Dalit outfits call for countrywide bandh on Thursday

Dalit groups seek restoration of SC/ST Act provisions, which they allege were diluted by a Supreme Court ruling

New Delhi: Various Dalit organisations, with members belonging to lower castes and protesting against changes made by the Supreme Court in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, have called for a countrywide ‘Bharat Bandh’ or shutdown on August 9.

Under the banner of All India Ambedkar Mahasabha (AIAM), the Dalit groups are demanding restoration of the provisions of the SC/ST Act which, they allege, were diluted by the apex court ruling of March 20.

They are also seeking the release of Dalit activists jailed during the April 2 agitation in various states.

Ahead of the bandh, prohibitive orders under section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) have been imposed in Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. In MP’s Bhind district, internet services were completed suspended on Wednesday.

Section 144 seeks to prevent collective protests at public places. The authorities in several sensitive states are also monitoring social media to curb the spread of malicious rumours ahead of the Dalit protest.

During the April 2 agitation, nine persons were killed in violent clashes in Bhind and Gwalior.

The government asserted that it was protecting the rights of the Dalit community. Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Athawale, appealed to the public not to participate in the bandh. “I appeal to all to maintain peace, harmony and brotherhood in the country,” Athawale said.

On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) passed the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill 2018, to overturn the SC order of March 20. The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill 2017, which grants constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), was also passed by Parliament on Monday.

“The passage of the two Bills was a revolutionary step. But the opposition is defaming the government. I assure that the Centre is continuously working towards the welfare of Dalits,” the Minister said.

Meanwhile, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan asked Dalit outfits to call off the Bharat Bandh, as the centre had already brought an Amendment Bill to restore the previous law. “There is no reason now to go ahead with the bandh and protest the Supreme Court verdict, given that the government has brought an amendment,” he said.

Paswan said his party LJP, a constituent of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, had full confidence in the government. “We had earlier threatened an agitation if the Act was not restored to its original state. We appealed to the government that the Act should be restored to its pre-SC verdict and we’re thankful that the government has passed in the Lok Sabha,” he said.

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