Life in major cities and towns of Gujarat came to a standstill on Monday as Dalits in large numbers protested against what they called the "dilution" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court.
Although there were no reports of any loss of life or major incidents from across the state, there were reports from across the state of crowds stopping vehicular traffic on highways and in cities, scuffles between protesters and police, disruption in train services, forced closure of commercial establishments and suspension of bus services.
In Ahmedabad, the financial capital of the state, several groups of Dalits took out protest marches and paralysed most parts of the city. Authorities suspended the BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) in the city for the day protestors put up roadblocks across many parts of the city and deflated tyres of many Municial Corporation-run buses.
Dalit activist and Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani said: "The apex court observations in the case are against the Constitution's spirit and has hurt us terribly."
In the morning, Mevani led a rally of Dalits in Sarangpur area of the city, which later indulged in stone-pelting, after which police burst tear-gas shells.
A young man slashed his hand during the protest and was shifted to hospital for treatment.
Protests were also reported from areas like Chand Kheda, Maninagar, Hatkeshwar, Amraiwadi, CTM, Dani Limda, Naroda, Kalupur, Ambawadi, C.G. Road, Bapunagar, forcing people to remain indoors.
Protestors also rallied on railway tracks in Vadodara, stopping train on the Vadodara-Ahmedabad route. They also tried to set up roadblocks on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai National Highway near Vadodara, Surat and Navsari, leading to massive traffic jams.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani blamed the Congress and said: "The Congress is playing politics in the name of Dalits and shedding crocodile tears. Everyone knows how they treated Dr B.R. Ambedkar when he was alive."
He said the state was equipped to handle any situation and that the bandh was a "limited success" in Gujarat.
On March 20, the Supreme Court ruled that the arrest of an accused under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is not mandatory and a recourse to coercive action would be taken only after preliminary inquiry and sanction by the competent authority.
Coupled with this, the court said, there was no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Act if no prima facie case was made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint was found to be prima facie mala fide.
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