Parliamentarian and Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan tells Pragya Singh that there is genuine anger among Dalits over the changes made to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Excerpts from an interview:
What’s your party’s position on the planned August 9 protests?
Dalit organisations say they might protest on August 9 against the changes to the Act. We saw what happened during the April 2 protests and we don’t want a rerun. We want the government to address our concerns beforehand. We have repeatedly demanded restoration of the Act to its original form, as it was before the Supreme Court’s March 20 verdict. As Parliament is in session, an ordinance cannot be introduced. So, I wanted reintroduction of the Bill. But I am told that can happen only if amendments are proposed. I suggested bringing an ordinance on August 8, a day after the monsoon session ends.
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Will this protest be shelved since many protesters are in jail after April 2?
Irrespective of the intensity of the planned protest, just by virtue of the anger among Dalits, the issue needs to be addressed. Their anger is genuine because this law was the sole protector of Dalits. Introduced during VP Singh’s tenure as prime minister, it listed 22 atrocities. This government increased that to 47 by adding things such as garlanding someone with shoes, blackening someone’s face, and stopping a Dalit from riding a horse.
How intense do you think the August 9 protests will be?
I fear the protests might be more intense because a message has gone out that the judge who gave the verdict has been awarded by making him chairperson of the NGT. So, our party is demanding [his removal] and I want to thank Nitishji’s party (JDU) and Kushwahaji’s party (RLSP) for supporting me. The Opposition should clarify their stand because some Congress MPs have opposed this, but the former law minister supported the judge’s appointment in the NGT. BSP chief Mayawati is silent as she made the same changes in 2017.
How would Dalit anger impact politics?
We are more powerful now than in 2014. We have Nitishji with us. I have faith in the PM’s remarks that not even a comma will be changed in this law. Trust me we will get more votes than we got in 2014.
At the same time, the lynching run is on.
Lynching needs to be taken seriously and I have repeatedly raised this issue. I am satisfied that our home minister is concerned about it and has issued notifications to the states.
Would it be right to say Dalits and Muslims are not polarised in rural Bihar?
My constituency has Muslims, SCs and STs in absolute harmony. Some episodes get created through fake news, though.
So, Dalits and Muslims are drawing closer socially?
Yes, these communities are natural allies. They are both sufferers in the so-called hierarchy of the caste system. They face similar problems, have similar lifestyles. Dalits are at the moment angry, but that will change very soon.