The Modi government has been constantly denying that the BJP is biased against the Dalits, but the fact is starkly contrary. Along with the Muslim minority, the Dalits are being harassed, ill-treated, beaten and murdered in different parts of the country on this or that pretext. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has rightly observed that, “Keeping Dalits at the bottom of the Indian society is in the DNA of the BJP and the RSS. Those who challenge this attitude are suppressed with violence.” A bench of Supreme Court on March 20 reviewed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Attrocities) Act 1989 and diluted it to the extent that it has become too weak to prevent atrocities against Dalits. At this stage, it was the binding obligation on the Attorney General to oppose the observation of the court that Dalits are misusing it. The government side should have convinced the court that despite the law to protect the constitutional rights of Dalits, the high caste Hindus are degrading and insulting them and the RSS affiliates particularly Gau Rakshaks are hounding and killing them with immunity. Violent incidents are being reported very often and anon that Gau Rakshaks are harassing, flagging and killing Muslim minority and Dalits, but despite PM Modi’s angry observation, no halt is being applied by the state governments, mostly BJP-ruled states. Under these circumstances sometimes one is forced to think whether it is a drama of half-hearted fiat from the PM which is being ignored by the states.
On April 3, Dalit organizations called for Bharat Bandh against the Supreme Court directive to make changes in the Act. Till this observation of the Supreme Court, the FIR was registered as in other cases and arrest of the accused was immediately made, but now even for registration of FIR preliminary inquiry has to be made. The Supreme Court argues that the changes were to safeguard the innocent from being harassed. The court has ignored the ground reality that whereas the chances of misuse are few and far between, the ill-treatment of Dalits is a frequent phenomenon requiring the law to be made more stringent. Thus the dilution of the law is a great injustice to Dalits. The court could have been convinced by the government when the matter was being heard. The Attorney General did not fulfill his obligation. Afterwards the government took a long time to file the review petition forcing the Dalits to hit the streets.
Nine people were killed and hundreds detained as violence broke out in several parts of the county. Dalits took out huge processions to register their justified anger against the changes made in the law. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha and Jharkhand were most affected. Clashes between police and protesters occurred in many places. Curfew was imposed in several places and hundreds were detained. This was one of the biggest protests in recent times. And government was squarely responsible for this violence which could have been avoided if the authorities had been alert since the point the matter was heard in the court and then the review plea was filed. Addressing a joint press conference, leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad and the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the violent protests could have been avoided if the centre filed review petition immediately. Holding the centre responsible for the loss of lives and the damage to public properties, Ghulam Nabi Azad said the Congress did not approve of any form of violence. The Congress gave a memorandum to the government to file review petition immediately after the court order. However, the government took its own time. The court was approached only when Dalits were on their protest. If the government was caught off guard, it was another miscalculation on its part. Even the SC, ST leaders of the BJP were up in arms, but their voice also echoed in the desert. This shows the mental make-up of the BJP which is basically against SCs, STs and backward classes. The reservations are lifeline for these classes, but the RSS chief opposed the concept of reservations. It will be wishful thinking that the BJP will protect the rights of these communities.