Street battles and widespread protests by Indian low-caste groups enraged by what they consider the undermining of a law protecting their safety left at least one dead, police said Monday.
Clashes with police, attacks on buses and government buildings, and blocked trains and roads were reported across five Indian states.
The central state of Madhya Pradesh was one of the worst hit, particularly the city of Gwalior.
‘We can confirm at least one death. A curfew has been imposed in parts of the city and the protesters are still on the ground,’ Anshuman Yadav, police inspector general for Gwalior, said.
Trouble was also reported in the capital New Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Bihar states.
The ‘Bharat Bandh’ (India shutdown) was called by groups representing the Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, who make up 200 million of India’s 1.25 billion population and are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy.
They are enraged at a Supreme Court ruling that banned the automatic arrest of the accused in cases under a special law to protect marginalised groups who suffer widespread discrimination.
The 1989 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was intended to guard against the harassment of Dalits and other groups.
Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister, called for calm.
‘The government is appealing against the court order but it is a responsibility of everyone including all political parties to ensure peace,’ Singh told journalists in Delhi, where the Dalit protests caused traffic chaos.
There were media reports of more deaths in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, but police could not immediately confirm fatalities.
‘We have reports of at least one death but can’t confirm it for now. Bringing the situation under control is our priority,’ Santosh Kumar Singh, inspector general for the region, said.
Across the affected states, groups hurled stones, bottles and burning sticks at police and set buses on fire. Some sat on railway lines to block trains.
Reports said a police outpost near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh state was set on fire. Dalit men hurled stones at police and security personnel.
Police in Azamgarh district of the state said that public buses were set on fire by protesters.
Dalits are among the most marginalised groups in India, where caste discrimination is outlawed but remains widespread.
Last week a young farmer from the community in Gujarat was beaten to death for owning a horse, which is seen as a symbol of power and wealth, police said.
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