DW BUREAU / Chandigarh
Normal life was paralysed as violence erupted at many places in Punjab and Haryana while rail and road traffic too was adversely affected as Dalit organisations staged protests alleging “dilution” of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.Police had to resort to cane charging in several towns after protesters indulged in stone-pelting and vandalism, blocking roads and squatting on rail tracks in the two states, officials said. At least 50 persons were injured in the violence, officials said.
In view of the ‘Bharat Bandh’ call given by Dalit organisations, the Congress-led Punjab government had ordered closure of educational institutions, suspended bus services, and curtailed mobile and Internet services. In the neighbouring BJP-ruled Haryana, there were no orders to shut schools or suspend bus services.
However, tight security arrangements were in place in both the states and their common capital – Chandigarh. The Punjab government had yesterday itself ordered a security clampdown as a precautionary measure with the Army and paramilitary forces asked to be on standby.
Protesters squatted on railway tracks at a few places in Punjab and Haryana, crippling rail traffic, officials of the Ambala and Ferozepur rail division told PTI.
At many places, they burnt tyres on roads and blocked highways. At Kaithal in Haryana, a protesting mob resorted to stone pelting and damaged a railway engine, police said. Prior to that, they protestors had marched through the streets after which there were some reports of alleged vandalism.
The Kaithal Police resorted to ‘lathicharge’ and lobbed tear-gas shells to disperse the protesters, they said. Around 10 policemen were injured in the incident, they said. Protests also turned violent in Faridabad, where a train was reportedly pelted with stones.
Marches were taken out by Dalit activists in Jalandhar, Patiala, Sangrur, Hoshiarpur, Ropar, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Kapurthala, Phagwara and other places in Punjab, and at Panchkula, Ambala, Kaithal, Hisar, Karnal, Rohtak, Yamunanagar, Bhiwani, Sirsa, Faridabad and Gurgaon in Haryana as well as in Chandigarh. Markets across the two states wore a deserted look as shops and other commercial establishments remained closed while vehicles largely remained off the roads. In some towns ‘lathi’-weilding protesters marched through the bazaars.
The Indo-Pakistan bus service, ‘Sada-e-Sarhad’, that runs between Delhi and Lahore was also disrupted. A Lahore-bound bus was halted at Sirhind and a Delhi-bound bus at Amritsar for several hours, police said.
In Punjab’s Bathinda, two persons were injured in a clash between the protesters and shopkeepers near Mehna Chowk. In Kapurthala, the protesters allegedly damaged about a dozen two-wheelers, smashed window panes of a lawyer’s car and vandalised a chemist shop, police said. The agitators also disrupted traffic on the Kapurthala-Ferozepur section by staging a ‘dharna’ on the rail track at the Khojewal and Kapurthala railway stations.
Kapurthala-Jalandhar, Kapurthala-Nakodar, Kapurthala?Sultanpurlodhi and Subhanpur and Kartarpur were among the roads blocked, police said. The railway track was also blocked at a crossing in Jalandhar while the Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur road was also blocked for a while at Nasrala, police said.
In Karnal, Haryana, protesters held up a train for several hours, with some climbing over its roof while others squatted on the track. At Bhiwani and Faridabad, protesters barged into shopping malls to force their closure while stone pelting and violence was reported from Jagadhari, Jind and Hisar. Protesters also blocked the Ambala-Hisar highway near Ambala City and NH-1 near Ambala Cantt for about an hour. Across the two states, thousands of Dalit protestors, backed by various political outfits, social and religious bodies, took out marches to protest what they claimed was the dilution of the Act. They burnt effigies of the NDA-led Centre, alleging it had failed to protect the interests of the Dalits.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 “diluted” certain provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, in a bid to protect ‘honest’ public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases.
The verdict was criticised by the Dalits and the Opposition, who claimed this could lead to more discrimination and crimes against the community.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had ordered that schools, colleges and other educational institutions would remain shut today, while the Internet services were suspended from 5 pm yesterday till 11 pm today. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) too had postponed Class 12 and Class 10 examinations at the request of the state government. As part of the elaborate security measures, four battalions each of the Rapid Action Force and the Border Security Force, and 12,000 additional police personnel have were put on duty in the state to maintain law and order, an official spokesperson said.
With inputs from Agencies