Indian Army veterans and farmers hold joint protests

A mass strike was due to take place in India this week. However, one of the main groups of protesters — the Dalits (untouchables), who occupy the lowest place in the caste hierarchy of India — refused to participate in the strike at the last moment, Asia Times writes.

A protest rally was planned for August 9 by Dalit groups, farmers, and army veterans who put forward several demands. The strike was expected to shake the government and force the authorities to answer important questions ahead of the elections next year.

However, All India Ambedkar Mahasabha (AIAM), an organization fighting for Dalit rights in the country, refused to protest, while the other two groups took to the streets.

AIAM said it canceled the strike because one of its key requirements — the restoration of the registered castes and registered tribes law (cruelty prevention) of 1989 — was implemented and the group wanted to give the government time to consider other requirements.

The 1989 Act is designed to protect Dalits (registered castes) and tribes from discrimination and atrocities.

In March, the Supreme Court of India repealed the provision on the immediate arrest of people accused of caste-related crimes.

Activists said the 1989 law was weakened by a Supreme Court ruling of March 20, which removes restrictions on early release on bail for public servants and which states that a public servant can be held accountable under this law only with the permission of higher authorities.

On April 2, the Dalits held nationwide protests against the Supreme Court ruling. The protests were accompanied by acts of violence, nine people were killed. After that, the lower house of parliament passed a bill amending the law on registered castes and registered tribes, restoring the original provisions of this document, as promised by the government.

Meanwhile, army veterans and a group of farmers are also protesting. Under the common banner of People for Responsible Governance, they decided to hold sit-down demonstrations, hunger strikes and rallies.

This is the first time that army veterans have joined the protests of other organizations and they have jointly advocated «to put an end to hate mob violence.» All parties called for the speedy arrest and prosecution of those responsible for crimes related to caste discrimination.

The protesters jointly demanded to abandon the ambitious government digital identification program based on Aadhaar biometric data and pass a bill that guarantees women 33% of the seats in parliament and the legislature. Activists claimed that the Aadhaar program “wreaked havoc” on social welfare programs, primarily for the poor.

Army veterans were unhappy with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in many ways. But their main requirement is the One Rank One Pension (OROP) reform. The reform assumes that pension payments are equalized for all categories of servicemen of the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement. Moreover, an automatic annual review of the pensions of military personnel should be carried out instead of the current policy of periodic review once every five years. The Government of India has stated that such changes cannot be made.

Meanwhile, a group of farmers (All India Kisan Sabha) are protesting against poor conditions and government agricultural policies.

Kisan Sabha demanded to establish a minimum guaranteed price at which the government purchases grains for all crops 1.5 times higher than the cost of production, as well as guarantees for the purchase of crops. The group also advocates land distribution to landless farmers.

These demands were made after repeated protests from farmers throughout India affected by debt, low crop yields and climate change.

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