As politicos, and among them mainly the Government, took over four-and-half months time to pass the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in the Lok Sabha after the Supreme Court had ruled to change some of its provisions millions of Dalits and their organisations spread across the country are hardly impressed.
They have planned to come from all corners of the country to Delhi and protest on August 9 against the Supreme Court’s interference in the law meant to protect them and Government’s “dilly-dallying” in passing an Act to overturn the top court’s verdict.
Earlier, the apex court had tried to make safeguards against arrest on Dalits complaints alleging atrocities through steps like allowing accused or suspect to take anticipatory bail and a preliminary inquiry by the police before registering an FIR, or First Information Report, under the SC and ST Act.
Dalits main grievance is that the Government took too much time before it finally relented and a bill to restore the original provisions of the SC and ST Act got the unanimous nod of the Lok Sabha on Monday, August 6 following the reply on a debate about this by Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot. And, thus, Dalits are angry about the delay in putting the bill to vote in the Lower House though it has still to get the clearance in the Rajya Sabha or the Upper House.
Even before Monday’s developments in the Lok Sabha regarding the Bill the Lok Jan Shakti Party, an NDA ally, whose leader Chirag Paswan participated in the debate has been of the view that no agitation or countrywide shut down by Dalit organizations was required on the issue since Government had committed to reverse the Supreme Court ruling through an amendment passed by Parliament.
Asked about the Bharat Bandh call for August 9, the All India Ambedkar Mahasabha chief Ashok Bharti said on Monday evening, “The stir is on. The Bill is yet to become a law. It is yet to be passed by the Rajya Sabha. And thereafter it has to get the approval of the President. So the Government may miss the deadline. Some of our activists have already been about to set out from their homes with the protesters. They are going to arrive at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds on Wednesday, August 8, where a decision regarding the next day’s protest would be taken.”
Bharti has been the founding chairman of National Confederation of Dalit Organisations. He like other SC and ST rights activists has been demanding an ordinance immediately after the Supreme Court judgement. Though the Government indicated to bring the ordinance to nullify the court’s order it never moved to the President for this. Thus, most Dalit activists thought that agitation was the only way to make Government relent while the Government woke up rather belatedly and only a few days before August 9, or Thursday’s siege that Dalits have planned to lay down near Parliament.
Earlier, there was a fierce protest by Dalits in Delhi. On April 2 a large crowd had gathered at Parliament Street and nearby Jantar Mantar. It was led by the Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravana. The Government was badly rattled by the sheer ferocity of the agitation. Days after this Dalit show of strength in Delhi Chandrashekhar was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police under NSA, or National Security Act for his alleged role in an earlier case of violent rioting in his home district Saharanpur. He is still undergoing confinement. His supporters have also threatened to take to Delhi on August 19, Sunday, and protest against his continuing detention in Saharanpur jail.
There are also cases against other Dalit activists and youth following the April 2 stir in Delhi and Dalits have been asking the Government to lift these cases. Thus, there are multiple demands that Dalit organisations have been trying to raise by calling for a protest on Thursday and also on August 19.
Pointing to the arrest of Chandrashekhar, Bharti said there should be safeguards in the law against the possibility of State vendetta. Normally, the Centre should ensure this in case the State Government resorts to unjustified and motivated action against Dalits or their activists fighting for the community’s rights. He retorted that he is watching the situation after Monday’s move in the Lok Sabha and would decide about the future course of action soon. This, he said, may be disclosed at a Press conference in Delhi on Tuesday, or August 7, evening.
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