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Dalits and tribals to observe 1 May as Resistance Day: Why this is bad news for BJP

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 18 April 2018, 19:22 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Dalits and tribals from across India are set to make a powerful statement this 1 May, globally celebrated as the International Workers' Day. Members of several scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) have decided to observe the day as Resistance Day, giving it a new meaning in the current Indian context. Politically, this can be seen as the Dalits and the tribals aligning themselves with the Left, a combination that a large number of the people opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led dispensation at the Centre and the majority of the states seek.

To add to BJP's troubles, the issue chosen by SCs and STs for rallying support is the recent Supreme Court decision that allegedly dilutes certain key provisions to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. The Resistance Day is to be observed under a National Coalition for Strengthening the PoA Act and Its Implementation, an umbrella platform of around 500 Dalit and tribal organisations across India. The coalition is also in touch with SC and ST associations in various government departments and organisations like the banking sector, insurance sector and Indian Railways.

“The logic of linking the importance of May Day to the Dalits and tribals is very simple. In India the majority of the working classes are from these two communities --whether it is construction labourer, agricultural labourer or in any other sector. By diluting the SC/ST Act, our 'kavach' and 'kundals' have been taken away like it was done during Mahabharata in the context of Karna. To add salt to the injuries, the BJP governments in various states are showing a lot of hurry in implementing the diluted act,” said social activist Kantibhai Parmar, associated with Gujarat-based organisation Navsarjan.

“In India class, caste and gender are closely interlinked. They cannot be separated from each other. Hence the coming together of what is seen as 'Left' along with Dalits and Adivasis should not come as a surprise,” said VA Ramesh Nathan, national convener for the coalition.

According to Nathan, there will be day-long peaceful demonstrations in all district headquarters and state Capitals as well as in New Delhi against the Supreme Court's decision to dilute the SC/ST Act.
“We have chosen this day, as this day is being celebrated globally for the realisation of the rights of the working class. In India most of the working class belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community. We still need to go a long way for the protection and promotion of the human rights of Dalit, Adivasis, women and children, who have been facing multiple forms of caste-based discrimination and violence. The Resistance Day is to be observed for strengthening the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and its implementation,” he said.

The Coalition has listed 12 major demands against the 'repressive' ruling and on the effective implementation of the said Act that will be highlighted during the 'Resistance Day'.

The primary one is that the central government should ensure that either through judicial or parliamentary recourse the status quo of the Act of 1989 is restored to its original position as was before the March 20 judgment.

The second demand is that the original Act of 1989 and the Amendment Act of 2015 be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so that it may get some protection in the matter of judicial review.

The activists are seeking the release of all Dalit and human rights activists, leaders, community members and employees arrested during the 2 April 'Bharat Bandh'. They are also demanding immediate action against those who indulged in firing against the Dalit community members.

Another issue that will be raised on 1 May is the establishment of 'Exclusive Special Courts' in line with Section 14 of the SC/ST Act, 1989 in each district and these courts shall not take cases of any other legislation.

In addition to this immediate measures are being sought for appointing public prosecutors of the victim’s choice for the speedy trial of the cases.

It will be sought that open and transparent investigation be carried out under the Act and prosecution be carried out against those government and police officials who are found to have aided and abetted criminals or are found to have been negligent in their responsibilities in implementing the provisions of the Act.

There is a demand that the state governments be asked to immediately frame contingency plan in line with the plan framed by the government of Tamil Nadu along with simultaneous guidelines and schemes under for the purpose of rehabilitation, employment, pension, strengthening socio economic conditions of the victims. Unless this is done the plan would be merely a piece of paper.

It is being sought that the National Human Rights Commissions, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe Commission shall conduct open hearing all over the country on the cases of atrocities and on the implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act. These Commissions shall ask for the annual reports from the states and present the same before the Parliament.

On 1 May, it will be demanded that the parliament also debate during the sessions on the effective implementation of the Act and constitute a national, state and district level enforcement authority for the effective implementation of the Act.

The Coalition wants that the under developed Dalit and Adivasi habitats, habitats prone to atrocities, and habitats that are attacked or damaged are provided land, adequate housing, clean water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure facilities various schemes and Contingency Plan.

There is also a demand being aired that the government ensure externment of persons likely to commit offences under the Act in any area included in 'Scheduled Areas' or 'Tribal areas' referred to in Article 244 of the Indian Constitution.

While Modi has been promising that his government will not allow 'dilution' of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, there is pressure being exerted by various organisations that the government bring about an ordinance on the matter at the earliest.

The BJP is clearly on the back foot on the issue with the Opposition attacking it for letting down the marginalised communities and the upper caste Hindus being annoyed at Modi's overtures to the Dalits and Tribals.

Ever since the Supreme Court order came there has been a spurt in the offensive posts and messages being circulated against the Dalits and Tribals on the social media leading to an increased alienation and insecurity among them. Politically, the coming together of Dalits and Left forces is worrisome for the BJP in context of the forthcoming assembly and Lok Sabha polls. How Modi solves this jigsaw puzzle remains to be seen.

First published: 18 April 2018, 19:22 IST