New Delhi: Several groups belonging to Upper castes on Thursday called for Bharat Bandh in protest against the amendments in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan were the most affected states due to the bandh. Organisations that have joined the protest include Akhil Bhartiya Kshtriya Mahasabha, Rashtriya Brahmin Mahasabha, Garib Sena, Karn Rajpoot Samaj, Rajputana Youth Brigade, Anarakshit Samaj Party, and dozens of other groups. Also Read - Coronavirus in Bihar: What Self-isolation? Hospitals Blamed For Failing to Contain Spread
In these cities, many shops and business establishments, schools and other educational institutions remained closed on Thursday. In some places, rail movements were disrupted. The agitators blocked trains and put up roadblocks on national and state highways. Even rural hinterland and smaller towns joined the protest called by upper caste communities, including the Akhil Bhartiya Vaishya Samaj and dozens of other groups. (Catch live updates here) Also Read - Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath Directs For Quarantine of 1 Lakh People Who Have Entered UP in Past 3 Days
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In Mathura and Vrindavan, the bandh was total as protesters took out marches and blocked main roads. In Firozabad, even Muslim shopkeepers joined the shutdown. As per a report, protesters burn PM Modi’s effigy in Rayabha area of Achhnera police jurisdiction in Agra district.
Clashes and violence have been reported from various parts of Uttar Pradesh. There was a scuffle in the Agra market where supporters of the SC/ST Act protested against efforts to shut down shops. Police used tear gas shells to quell the warring groups as they pelted stones at each other and vandalised property.
Protestors stopped the Agra-Etawah passenger train by squatting on the rail tracks in Pinahat. They threw stones on the vehicle of a sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) on the Yamuna Expressway.
Prohibitory orders have been issued in many districts of the state.
Major protests have been reported from Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The agitators set ablaze some kiosks and stalled traffic at the Hyderabad Gate of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
Two trains were stopped in Mainpuri district. Protests were also reported from Dibiyapur in Aurraiya, Aligarh, Hathras, Etah, Kasganj.
Lawyers have also extended their support to the Bharat Bandh. There was, however, not much disturbances in Lucknow and Kanpur.
Reacting on the Bandh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, “It (Bharat Bandh call) has no meaning. People have their feelings. In a democracy, everyone has the right to express themselves.”
In the Madhya Pradesh capital, petrol pumps were closed as security was heightened in 35 areas there, police said. The administration imposed Section 144 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) in Chhatarpur, Shivpuri, Bhind, Ashoknagar, Guna, Gwalior, and Katni, the police said.
There were huge protests in Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s home district Sehore. In Vidisha, people wore black T-shirts saying “Hum hai Mai ka Lal” in response to Chouhan who had said no one can end reservation.
Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Gwalior, and Sagar, too witnessed huge protests.
Police said the bandh has been observed in a peaceful manner with no reports of violence or clashes so far.
In Chhindwara, the Lok Sabha constituency of Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath markets remained shut.
“Local residents wore black clothes in protest and business establishments remained shut,” Vyapari Sangh president Mahesh Chandak said.
Chhindwara Superintendent of Police (SP) Atul Singh said, “Police were deployed in large numbers as a precautionary measure to avoid any untoward incident.”
Trains were forcibly halted, railway tracks, national and state highways were blocked in Bihar due to Bandh. Thousands of passengers were left stranded at different railway stations and bus stands.
Hundreds of agitators took to streets across the state early in the day to protest against Act. The protesters burned tyres, blocked roads, and rail traffic in Patna, Gaya, Begusarai, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Nalanda, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Bhojpur, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura, Nawada, and Bhagalpur districts.
In Patna, supporters of the Sawarn Sena and Sawarn Morcha activists surrounded Bihar Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in protest against the SC/ST Act. They shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and threatened to intensify their protest against the central government.
The agitators also staged a protest in front of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) office. The JD-U is an ally of the BJP.
At different places across the state, angry protesters raised slogans against PM Modi and the central government and demanded reservation for the poor among the upper castes in jobs and educational institutions.
Security was beefed up in many places owing to Bharat Bandh. The police said no untoward incident has been reported in the state so far. “We have deployed additional forces in the state and the local police is already on the roads in view of the bandh call. So far, no violence or any untoward incident has taken place and everything is under control and peaceful,” Special DG (law and order) NRK Reddy told news agency PTI.
Shops were shut in Jaipur, Karauli, Pratapgarh, Udaipur, Pali, Nagaur, and other districts. Schools too remained closed.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent SC/ST Act against government servants and held that there shall be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law. It had passed a slew of directions and said a public servant can be arrested in cases lodged under the SC/ST Act only after prior approval by the competent authority.
The plea filed by advocate Prithvi Raj Chauhan said the amendment was passed by the voice vote, “without any discussion or debate” while a petition seeking review of the March 20 judgment was still pending before the apex court.
The March 20 judgment had faced a nationwide protest by the various rights organisations.
The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018 was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 6. The Congress later alleged that the Centre has now passed the Bill in order to lure voters of the SC/ST community ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and Assembly elections in three states.
(With agency inputs)