Dalits protest across Maharashtra over Pune riots, state braces for Wednesday shutdown

Mumbai, Jan 2:  Angry Dalits staged rail, road blockades and took out processions in Mumbai and agitations in different parts of Maharashtra on Tuesday to protest against violence in Pune a day ago which left one youth dead, with a call for a state-wide shutdown on Wednesday.

The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party headed by Prakash Ambedkar – the grandson of Bharat Ratna B.R. Ambedkar, called for a ‘peaceful Maharashtra shutdown’ on Wednesday to express anger over the Pune incident.

The bandh call has elicited support from various Dalit parties, Leftist parties and some Maratha groups, with the likelihood of all other parties, including Shiv Sena supporting.

Tuesday’s violence left over 187 government buses damaged, besides many private buses and vehicles across the state as the tide of Dalit anger surged since afternoon.

Moving swiftly amidst rising Dalit furore, the Pimpri police (Pune) lodged a complaint against Shivjagar Pratisthan president Sambhaji Bhide Guruji and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti chief Milind Ekbote.

On Tuesday afternoon, thousands of Dalits took to the streets in Chembur, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar, Bhandup and other strongholds in north-eastern parts of the city demanding action against the perpetrators of the Pune riots.

Scores of Dalit youth blocked the Harbor Line of Central Railway near Chembur on Tuesday afternoon, leading to stoppage of the local train services for around three hours.

Several lakhs of commuters were stranded on stations or in stationary trains and many preferred to walk on the railway tracks to their destinations.

Similarly, hundreds of youths swooped onto the roads in eastern and parts of western suburbs and south Mumbai asking shops, restaurants and commercial establishments to down shutters, and staged road blocks.

However, police intervened and traffic movement resumed, though it resulted in massive vehicular snarls all over the city, some several kilometres long, and traffic movement resumed after over six hours in the evening.

Urging people not to fall prey to “rumour-mongers” Joint Police Commissioner Deven Bharati denied imposition of prohibitory orders anywhere in the city.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Sachin Patil said there were around 100 detentions of protesters mostly in the eastern suburbs, while police moved in swiftly to control the situation and appealed to people not to believe in rumours.

Protests and violent incidents were witnessed in other parts of the state, including Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Nagpur, Dhule, Beed, Akola, Nashik, Pune, Solapur, Thane and Palghar as Dalits expressed their ire over Monday’s incidents in Koregaon-Bhima in Pune district.

In most cities and districts, protesters staged road blockades and enforced shutdown of shops and commercial establishments even as additional police forces were deployed.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a judicial probe by a sitting High Court judge and a CID investigation into Monday’s violence in Koregaon-Bhima.

He also declared a compensation of Rs one million for the family of the deceased victim and warned of strict against the perpetrators of the violence, besides those spreading rumours on social media.

The disturbances erupted in the village of Koregaon-Bhima on January 1 during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha War of January 1, 1818, between the army of Peshwa Bajirao II and a small force of the East India Company that comprised a large number of Dalits.

Several lakhs of Dalits had congregated around the Victory Pillar (Vijay Stambh) erected by the British in Sanaswadi village when suddenly stone pelting started, allegedly by some right-wing groups carrying saffron flags.

In the ensuing clashes, more than 30 vehicles, including buses, police vans and private vehicles, were torched or damaged and one youth, Rahul Fatangale, 28 of Nanded lost his life.

The police fired tear gas shells to control the rampaging mobs and prohibitory orders were imposed in the entire Pune district, and the situation was reported tense but calm on Tuesday.

Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar and Congress Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil blamed the state government for “lapses” that resulted in the Monday violence.

“Why did the administration not take adequate precautions for this event which has been celebrated peacefully for 200 years? Due to its lapses, there was confusion and rumour-mongering, resulting in the violence,” Pawar demanded.

Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut on Tuesday hinted at a “big conspiracy” in the recent spurt in sporadic caste-related violence that has been erupting in the state, which needs to be thoroughly investigated and “the hidden hand” must be exposed.