A 12-hour strike called by 30-odd Dalit organisations affected normal life across Kerala on Monday. The “hartal” was called in protest against the violence members of the community faced during the countrywide demonstrations on April 2 as well as in protest against the Supreme Court judgment allegedly diluting the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Despite heightened security, there have been reports of protestors pelting stones at state-run buses and trying to block traffic at some places. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, or KSRTC, has sought police protection to operate its buses, The Indian Express reported. Police arrested several protestors, according to The Hindu.
In Thiruvananthapuram, a group of Dalit activists organised a march to the Kerala Secretariat where they staged a “dharna”, PTI reported. Few government employees turned up at offices. Shops in the city’s arterial MG Road stayed closed, and the KSRTC was forced to stop running its buses from the Thampanoor terminal because of the strike, The Hindu reported. Supporters of the protest also clashed with traders in Thiruvananthapuram’s Chalai Market after protestors tried to force shops to close.
The police arrested the convener of the Dalit-Adivasi Action Council, M Geethanandan, in Kochi after accusing him of blocking traffic. “The report that we got from across the state is that by and large, the protest appears to have become a success,” Geetanandan was quoted as saying by IANS. “There is no reason for taking us into custody.”
The strike forced universities to postpone the examinations scheduled for the day. In Kollan, teachers who were supposed to reach a Class X examinations paper evaluation camp were caught in traffic as roads were blocked, according to IANS.
On April 2, at least nine people were killed in the nationwide demonstrations Dalit groups had held in protest against the Supreme Court order on the atrocities act that protects public servants from arrest under the law without a preliminary inquiry, among other things.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front – the Opposition alliance in Kerala – has extended support to the Dalit protests in the state. Party leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that the party held meetings in Thiruvananthapuram and at district headquarters in solidarity with the Dalit cause.
Congress leaders are also staging a nationwide fast in protest against the violence against Dalits during the April 2 Bharat bandh. Party leaders Tharoor and AK Anthony led the fast at the Kerala Congress headquarters.
“Atrocities against Dalits, adivasis and minorities are rising under the Modi government,” the Congress said. “Congress party units across India will be observing a fast today to protest against this and to promote harmony amongst various sections of society.”