The order which allegedly weakened a stringent law to protect Dalits against atrocities, is a necessary "safeguard", the Supreme Court said today. "Our aim is to protect innocents we have not diluted the law in any manner," said the court, refusing to freeze its earlier verdict that stopped immediate arrest of an accused under the law. The March 20 order had been at the heart of Dalit protests that swept through five states yesterday and cost 9 lives. Dalit groups said the order weakened a law that 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 Act, the judges agreed to hear the government’s appeal to review its March 20 order in two weeks. In its petition, the government also asked for a freeze on the March 20 order, which the court has refused.
- The court said those responsible for the massive Dalit protests, may not have read the earlier order. "There is tremendous discontent and agitation in society against this verdict. We are not in conflict. The agitations may be held by vested interests," said the bench which was led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
- Earlier today, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told 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.
- Nine people died yesterday in clashes that swept five states as Dalit groups went all-out to enforce the nationwide strike. 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 have questioned the utility of the strike when the government has already filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. They have 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.
- Six of the deaths took place in Madhya Pradesh, where curfew was declared in the districts of Morena, Bhind and Gwalior. The government had blocked cellphone internet in all three districts after the violence broke out.
- Two of the deaths took place in Uttar Pradesh, which witnessed widespread arson and clashes. Schools and colleges have been shut today in Meerut. The police said a leader from the party of Mayawati, the state’s Dalit powerhouse, was the "main conspirator" in the protests and clashes in the state. Yogesh Verma, a 48-year-old former lawmaker, has been arrested.
- Dalit groups claim 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 contend.