At least nine persons were killed and hundreds injured on Monday in violence across several States during a nationwide bandh against the alleged dilution of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Six persons were killed in Madhya Pradesh, two in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan as Dalit groups staged violent protests across north India against a Supreme Court judgment they claimed weakened protections available to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
The Supreme Court had ruled on March 20 that the anti-atrocities law had become an instrument to blackmail innocent citizens and had issued a slew of guidelines against arbitrary arrests.
Deeply pained: Rajnath
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was “deeply pained” by the loss of lives and reiterated that the Centre was committed to ensuring the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
“Six people — three in Gwalior district, two in Bhind district, and one person in Morena district — were killed during the violence,” Madhya Pradesh IG (Law and Order) Makarand Deoskar said.
According to Mr. Deoskar, the casualties occurred during fights between the bandh supporters and its opponents and not due to police firing.
Curfew was clamped in Gwalior and Morena districts, while the Army was called out in Morena, a senior police officer said.
Six of those killed in M.P. were identified as Rakesh Jatav, Deepak Jatav and Vimal Bodh (Gwalior district), Akash Jatav and Mahavir Singh (Bhind district) and youth leader Rahul Pathak (Morena district).
In U.P., one person was killed in Muzaffarnagar and another in Meerut.
Pawan Kumar, 25, was killed in police firing at Khairthal in Rajasthan’s Alwar district as protesters blocked rail and road traffic, vandalised property and clashed with the police and shopkeepers in many towns. He died when the police opened fire to break up a mob, allegedly stoning the police station at Khairthal and torching vehicles.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, one person, identified as Ambrish, died of a bullet injury, while three shopkeepers, Rahul, Mahesh and Satish, received bullet injuries in Hapur.
Another “unknown person” was found with “grievous head injuries” in Hapur, the police said. A mob also torched buses on the Delhi-Dehradun highway.
“We asked for central forces in the morning but they took time to arrive due to the ongoing protests. More than 450 people have been taken into custody and action is being taken against them. In Agra, we arrested former BSP MLA Yogesh Verma for instigating violence,” Uttar Pradesh DGP O.P. Singh told The Hindu .
Protests were also reported from Punjab and Haryana, with Dalit activists blocking the movement of trains at several places. A complete bandh was reported in Himachal Pradesh as well.
In the national capital region, protesters squatted on tracks at several places, stopping trains, including the Dehradun Express and the Ranchi Rajdhani, while a Northern Railway official said services were also disrupted by a mob in Ghaziabad, a PTI report said.
Over 50 incidents of violence, including torching of public transport buses were reported in Gujarat, while Ahmedabad shut down mass transport services in the city.
In major cities and towns, hundreds of protesters came out on the streets to block highways and roads while at many places, protesters forced shopkeepers to down shutters.
In Ahmedabad and a few other places, the local police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse swelling mobs, which were going berserk vandalising shops and blocking roads.
In Maharashtra’s Nagpur, a city bus was damaged, two trains were stopped and traffic was disrupted in Dalit areas.
In some parts of central Nagpur, protesters pushed against barricades and clashed with the police. The Central government and the Supreme Court were wholly responsible for the violence during the nationwide shutdown called by Dalit groups, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) president Prakash Ambedkar said on Monday.
Many Dalit groups protested in Hyderabad against the SC verdict. Protests were held in all the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh.
(With PTI inputs)