Thousands of people—students, workers and activists belonging to Dalit, OBC and Tribal organisations along with workers of opposition parties—took to the streets in Bihar on 5 March as part of the bandh (shutdown) against the BJP’s anti-Dalit and anti-Adivasi policies.
The bandh, observed in several states, was a nationwide call for protest against the recent Supreme Court order evicting more than 10 lakh tribal families from forest lands across 16 states, the 13-point roster system for faculty recruitment in universities that would severely curtail the SC/ST/OBC representation, and the anti-reservation policies of the BJP-led NDA under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Daily life was disrupted throughout the state as protesters forcibly stopped trains, blocked railway tracks and roads including the national highway and state highways to enforce the bandh.
The shutdown is supported by all opposition parties — Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the Left parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI (ML) and the CPI, and others in Bihar.
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Activists of Bhim Army, Bahujan Kranti Morcha, and dozens of other organisations — along with workers belonging to the various political parties — marched at various places with flags of different colours in their hands and even staged dharna at some places.
The protesters halted trains, including long-route trains, at several places, including Ara, Begusarai, Jehanabad and Gaya.
Roads were blocked in Patna as well as other district headquarters, including Bhagalpur, Munger, Begusarai, Gaya, Nalanda, Buxar, Rohtas, Araria, Purnia, Kishanganj, etc.
“National highways 98, 31 and 83 and state highways were blocked at several places, badly hitting the road traffic. Hundreds of long-route buses and trucks were unable to ply on the roads,” said a police official to Newsclick.
According to police, in Patna and most other districts, the bandh supporters burnt tyres on roads and turned it into a dharna site.
Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, Tejashwi Yadav of RJD, who has been in the forefront against the 13-point roster and anti-reservation policies of the central government, slammed the Modi government.
“The Modi government’s decision to bring in the 13-point roster and its approval of 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the General category is not in line with the principle of affirmative action in the Constitution. The RSS is hell-bent on scrapping the reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs.”
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Tejashwi Yadav, who is the former deputy chief minister, also tweeted:
जो आरक्षण को हाथ लगाएगा, वो ज़िंदा जल जाएगा।
दलित-पिछड़ों की पुरज़ोर पुकार। 90% आरक्षण हमारा अधिकार।
(Anyone who touches reservation would be burnt alive.
Dalits and backward castes/classes have the right to 90 per cent reservation.)
During the protest, RJD state president Ramchandra Purve and senior party leader Shivanand Tiwari demanded that the central government bring an ordinance to end the 13-point roster system.
More than 100 protesters have been detained in different parts of the state while protestors also clashed with police at some places during the shutdown. However, there were no reports of any major incidents of violence.
With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the RJD and other opposition parties that are part of the Grand Alliance in Bihar have aggressively put their weight behind the protests against the anti-reservation policies of the central government.
Meanwhile, the ruling regime of the BJP, Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party have termed the bandh a ‘natak’ (staged drama) by the RJD and its allies. Senior JD(U) leader RCP Singh claimed on 5 March that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had talked with Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar and that the latter had assured that the central government would bring in an ordinance within two to three days.
Senior BJP leader and Bihar minister Vijay Kumar Sinha said the bandh was a natak. “The protestors are busy doing nautanki (drama), nothing else,” he said.