By Prarthana Mitra
Massive demonstrations, enforced closure of shops, gas stations and schools, and droned surveillance defined Thursday’s Bharat Bandh that mobilised certain upper-caste organisations against the recent overruling of the diluted SC/ST Act. States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were swept by strikers and agitators who ensured life came to a standstill in cognizance of their demands.
Protesters took to the streets with their slogans and demands early in the morning. Over the day, trains were blocked, private schools shuttered, markets closed and effigies burnt in large groups, across several central and western states.
Amidst high alert in the 35 districts of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur district collector Chhavi Bharadwaj wrote to the state home department, requesting suspension of Internet services in the district till 6 PM on Thursday. Schools and business establishments remained closed
Things got to a head around as early as 10 AM, as drones were seen patrolling Gwalior’s skies and Section 144 was imposed which SDM Narottam Bhargavi claimed ensured that the protests were peaceful. This preemptive step was probably taken in light of the large-scale violence in the region during the April 2 strike called by scheduled caste groups, that had resulted in four casualties.
The prohibitive order was later extended to Chhatarpur, Shivpuri, Bhind, Ashoknagar, Guna, and Katni, as per reports. Petrol pumps remained shuttered from 10 AM to 4 PM in state capital Bhopal.
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar
Protests against the amendment to SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act erupted in Uttar Pradesh’s Begusarai and Lucknow, with the deployment of heavy police forces in Lakhisarai early in the day. Marches were led by different organisations in Noida, Varanasi and Agra. Six policemen were injured due to brick-pelting, according to TOI. Some bandh supporters also had heated arguments with local BJP MLA, Anand Swarup Shukla, who refused to back their demands.
At least three trains were halted in Bihar’s Darbhanga, Patna, and Mokama which experienced roadblocks and incidences of burning tires over the day. Train services were also briefly interrupted in Rajgir. Besides, large-scale protests erupted in Sitamarhi, Chhapra and Jehanabad districts.
Protests in Maharashtra and Rajasthan started a little later, with demonstrations organised in Thane, Kota, Alwar and Ajmer by a number of various outfits.
The protest on Thursday is antithetical to the earlier Bharat Bandh in April, called by Dalit outfits to protest the SC/ST Act which proposed to dilute provisions ensuring impartial investigation and punitive measures in case of caste-based crimes. The Act was amended to placate the SC/ST community and its allies, in the Monsoon session last month. This Amendment triggered certain groups which feel unduly penalised by the Act, which exists to ensure justice to the wronged and the marginalised.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius