Today, upper-caste organizations have called a bandh against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018. There are reports about protests turning violent in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. This Amendment Act has brought to the surface the deep resentment upper castes (Savarnas) hold against measures taken by the government to uphold the rights of the historically downtrodden sections of society.
Why the hue and cry?
The new amendment allows for the registration of an FIR for an offence under the Act without a preliminary investigation and for the investigating officer to arrest the offender without approval from a higher authority. In addition, the offender does not qualify for an anticipatory bail.
The amendment includes the insertion of the clause 18A (1) (a) in the 1989 Act, which says a “preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of an FIR against any person”; the clause Section 18A (1) (b), which says “the investigating officer shall not require approval for the arrest, if necessary, of any person against whom an accusation of having committed an offence under this Act has been made and no procedure, other than that provided under this Act or the Code, shall apply”; and Section 18A (2), which says, “The provision of section 438 of the Code shall not apply to a case under this Act, notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any Court.” Section 438 of the CrPC concerns anticipatory bail.
These upper-caste organizations that have called for the bandh say that these amendments are unconstitutional. They have already filed a petition in the Supreme Court for a review of the amendments. A member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quoted as saying that the amendments it introduced in Parliament merely restored the SC,ST Act to how it was before the Supreme Court ordered the watering down of the Act.
Scene on the streets
The Section 144 of CrPC, which restricts gathering of people in public spaces, has been imposed in Madhya Pradesh and protests are getting intense in Bihar. In Madhya Pradesh, Samanya Pichhda Alpsankhayak Kalyan Samaj (SAPAKS) is leading the protests. Hiralal Trivedi, a former IAS officer is leading this organization, which claims to represent the interests of the upper castes in the face of the government appearing to take a stand that is empathetic to the Scheduled castes and tribes. Apart from having these amendments cleared in Parliament, the present government has also supported reservation in promotions for SCs and STs. Protestors burnt tyres on the roads of Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, disrupting traffic. In Bihar, the Akhil Bharatiya Savarna Morcha and Savarna Sena were leading the protests in Patna and laid siege to the offices of the parties in power in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United). In Nawada, Bihar, protestors clashed with the security forces. In Muzaffarpur, protestors beat up Pappu Yadav, MP and the leader of Jan Adhikar Party Loktantrik. He was in tears as he described to reporters how an attacked asked him what his caste was and then beat him up.
The attack on Pappu Yadav, a member of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), whose party does not support the government in Bihar or at the Centre, appeared to go against the claim of the upper-caste organizers of the bandh such as SAPAKS that they enjoy the support of OBCs.
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