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CASTE CLASHES IN MUMBAI: TRAFFIC ON EEH HIT, SHOPS SHUT DOWN

Wednesday, January 03, 2018
By Dev Kotak and Tariq Khan. Photographs by Azad Shrivastav

HISTORY: January 1 is observed as 'Vijay Diwas' by Dalit community to commemorate the battle fought in 1818, in which a battalion of British East India Company, comprising Dalits, had defeated the 'upper-caste' Peshwa soldiers.

The city was tense, witnessing heavy deployment of police in riot gear. Incidents of stone-pelting were reported in a few parts. Traffic flow was affected on the Eastern Express Highway (EEH) near Mumbai and train services too were affected. In a failed attempt, a protestor even tried to immolate himself. Shops were forcefully asked to shut down and business establishments remained closed. A few of the participating youth were seen ordering shop owners to close their shops or face violence.

Chembur Naka (point of origin), which also happens to be a dalit area, saw incidents of lathi charge. Siddharth Nagar, Lal Dongar, Amar Mahal, Ramabai Colony (in Chembur), Bhimwadi Nagar (in Mankhurd) and PMGP Colony (Ghatkopar East), all believed to be Dalit pockets, had several areas with blocked roads, as protestors sat in the middle of the road crippling traffic. Chembur Naka, which connects Navi Mumbai and Mumbai was hit badly, resulting in major traffic snarls. The traffic on Sion-Panvel Link Road too was affected. Buses (BEST, ST and privately owned) weren’t spared either, experiencing stone pelting as windscreens were smashed. Other vehicles too (auto rickshaws, private cars and heavy vehicles) caught in the traffic, had their tyres deflated by the protestors.  

The protestors and cops clashed, as a few cops even alleged being manhandled by the violent youth. The police was forced to lathi charge, but only after trying to quell an angry crowd who refused to listen or understand what the patient cops told them. Overall, 100 cars were damaged in the violence.

Thanks to the quick thinking of the cops, they saved further damage to vehicles and prevented the traffic situation from worsening by stopping vehicles (from Vashi) at the Vashi-Mankhurd check naka. Police officials said that had they allowed cars to pass, protestors would have damaged them. Similarly, vehicles from Thane (inward bound towards South Mumbai) were blocked at Mulund check naka.

Additional State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) columns were pressed in action and the police have detained over 30 people.

Shops and showrooms who refused to comply and shut down were also damaged in the incident.  

Protestors justify anger, say govt, cops responsible
“Our buses full of supporters were on our way to the event in Pune. Our buses were vandalised and even torched. Two of our women died and children, ladies, everyone was assaulted. When we reached there, shops were already shut. This shows that it was pre-planned. Stones were hurled at us from terraces and all of us were attacked. Those guys did not spare a thought for our women and kids either. It is the government’s fault and mistake that around 150 people are injured,” said Buddhabhushan Shinde (24), an eyewitness and protestor, who ADC met outside Goregaon.

Most of the protestors did not wished to be named, but in unison said that the cops did not act or crack down upon the violent group, allowing them a free hand. Several alleged that cops witnessed sacks of stones, but yet did nothing about it.

Cops clarify
In a tweet, the Mumbai Police said, “Don't believe in rumours. Traffic on Eastern Expressway was affected due to protests. It's moving now. Traffic at Chembur Naka is still affected. There is nothing to panic. Verify facts with police officers and men before posting anything on social media.”

Several calls made by this paper (to take stock of the law and order situation in Pune) to reach Rashmi Shukla, Pune Commissioner and Deven Bharti, Additional Commissioner (Mumbai) Law and Order, remained unanswered.

Additional Commissioner of Police Lakhmi Gautam had earlier clarified that there were groups of people attempting a raasta roko (to block the way), but the police have cleared them. He however hung up saying he was busy and could not speak when ADC called him.

