India. As per the latest reports, a total of seven people have died including five in Madhya Prdesh alone, while one was killed in police firing in Rajasthan and one person died in Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. The violent agitations are happening due to a Supreme Court judgment allegedly diluting the provisions of the SC ST Act. The state of Madhya Pradesh has been the worst affected, and curfew has been imposed in the cities of Gwalior and Morena. Uttar Pradesh also saw widespread vandalism of public property in Meerut. Even though the police thrashed the protestors, the agitations spread to other areas in and around Agra. Rajasthan also witnessed acts of arson and vandalism. Protestors even blocked railway tracks and stopped a train in Jaipur. Other states like Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand also saw isolated acts of protest and clashes with police.
The judgment, however, seems to have only altered a law that provided for automatic arrests and misuse of the harsh provisions of the SC ST Act. The judgment has now mandated a preliminary inquiry before an FIR is filed, and if an arrest is to take place, the approval of the appointing authority if the arrestee is a public servant or the Senior Superintendent of the Police if the person to be arrested is an ordinary citizen has been made necessary. It must be borne in mind that such safeguards are afforded to the arrestee as a matter of fair play in criminal cases. Automatic arrests, which go against the principles of criminal justice, have been undone by the highest court of the land. The court also added that even though the SC ST Act is a special legislation, anticipatory bails cannot be altogether excluded from its ambit. These are the basic rules that must be followed in every criminal process, and their inclusion in the SC ST Act is only a rectification of the errors committed by the legislature.
The agitations have been constantly targeting the current government for dilution in the provisions of the controversial Act. However, one must remember that this is a judicial pronouncement by the highest court of the land. The government does not have much of a role to play. The court altered a lacuna in the SC ST Act which could not have been avoided by the government. However, the Centre has been cautious, and a review petition has already been filed before the apex court.
So who is behind the nationwide bandh and violent protests? Take a look yourself!
The opposition has anyway taken this as a political opportunity and has perpetrated violence throughout several states, causing loss of life and property. Self-proclaimed Dalit leader Mayawati also came out with a statement saying, “I support the protest against the SC ST Act. I have got to know that some people spread violence during the protests, I strongly condemn it. Our party is not behind the violence during the protests”. Thus, while she enthusiastically pledged support to the demonstrations, she condemned the violence in just one casual sentence. The West Bengal chief minister also appeared to be adding fire to the agitations even as she commented that the basic rights of the Dalits are being violated under the current regime, but did not utter a word about the violent agitations leave alone the idea of condemning it.
However, even more authoritative indications of the violent clashes being political in nature and framed in order to achieve electoral success in the upcoming Karnataka elections followed by the general elections next year have emerged. According to a tweet, it appears that the “Rajput protestors” of the Karni Sena who had taken to the streets before the release of Padmavat are now impersonating as members of the Bhim Sena and have once again taken to the streets, but this time for a totally different reason and ideology. This suggests that the agitators are not infuriated Dalits but planted hooligans or professional protestors.
— गीतिका (@ggiittiikkaa) April 2, 2018
Interestingly, according to a tweet by a journalist, the Uttar Pradesh government is set to take on all those involved in arson and damage to public property under the National Security Act, and a BSP MLA from West UP is being seen as the mastermind behind widespread violence in Uttar Pradesh. It seems that while top leadership of the opposition parties is adding fuel to fire, the cadres are actively abetting violence at the ground level.
UP to book all causing arson and damage under NSA (National Security Act), a BSP MLA from West UP is being termed as mastermind of the same #BharatBandh
— Aman Sharma (@AmanKayamHai_ET) April 2, 2018
The involvement of the opposition parties at some level is further corroborated by the fact that the non-BJP ruled states such as Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have remained free from violence even though these states have traditionally been vocal about Dalit rights. On the other hand, it is in the BJP ruled states that the acts of arson and vandalism with crowds holding swords and other such weapons have taken place.
#BharatBandh & Vandalism in
All BJP ruled states
No #BharatBandh in
Non BJP ruled states
Who is behind this?? #SCSTAct
— Srikanth (@srikanthbjp_) April 2, 2018
While the opposition parties are unabashedly questioning the BJP over not being able to protect Dalit rights, it is the turn of the opposition parties to bear the brunt and account for the violence that has gripped almost the whole of north India.
The protests that started in the afternoon have already led to several deaths and a heart wrenching story has emerged from Hajipur in Bihar. A newborn baby has lost its life in wake of the ongoing protests against the innocuous Supreme Court verdict. The child reportedly died on the way to Sardar Hospital. According to the latest reports, the ambulance of the child got stuck in a traffic jam and the angry protestors refused to give way even to an ambulance. It is beyond comprehension how the agitators blocking traffic in a fit of caste pride compromised even the basic tenets of humanity and came in way of the life of a newborn. Those who are unjustly questioning the government over a move that the government did not even make are responsible for all the deaths that have taken place, including that of this newborn who had just come into this world. Before they question the government and make use of this opportunity to take a Dalit-friendly position, they must account for all the violence that has taken place.
Every citizen has a right to protest against a government decision and demand a change in policy or the law. But the fact remains that where the decision has not been taken by the government, the protests are rendered meaningless. The state functions through its wing, while the judiciary and the executive are totally separate wings and the executive cannot undo what the judiciary has pronounced at the drop of a hat. Even if the protests are to be staged, there is a way to do it. Assembling violent crowds and vandalism or arson can never be accepted in a democracy. The opposition parties, especially those claiming to have a special interest in the Dalits, should counsel the frenzied crowds instead of targeting the government and adding fuel to fire.