Three persons were killed, two of them in police firing in Osmanabad and Nashik, and curfew was imposed in four areas across Maharashtra as violent mobs belonging to different factions of the original Republican Party of India went on the rampage, protesting against the desecration of a statue of Dr B.R. Ambedkar in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Mumbai bore the brunt of the anger of the dalits as mobs stoned buses on the highway and roamed the streets, moving southwards from the eastern and western suburbs to the central part of Mumbai city, asking shops to down their shutters and stopping trains in some areas.
The mobs did not spare the stately train Deccan Queen, which was coming from Pune. Near Ulhasnagar they torched five carriages of the train. Eyewitnesses said they asked the people to get off the train before setting it on fire.
Many dalit leaders were shocked at the intensity of the violence. Namdeo Dhasal, a well-known poet who in the 1970s led the Dalit Panthers Party, said “the dalits are justified in protesting against the desecration of Dr Ambedkar’s statue, but burning of trains is not what Dr Ambedkar had stood for in fighting caste prejudices. It has gone beyond limits.” The riots that rocked Maharashtra on Thursday were waiting to happen. The dalits had been sitting on a volcano for the last few months, since the killing of four members of a dalit family in Bhandara district. Explaining why dalits reacted to the beheading of the statue of Dr Ambedkar, Mr Anandraj Ambedkar, grandson of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, said, “Following the killing of the Bodmange family in Bhandara district, a young dalit was allegedly chopped to pieces in Beed district by a Dandavate family over a land dispute. This was followed by the burning of 20 huts of dalits in Tulzapur, in Pandharpur district near Pune, during the recent municipal council elections.
In none of the cases have the persons who committed the killings and the atrocities been punished. In the Bodmange case the sarpanch and a BJP leader are still roaming free. The five Dandavate brothers are free and so are the people who burnt the 20 huts of the dalits in Tulzapur.” News agencies reported violent protests from Surat where a mob threw stones and damaged vehicles in Pandesara. “A mob of about 50 people took out a rally in the area to protest the statue desecration,” Surat police commissioner Sudhir Sinha told PTI.
In Mumbai, 76 people were arrested and more than 100 buses and 35 private vehicles were damaged during the protests, Mumbai police commissioner A.N. Roy said.
He told reporters that Bhandup bore the brunt of the violence and the police resorted to a cane-charge and tear gas to disperse protesters.
The police also used canes in Trombay, Mr Roy said. He said property worth Rs 30 lakhs to Rs 40 lakhs was damaged during the protest. Thirteen policemen, including additional commissioner of police (east region) K.L. Bishnoi, were injured in the clashes.
In Pune, curfew was imposed in 12 localities of the industrial township of Pimpri-Chinchwad, the police said. The police said the agitation spread from one area to another, leading to violence at 44 places in Pune city and PimpriChinchwad, resulting in injuries to 13 policemen.
By OLGA TELLIS