Dalit anger against the softening of provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court erupted in large-scale violence in different parts of the country, leaving nine dead, many injured, public and private property worth crores destroyed and normal life disrupted.
Six people were killed in Madhya Pradesh, two in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan as Dalits took to violence that was unprecedented both in intensity and scale. The massive stir signalled an assertiveness which can sharpen social fault lines, besides putting the ruling BJP, in particular, and the entire political class in general on notice in a year teeming with polls in the build-up to the 2019 general elections.
The agitation covered a huge stretch from Maharashtra to Bihar, making it the largest protest by Dalits — something that pointed to the planning and coordination that went into it, and brought out the community’s anger against the apex court order which had reworked the law to minimise the possibility of its misuse.
There was wanton destruction of public property as rampaging mobs, undeterred by the government announcement that it would seek a review of the SC order, pelted trains with stones, putting hundreds of passengers in harm’s way.
Private vehicles and commercial establishments were damaged, too, while at many places, common people became collateral victims of rampaging mobs which went around cities forcing shutdowns.
BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh was the worst hit as protesting mobs went berserk, targeting police as well. The state administration was taken unawares by the scale and intensity of violence, especially in Gwalior, Bhind, Morena, Sagar, Balaghat and Satna districts. In Gwalior, there were chilling scenes of protesters firing from licenced revolvers. Dabra additional SP Rajesh Tripathi was seriously injured in a mob attack. The Army was called out, schools were shut and kids ferried home in police vehicles.
Curfew was clamped in Morena. A man standing outside his house was shot by someone from a mob. The victim, Rahul Pathak, was taken to hospital where he died. Three protestors were allegedly injured in police firing. Internet services were suspended in Gwalior-Chambal region.
Violence across Rajasthan left one person dead and at least 100, including several policemen, injured.