Protests across Gujarat over SC/ST Act verdict
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(Eds: Adds details, quotes of CM and Mevani)
Ahmedabad, Apr 2 (PTI) Normal life was disrupted in various parts of Gujarat today as protests by Dalits against alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act turned violent and police resorted to teargas-shelling and lathicharge at some places, said officials.
Agitators disrupted road and rail traffic, and asked commercial establishments to down their shutters as they went around enforcing a nationwide bandh called by various Dalit groups.
The police lobbed teargas shells and resorted to cane-charge to scatter a mob in Sarangpur area of Ahmedabad, an official of the city police control room said. The area, which has a sizeable Dalit population, saw some protesters forcing shop owners to close their establishments and some locals also alleged incidents of vandalism and loot.
"Though we agreed to shut our shops, these agitators started vandalising our shops. Some even looted cash. Many shop owners incurred huge losses due to the vandalism.
"Protesters even snatched mobile phones from bystanders who were recording the incident," a shopkeeper told mediapersons in Sarangpur.
In the Chandkheda area of Ahmedabad, protesters came out on roads in large numbers and forced several commercial complexes and shops to join the shutdown.
Following violent protests in several parts of Ahmedabad, civic-run transport services were halted after some of the buses were targeted by agitators, said the officials.
Following reports of roadblocks and attacks on some BRTS (bus rapid transit system) buses in the city's eastern part, the Ahmedabad civic body halted its services on some of the routes, Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said.
"Some of the BRTS buses were targeted by protesters following which we discontinued our services on some of the routes. Operation of buses on some of the routes of AMTS (Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service) was also suspended," he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani appealed for peace and urged Dalits not to get "misguided". He accused the Opposition Congress of doing politics in the name of Dalit rights.
"The Centre has already filed a review petition in the Supreme Court about its earlier verdict on the SC/ST Act.
"The BJP governments at the Centre and in Gujarat are committed to the welfare of Dalits. The Congress is only doing politics. I urge Dalits not to get misguided," he said.
Earlier in the day, protesters took to streets in several parts of the city such as Dani Limda, Naroda, Bapunagar, Kalupur and Amraiwadi, among others.
According to Rahul Parmar of the Dalit Panther group, several roads were blocked in these areas, while shops were asked to down shutters by the protesters.
Dalit leader and independent MLA Jignesh Mevani joined the protests in Ahmedabad and said the apex court verdict was against the Constitution.
"The case before the SC was related to a single person charged under the Atrocities Act, who pleaded that he was not guilty. The petitioner did not ask for any revision of the entire SC/ST Act.
"But, the apex court gave a verdict as if it is over and above Parliament or the Constitution," Mevani told reporters.
According to in-charge city Police Commissioner K L N Rao, adequate police personnel were deployed across Ahmedabad to deal with any law and order problem arising out of the protests.
"The situation is under control. We have deployed adequate force to deal with any unwarranted situation. The police have been regularly patrolling in the city," said Rao.
In state capital Gandhinagar, Dalit protesters held a rally near the main bus station.
In Surat, several persons were detained by the police for trying to shut shops in a textile market on Ring Road, said the officials.
Police had to resort to cane-charge to disperse an unruly mob in Surat, a diamond trading and textile manufacturing hub, they said.
In Rajkot also, agitators asked shopkeepers to close their establishments in several parts of the city, a local official said.
Several Dalit activists and Congress workers burnt purported copies of the Supreme Court order at Trikon Baug in Rajkot, he said.
Some protesters entered a mall on Kalavad Road in Rajkot and forced the management to close the complex, the official added.
Protests were reported from Surendranagar, Kutch Jamnagar, Mehsana and other parts of Gujarat.
In Jamnagar, a mob tore posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi put up inside a bus depot and vandalised some shops, an official said.
The bandh was called by several Dalit outfits to express concerns over the alleged "dilution" of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The apex court, in its March 20 order, had said the government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens, too, should be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.
These outfits and some political parties fear the "dilution" of the provisions might lead to an increase in violence against Dalits. PTI PJT PD RSY BJ BJ
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