The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shinde waves terror law at Dalit crimes

Mumbai, July 14: Chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has dealt a pre-poll blow to the BJP-Shiv Sena combine by announcing his plan to bring crimes against Dalits under the ambit of anti-terror laws.

The announcement, which came on the first day of the Assembly’s monsoon session today, took everyone by surprise and sent the Opposition scrambling for pro-Dalit moves. “There is grave concern over the rising crimes against Dalits and that is why the Democratic Front government is considering the possibility of applying terrorism laws to these crimes,’’ Shinde, a Dalit leader himself, said.

The government, he said, had already asked the law department to study the plan’s feasibility. “We will have to see if these crimes can be dealt with by stringent laws like Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) or Mcoca (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act).’’

Such laws could be a strong deterrent to crimes against Dalits, he said.

Earlier this month, fellow Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh had imposed a Rs 25-lakh fine on upper-caste tormentors of Dalits and tribals in his home district.

Shinde’s tactical move was a bid to pre-empt the Opposition from embarrassing his government by raising the issue of crimes against Dalits.

There has been a marked increase in such crimes in recent months. The shocker happened three months ago when upper-caste men in Raigad’s Hatkeli village refused to let parched lower-caste families draw water from the village well.

The upper-caste men also beat up those who protested the “inhuman action”. The well continues to be out of bounds for Dalits. “What is this kind of perverse behaviour'’’ Shinde said. “The government is seriously concerned over these incidents and we will soon be holding a detailed discussion to plan out a future course of action.’’

He said the government had started collecting detailed information on all recent attacks against Dalits.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal had earlier raised the issue when he said atrocities against Dalits were forcing the state to think of curbing them “with an iron hand”.

Shinde’s strategy also appeared to be a well-meditated plan to thwart the Shiv Sena’s aggressive stand on forging a “Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti (Dalit)’’ alliance.

At the Sena’s recently concluded conclave here, working president Uddhav Thackeray had said various Dalit groups and rebel factions of the Republican Party of India were ready to ally with his party for the coming elections.

“It will be a very formidable combination and nothing can stop us from coming to power,’’ Thackeray had said. Many Dalit groups were already in touch with the Sena, he said.

The Sena’s first overt attempts at wooing the Dalit electorate had raised the hackles of the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.

Not to be outdone, the Sena-BJP combine today walked out of the legislative council after vociferously championing the cause of the state’s “dying mills”. The Opposition has decided to turn into a poll plank the deteriorating condition of several private mills.

BJP leader Nitin Gadkari said in the House that dozens of workers had committed suicide after the state failed to pay dues to thousands employed in 23 private mills.

“The government has displayed a complete lack of interest in either addressing or sorting out the problems of these workers,’’ Gadkari said. The mill compounds, he said, were now full of illegal constructions.

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