Five states saw violence during Bharat Bandh called by Dalit groups on Monday.
New Delhi: The order which allegedly weakened a stringent law to protect Dalits against atrocities, is a "safeguard" necessary to protect the constitutional rights of innocents, the Supreme Court said today. "Our aim is to protect innocents, we have not diluted the law in any manner," said the court, turning down the government's appeal to freeze the earlier verdict that stopped the immediate arrest of anyone accused under the law. The March 20 order had been at the heart of the Dalit protests that swept through five states yesterday and cost 11 lives. Dalit groups said the order weakened the law, which was meant for their protection.
Here is your 10-point cheatsheet on Bharat Bandh called against Supreme Court's order on SC/ST Act:
"Liberty can't be taken away without a preliminary inquiry. There shouldn't be any terror in society for innocent persons," the Supreme Court said, referring to its earlier order that stopped the arrest of accused under the SC/ST Act without any police verification, and allowed them to get bail. While the order gives a week as the outer limit for verification, it can be done within an hour as well, the court said.
Declaring that the court is not against the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, the judges agreed to hear the government's appeal for a review of its March 20 order in another 10 days. In its petition, the government also asked for a freeze on the March 20 order, which the court refused.
The court said those responsible for the massive Dalit protests, may not have read the earlier order. "We are not in conflict. The agitations may be held by vested interests," said the bench comprising Justices AK Goyal and UU Lalit.
Earlier today, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha that there has been no "dilution" in the government's stand on the SC/ST Act. "Rather, after coming to power and examining the SC/ST Prevention Atrocities Act, we have taken a decision to strengthen it," he said, adding that the government was not party to the case in which the March 20 order was delivered by the top court.
The number of deaths following yesterday's violence across five states rose to 14 today. One more death was reported from Rajasthan and one from Madhya Pradesh. Two others - an ailing senior citizen and a newborn - were found to have died yesterday when their vehicles were held up in traffic jams in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
In Rajasthan, a 5,000-strong mob set fire to the houses of sitting lawmaker Rajkumari Jatav and former legislator Bharosilal Jatav in Hindaun, Karauli. Today's protests, mostly by trader groups, are seen as a counter to yesterday's violence.
Efforts by Dalit groups to enforce the nationwide strike yesterday triggered violence across five states. Trains were held up, highways blocked in some areas and vehicles burnt. In some towns and cities, including Ranchi in Jharkhand and Alwar and Barmer in Rajasthan, the police clashed with protesters.
BJP ministers and leaders questioned the utility of the strike when the government has already filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. Two Union ministers - Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan -- accused the opposition parties of playing politics.
Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala has questioned why the government waited for 13 days to take a call on filing a review petition. "When the Supreme Court served the Centre a notice, why did the Modi government not send the Solicitor General? Why did they file a review on the day of Bharat Bandh?" he said.
Dalit groups claimed the Supreme Court order weakens the stringent anti-atrocities law. They also said the Centre has failed to highlight two key facts in court -- the high rate of atrocities on the community and the abysmally low rate of conviction. A weakening of the law at this point would be critical, they said.