Why Chambal burnt during Bharat bandh

The SC population in Bhind, Morena and Gwalior is politically assertive.

 |  3-minute read |   07-04-2018
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Madhya Pradesh found itself engulfed in yet another round of violence when eight people were killed in caste-based agitations during the Bharat Bandh called by Dalit organisations to protest the perceived dilution of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989.

While protests erupted in many districts including Balaghat, Dewas, Barwani, Sagar and Datia, casualties were reported only from Bhind, Morena and Gwalior districts.

Bhind and Morena, with a SC population of 22 per cent and 15.2 per cent respectively, and Gwalior, with a SC population of 19.3 per cent, have a higher than state average (15 per cent) percentage of SC population.

Though the SC population in the districts of the Chambal and Gwalior divisions has borne the brunt of feudalism and exploitation, probably more than the SC counterparts in other areas of the state, it’s not meek and submissive. The SC population is as assertive in Bhind and Morena as its Thakur or Brahmin counterparts in the region.

In the heydays of dacoity in Chambal, there were exclusive SC gangs that formed due to atrocities by "upper caste" gangs. Like the Phoolan Devi gang.

The SC population in the region is also politically assertive. This is why the BSP still commands 5-10 per cent of the vote in every constituency. The Chambal region, besides the Baghelkhand region abutting UP, is where all the four BSP MLAs won the assembly polls.

On Monday, Dalit groups hit the streets to enforce the bandh, close down shops and stop trains. And they came in conflict with members of other communities.

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Bhind, Morena and Gwalior districts also have a higher than average availability of licensed firearms. The area is also notorious for proliferation of illegal weapons. Availability of licensed weapons is mainly with the "upper castes" and when the groups clashed, the weapons came out. While users of these weapons said they were defending themselves from the mob, the thin line between offence and defence was crossed very soon.

So, it’s not surprising that of the eight casualties, six were Dalits killed by groups of "upper caste" men. Among the other two, in Bhind, a non-Dalit was killed after the police accidentally shot him. Another was killed in Morena, again by a non-Dalit who used the riots to settle an old enmity.

The importance of the SC vote for the coming assembly elections is not lost on CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He appealed for peace but was less panicky than in June 2017, when six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur.

This time, since it was not "his" government behind the gun, he didn’t feel as responsible. The BJP presently has 28 of the 35 SC reserved seats in the state and many programmes have been launched with the intention of keeping this vote-bank intact.

Also, the ST population (21 per cent of the state) didn’t react as violently or assertively as the SC population during the bandh. There are large pockets of tribal population in the western, eastern and north-eastern part of the state. A violent reaction by the ST communities, that are as "affected" as the SC community, would have been harder to control.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Writer

Rahul Noronha Rahul Noronha

The writer is Associate Editor, India Today.

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