Lucknow/Bhopal Sep 6 : Many places in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on Thursday were affected by the Bharat Bandh called to protest against the changes made in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Not just rail and road traffic, markets and schools were closed. 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.
The agitators blocked trains and put up road blocks on national and state highways. Schools declared a holiday to ensure the safety of students.
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.
A protestor said: “Our anger is directed towards the recent changes in the Act which empowers the police to arrest anyone without investigations. We are not opposed to persons belonging to the SC/ST.”
The bandh has placed political parties in a dilemma. Officially the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party have remained neutral, but their members are openly supporting the shutdown.
The massive turnout for a series of marches, to protest the amendment to the Act, in many districts and tehsils over the last few days have sent panic signals to the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.
Organisations representing the ‘so-called’ upper castes supported by several fronts of OBCs, have openly challenged the BJP leadership and demanded immediate withdrawal of the amendment or face the music during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Sumant Gupta, national chief of the Vaishya Ekta Parishad, an umbrella front of various trading communities, said the protesters would march to Delhi on October 2, to demand scrapping of the amendment.
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 chased the mob and 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.
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.
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.