Partial shut-down in Kerala, sporadic violence reported

Partial shut-down in Kerala, sporadic violence reported

The 12-hour hartal called by various Dalit outfits in Kerala to protest the "dilution" of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act today, witnessed sporadic incidents of stone pelting and roads blocks by pro-hartal activists.

Protestors forcefully closed shops and resorted to roadblocks in many parts of the state. Incidents of stone throwing at Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses were reported from different places including Kollam and Alappuzha. In Thrissur, the driver of a KSRTC bus was injured in stone pelting, police said.

The strike call evoked a partial response as some shops and business establishments remained open while state and central government offices functioned as usual. Private buses operated services in some parts of the state. Few autorickshaws and taxis were seen plying on the roads.

The Kerala University postponed the exams scheduled for the day, in view of the state-wide hartal. Earlier in the day, at least 20 Dalit activists including Gothara Maha Sabha leader M Geethanandan were arrested for attempting to block traffic at the High Court junction in Kochi. Geethanandan, who is also the Convener of Kerala's Dalit Action Council, and some its activists were arrested, police said.

Condemning his preventive arrest, Geethanandan said it was a "prejudiced action" on the part of the police to silence the Dalits. Around 30 Dalit organisations are observing the hartal to protest the alleged dilution of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court.

They also condemned the police action against the Dalit agitators during the 'Bharat bandh' observed in various northern states on April 2. They claimed that Supreme Court had on March 20 "diluted" the provisions of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, ruling that government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens, too, be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.

In the state capital, a group of Dalit activists took out a march to the Secretariat and staged a dharna. Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the Congress-led UDF Opposition has extended support to the hartal. Senior Congress leader A K Antony criticised the arrest of Dalit leaders in connection with the agitation and said Congress would not support any move to "dilute" the rights of SC and ST communities.

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