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Retired IAS officer leads Bharat bandh in poll-bound MP to restore tough SC/ST law

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The bandh called by upper caste groups want a rollback of an amendment bill passed by Parliament to restore the provisions of the SC/ST Act.

New Delhi: Months after Dalit groups called a Bharat bandh in protest against the Supreme Court diluting the provisions of the SC/ST Act, another “nation-wide” strike has been called Thursday.

The difference is that the protesters this time belong to upper-caste groups who want a rollback of an amendment bill passed by Parliament that restores the provisions of the SC/ST Act and reverses the SC order.

The central government’s amendment has now been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Like in the case of the Bharat bandh organised by Dalit groups, there is no one single outfit or group of specific outfits that has given the call for Thursday’s bandh. Sources in the know said they expect it to take effect spontaneously across the country.

But the call for the bandh seems to be the shrillest in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, where an anti-reservation organisation led by a former IAS officer, Hiralal Trivedi, is blaming the BJP for allegedly “buckling under political pressure from the SC/ST vote bank”.

Also read: If protests over SC/ST Act continue, the cause of Dalit emancipation will be hurt further

Last month, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018, was passed in the Lok Sabha, which overturned the Supreme Court’s 20 March order in which it had observed that the Act was being used to “blackmail innocent citizens”.

The court introduced safeguards which, Dalit leaders and organisations said, diluted the Act and rendered it toothless.

On 2 April, nine people were killed and many were injured in clashes reported from several places during a Bharat bandh called by Dalit groups in protest against the controversial Supreme Court order.

Fight against ‘reverse casteism’

“We want the government to roll back their amendment to the SC/ST Act, and restore the progressive and just Supreme Court guidelines so that more people are not harassed in the name of social justice for SCs and STs,” Trivedi told ThePrint.

“All across you see savarnas being oppressed in the name of justice…A lot of my own friends and acquaintances have been implicated in false cases…Even if you say the word ‘Harijan’, you are put behind bars,” he claimed.

Two years ago, Trivedi — a 1993-batch IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh — founded the Samanya Pichhda Alpsankhyak Kalyan Samaj (SAPAKS) to mobilise upper-castes and OBCs against what he perceives as “reverse caste oppression”.

The organisation has applied to get itself registered as a political party to fight the upcoming assembly election in the state.

Also read: Dalits see the apex court’s order on SC/ST Act as a dog whistle to destroy the law

According to Trivedi, SAPAKS, which has a membership of around 2.5 lakh people, has the support of “over two-thirds of the population in MP, which is tired of being oppressed”.

“This is a popular movement now,” he claimed.

While Trivedi said it is not SAPAKS that has called the ‘Bharat Bandh’, the organisation will extend its support to the cause.

“The truth is that internally both the BJP and the Congress are supporting our demands, but they are not willing to come out in the open,” Trivedi added.

‘Insidious forces at work’

The state unit of the BJP, however, remains sceptical of the bandh.

“Trivedi is a retired officer and SAPAKS also consists mostly of retired government officers, so their demands are innocent,” said BJP state unit spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal.

“But our real worry is about people being provoked by insidious forces, about those who may be trying to recreate a Bhima-Koregaon-type event in Madhya Pradesh,” he said.

Also read: In election year, Modi and Shah have a new headache — the angry upper caste voter

“It is the same people who sometimes provoke Dalits, and sometimes people from the general category,” Agrawal added.

He also wondered why the focus of such agitations has now shifted to Madhya Pradesh.

Calling the bandh “a leaderless movement” spurred by social media provocation, Agrawal said the state government is vigilant and prepared to handle any untoward situation.

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