Dalit anger aimed at BJP, Modi govt

Dalit anger aimed at BJP, Modi govt

Few Dalit protests in the country in the past have been as sweeping in scale and as violent as the Bharat Bandh  on Monday,  which resulted in the death of seven persons, injuries to many more and large-scale destruction of property. The protests spanned across the country but turned violent mostly in the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The bandh was against a Supreme Court ruling last month which prescribed some guidelines for registration of cases under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which would effectively dilute the Act.  But the protest was, in effect, directed against the Narendra Modi government and the BJP, which do not enjoy a friendly image among Dalits and are even considered hostile by many. Despite its efforts to reach out to Dalits through alliances with Dalit parties and leaders and the attempts to co-opt Babasaheb Ambedkar's name, the BJP is still considered a high-caste party.  

The bandh therefore went beyond a normal protest over an issue and assumed emotional dimensions. Many Dalits have refused to see incidents like Rohith Vemula's suicide at the University of Hyderabad, the Gujarat Una floggings and many other atrocities as isolated happenings. The accumulated discontent and anger may have found vent  on Monday, with the court ruling being an immediate trigger and the bandh a vehicle for it. It is possible that outsiders and anti-social elements took advantage of the situation, but it is surprising that governments failed to detect the undercurrents. The NDA government on Monday filed a petition in the court for a review of its ruling, as demanded by Dalit bodies,  but the fortnight-long delay in doing so is inexplicable. That created doubts about the government's view on the matter and its commitment.  

The safeguards sought to be introduced by the Supreme Court in the implementation of the Act can make it ineffective. The court felt that the law had become an instrument of blackmail against innocent citizens in many cases and so ruled that a preliminary inquiry should be held before the registration of a case and disallowed immediate arrest of the accused. The law was framed in the background of the oppression of Dalits for centuries and the need to protect them against the continuance of such oppression. It is wrong to lose sight of this. The low conviction rate in cases of atrocities is not always because they are false, though they sometimes are, but often because the cases are not investigated and prosecuted well. The Supreme Court has refused to stay the order for now but when it hears the case again in 10 days, the Modi government must convince the court of the greater danger that lies in the misuse of the safeguards it has propounded than in the law as such.  

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