The Bharat Bandh called by upper caste members against the recent amendments to the SC/ST Act evoked a mixed response across the country on Thursday, with Madhya Pradesh bearing the brunt of protesters who blocked trains and state and national highways.
In Bhopal, petrol pumps were closed as security was heightened in 35 areas, police said. The administration imposed Section 144 of the CrPC in Chhatarpur, Shivpuri, Bhind, Ashoknagar, Guna, Gwalior and Katni.
Markets wore a deserted look in Sehore, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s home district, while in Vidisha, people wore black T-shirts with the slogan “Hum hai Mai ka Lal” in response to Chouhan who had said no one could end reservation. Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Gwalior and Sagar too witnessed widespread protests.
Life remained normal across Uttar Pradesh and no untoward incidents were reported during the bandh, with chief minister Yogi Adityanath saying the protest had no meaning but “everyone has the right to express themselves”.
Defending the provisions of the Act, Adityanath said his government would ensure that the law was not misused. "The BJP government is committed towards the welfare of people and development. We never play politics of caste and religion. The law is to protect the downtrodden. The government will ensure that it will not be misused," he told mediapersons in Gonda where he had gone to visit flood-hit areas.
Bihar saw some disturbance as train services were briefly affected in the state capital and Rajgir town. The bandh supporters, owing allegiance to several nondescript organisations, staged a demonstration in front of the BJP state headquarters at Birchand Patel Marg here raising slogans against the "betrayal by the very party we have been voting for". Protesters also burnt BJP flags in Lakhisarai to protest against the amendment.
Some of them also headed towards the office of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U), a BJP ally, just a few hundred metres away on the same road, but here also they the gates were closed. The bandh supporters thereafter headed back to the Dak-Bungalow crossing, which they had crossed an hour ago. Many of the protestors were taken into custody by the police there.
The shutdown had a strong impact in Muzaffarpur, where bandh supporters blocked various points inside the town, besides the national highways running along. They also burnt tyres at many places and clashed with the police personnel who tried to stop them from causing inconvenience to the general public. A large number of bandh supporters blocked traffic on the Gaya-Bodh Gaya and Gaya-Rajgir roads. Bandh-related disturbances were reported from various parts of Bhagalpur, Nawada, Bhojpur and Sheohar districts as well.
The bandh call evoked a good response in Rajasthan where many shops and business establishments, schools and other educational institutions remained closed. Police said no untoward incident has been reported in the state so far.
Earlier this year, the apex court had removed the strict provision of mandatory arrests under the SC/ST Act. This decision had triggered nationwide protests by Scheduled Castes organisations, forcing the Centre to bring an amendment to the Act during the Monsoon Session to overrule the SC order. The upper caste organisations are staging protests against the amendments to the Act.