“The traffic jam is still there, due to the obstruction by agitators. The Eastern Express Highway is still blocked near Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar and Chembur Naka. The traffic is being diverted. However, we cannot be sure of how much time it will take to ensure smooth traffic again. The situation is still tense,” said Amitesh Kumar, Jt. Commissioner of Police, Traffic.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mumbai Police Public Relations Officer (PRO), Sachin Patil said, “I would appeal to the people not to believe in rumours. There were some protestors who tried to come onto the streets in the morning. The police took steps to refrain them. At some places where they tried to block roads we managed to clear them out. There was a traffic jam on EEH, JVLR near Powai, and some places in Chembur. After the protestors were removed, traffic was restored to normalcy. Some places there has been a diversion. More than 100 miscreants have been apprehended. They created trouble by pelting stones at public transport vehicles and based on the CCTV footage others will be arrested.”  

“In our area, everything was in control. All okay. Nothing major in Vikhroli. It has been peaceful except for a small rally and some sloganeering,” said Sanjay More, Senior Police Inspector, Vikhroli Police Station.

Understaffed cops put up brave front
Despite being understaffed, the police officials from Deonar, Chembur, Govandi, Chunabhatti, RCF, Govandi, Shivaji Nagar and Mankhurd Police stations battled it out against violent agitators, putting up a brave front and not allowing them to wreak havoc. Almost all of these police stations face a shortage of officers, but still controlled the situation for six hours until additional help from SRPF came. Trying to quell the agitation, a total of six cops were injured in different incidents of stone pelting reported across the city. ACP Jayram More, who bravely fended off the angry crowd, was injured after being hit by a stone.

Media caught in clash
A journalist present was attacked and a media Outdoor Broadcasting Van was torched. ADC's reporter too, who was trying to speak to some of the youth who were a part of the procession, was caught in the frenzy (outside Goregaon station), as cops patrolling quickly quelled their anger and took control of the situation. The ADC correspondent was heckled, intimidated and even threatened. A media van that was trying to pass along the highway near Chembur’s Amar Mahal area was not allowed to pass either and their cameras were broken. Surekha Wakode, RPI (Republican Party of India) leader was heading the rail-roko  at Govandi, Mankhurd and Chembur Railway Station.

The police temporarily had to block traffic on the Pune-Ahmednagar Highway to prevent the situation from escalating, apart from suspending internet services and restrict movement of people before the situation was brought under control.

Prakash Ambedkar speaks
Ahead of the Bhima Koregaon battle event, Section 144 (unlawful assembly) had been imposed around Bhima Koregaon in Pune.

Speaking to media persons after the attack on Dalit masses, Ambedkar said, “If there was any tension, the 200th anniversary commemoration of the Bhima Koregaon Battle would not have taken place. Monday's programme was organised by Sambhaji Brigade, a Maratha organisation. Everything went on peacefully. However, the trouble occurred because of Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan, headed by Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, respectively.”

“Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Sabha (ABHS), the Peshwa heirs, had opposed the event. We held talks with ABHS after which they decided against opposing. The villagers were provoked by the Shivraj Pratisthan while the Hindu Ekta Agadhi hurled stones at people going towards the Koregaon war memorial. As the violence continued, one person was killed and many others were injured,” he added further.

“The Maharashtra Democratic Front and Maharashtra Left Front, besides 250 organisations, have supported today's shutdown. It will be total bandh. I appeal to the people for peace during the bandh period. One thing I will make clear that this is not conflict between Marathas and Dalits,” he pointed out.

Ambedkar had demanded that a judicial probe be ordered by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis into the violence, headed by the Chief Justice of the High Court and not by a sitting judge. The BBM leader further stated that various types of grants and subsidies being given by the government to villages along Koregaon, Shiroor and Chakan, be stopped.

Cases registered...
Meanwhile, cases were registered by the Pimpri police against Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who head the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan respectively. Both were booked for allegedly inciting the violence. The two organisations had opposed the celebration of British victory in the battle.

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