MUMBAI – Angry Dalits staged rail and road blockades and took out processions in Mumbai and carried out agitations in different parts of Maharashtra on Tuesday to protest against violence in Pune a day ago which left one youth dead.
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 incidents.
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 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 suburbs 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.
Protests and violent incidents were witnessed in other parts of the state, including Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Dhule, Beed, Nashik, Pune, Solapur, Thane and Palghar as Dalits expressed their ire over Monday’s incidents in Koregaon-Bhima in Pune district.
At least 25 buses of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation, besides private luxury buses and other vehicles, were damaged in stone pelting by riotous mobs.
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.
The disturbances erupted in the village of Koregaon-Bhima on January 1 during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha War between the army of Peshwa Bajirao II with 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 clashes that ensued between the two groups, 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 to control the mobs and prohibitory orders were imposed in the entire Pune district, with the situation reported tense but calm on Tuesday.
On Tuesday in most districts, protesters staged road blockades stopping traffic and enforced shutdown of shops and commercial establishments even as additional police forces were deployed.
Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar 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.
On his part, Ambedkar appealed to his supporters to ensure that Wednesday’s shutdown call in the state passes off peacefully without inconveniencing the public and demanded action against those responsible for the Koregaon-Bhima incident.