At least nine people were killed, thousands were detained by the police and hundreds were left injured as the central and state governments struggled to control the nationwide shutdown protests that spread across the north, west and east India over the Supreme Court’s alleged 'dilution' of the SC/ST Act on Monday.
According to reports, six people were killed in cross-firing in Madhya Pradesh alone, two died in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan. Curfew was imposed in several places and mobile services were blocked.
The Apex Court on March 20 banned arrests and registration of criminal cases under the ST/SC Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, a legislation meant to protect the marginalised communities from abuse and discrimination. A bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit ruled that no arrests can be made under the Act without prior permission and had ruled that a court can grant an anticipatory bail if finds the complaint is an abuse of the law, false, motivated and intended to blackmail or harass a person.
Following the Supreme Court order, the violent protests hit life across the country. Some states ordered closure of educational institutions and railway services.
Meanwhile, CBSE, in a statement, claimed that class X and XII board exams were conducted smoothly on Monday. The examination was postponed in Punjab on the request of Director General of School Education of the state. In an official statement, the board claimed that around 6.2 lakh students appeared for various papers.
According to Indian Railway records, the bandh affected railway services. More than 100 trains were either cancelled or running late due to the bandh. Protesters carrying flags of various Dalit organisations were seen lying on railway tracks across to halt railway services across the country.
Thousands of protesters carrying traditional weapons, swords, batons and flags took to the roads forcing halt of vehicle movement, forced shopkeepers and other establishments to shut down in several cities of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha.
"In a few centres, the exam was delayed by half an hour due to the bandh," the CBSE claimed in a statement.
Opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government.
"Dalits are deprieved of their basic rights under the Modi government," Mamata Banerjee said.
Congress president targeting the BJP-led NDA government at the centre said, "Keeping Dalits at the lowest rung of Indian society is in the DNA of the RSS/BJP. Whoever dares challenge this position is suppressed with violence."
The BSP chief supported the bandh but condemned the violence. "I strongly support the Bharat Bandh against ST/SC Act. I condemn the violence spread by some people," Mayawati said.
However, the Uttar Pradesh Police claimed that former BSP MLA from Hastinapur Yogesh Verma as the main conspirator behind the violence in the state. He has been detained by the state police.
The Ministry of Home Affairs claimed that they are closely monitoring the situation. "We are in constant touch with the state heads and provide assitance to any state," said Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
According to government figures, at least 783 protesters were arrested in Jharkhand, 1000 in Madhya Pradesh, 448 in Uttar Pradesh and more than 1000 persons were arrests from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab.
To prevent further untoward incidents, the Centre has pushed in at least 1,700 anti-riot police personnel to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. The NDA-led government has sent eight companies of Rapid Action Force (RAF) to Uttar Pradesh, while three companies were rushed to Rajasthan and four to Madhya Pradesh.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the media that a petition seeking review of the Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the ST/SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has been filed by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment filed.
The NDA government in the review petition is likely to contend the order will weaken the provisions of the Act.