Violence and unrest erupted throughout northern and central India on Monday as thousands of Dalits, members of Hinduism’s lowest caste, protested against an order by India’s Supreme Court that weakens legal safeguards put in place for their community in 1989.
The decision weakened security protections in the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.
At least four people have been declared dead in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, according to Al Arabiya.
India’s Constitution, which came into effect on January 26, 1950, outlaws the practice of discriminating based on caste and makes it a crime punishable by up to one year in prison. Despite this, caste prejudice persists in Hindu-majority India.
According to the Associated Press, “Dalit groups say the law is already poorly enforced with abysmally low conviction rates and the top court’s order dilutes it further.” The AP added, “Over the years, stringent laws were put into place to deter the practice. But caste-based discrimination continues even though it’s less visible in modern India.”
There are over 200 million Dalits in India. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that the rate of crimes against Dalits has risen over the past few years.
On Thursday, a young Dalit farmer was beaten to death in the state of Gujarat by several upper-caste men for owning and riding a horse, seen as a symbol of power and wealth.
Pradeep Rathod was 21. The horse he rose was reportedly also found dead nearby.
“My son’s love for horses led to his murder,” Rathod’s father said, according to the BBC. “About a week ago, when I was riding the horse with my son, one of the persons from the upper caste Kshatriya [warrior] community warned us not to ride the horse in the village. He said that people of Dalit community cannot ride horses, only Kshatriyas can ride horses. He also threatened to kill us if we did not sell the horse.”
India’s left-wing Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi pointed a finger at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeting, “To keep Dalits at the lowest notch in Indian society RSS/ Modihangout is in DNA. Those who challenge this thinking are hit by violence. Thousands of Dalit brother-sister Deplane on the streets today are demanding to protect their rights from the Modi government. We salute them.”
दलितों को भारतीय समाज के सबसे निचले पायदान पर रखना RSS/BJP के DNA में है। जो इस सोच को चुनौती देता है उसे वे हिंसा से दबाते हैं।
हजारों दलित भाई-बहन आज सड़कों पर उतरकर मोदी सरकार से अपने अधिकारों की रक्षा की माँग कर रहे हैं।
हम उनको सलाम करते हैं।#BharatBandh
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 2, 2018
The Supreme Court ruling diluting provisions of arrest in the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act comes in the backdrop of growing atrocities against Dalits & Adivasis across India.
Leaders from opposition parties will meet President Kovind this evening to share their concerns.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 28, 2018