New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Day after a Dalit activist immolated himself in Gujarat, Amnesty International on Tuesday urged the state governments to ensure Dalit protestors are not denied their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
"Gujarat authorities have a duty to maintain public order, but they must ensure that peaceful Dalit protestors can have their voices heard," Asmita Basu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India, said in a statement.
"Recent years have seen a welcome upsurge of Dalit women and men challenging violence and discrimination and claiming their constitutional rights. But instead of addressing these concerns, authorities have often either tried to stamp out protests, or looked away when Dalit protestors are attacked by others," she added.
The statement from the human rights body came in the wake of self-immolation of Gujarat Dalit activist Bhanu Vankar over alleged delays in alloting land to Dalits in the state. Vankar died of burn injuries on February 16 after he set himself afire in front of a government office in Patan.
Amnesty also cited several other cases, such as arrest of Dalit activist Chandrashekhar Azad and breakout of violence at Koregaon Bhima in Maharashtra's Pune to criticise the government for its apathy against incidents where Dalits are the principal victims.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, a writer and Dalit activist, said: "The state has shown no intent in ending caste discrimination and untouchability. That's why, instead of listening to what the Dalit activists and protestors have to say, they are arresting and denying them the right to protest."
"Stifling peaceful protests and blocking Dalits from claiming their rights will only undermine the legitimacy of state governments in the eyes of their people. Authorities need to instead send a clear message that abuses against Dalits will never be tolerated," added Basu.