On Monday, groups of Dalits, who were on way to an event to mark 200 years of the Bhima Koregaon battle were attacked and their vehicles were damaged.
Several towns and cities in Maharashtra remained on edge as after a day of angry protests, Dalit groups called for a shutdown in the state on Wednesday. The police said they have made elaborate arrangements in view of the call, and while schools have made no announcement regarding closure, a school bus owners’ association said buses will not ply in the morning. Demanding action regarding Monday’s caste clashes near Pune, in which a man was killed, Dalit protesters had blocked major Mumbai roads at the rush hour, damaged scores of buses and disrupted rail traffic. More than a 100 protesters were later detained, the police said.
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Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, has called for a bandh or shutdown of Maharashtra on Wednesday. Mr Ambedkar who leads a Dalit group, said 250 such groups are supporting the bandh call. He has blamed some local right-wing leaders for Monday’s violence.
The Mumbai police said extra forces have been requisitioned and if needed, prohibitory orders banning large gatherings can be imposed. Some areas have also been identified where internet could be suspended to control rumours on social media, Director General of Police Satish Mathur told NDTV.
Over 160 buses had been damaged in Mumbai on Tuesday by rampaging protesters, the police said. The protesters also disrupted road traffic in the suburbs and local train services on the Harbour Line, blocked roads in several areas and forced shops to shut down. Heavy security had to be deployed in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs.
Protests were also held in Kolhapur, Parbhani, Latur, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Hingoli, Kolhapur, Nanded and Thane districts, the police said.
NDTV journalists were attacked as groups of Dalits from Chembur, Vikhroli, Mankhurd and Govandi joined the protest, the police said. In Chembur, the protesters gathered on railway tracks to stop the movement of trains. Others blocked traffic on parts of the Eastern Express Highway during the morning rush hour.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh dialed Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to take stock of the situation. He was told that all possible efforts were being made to restore normalcy, reported news agency Press Trust of India, quoting sources.
Chief Minister Fadnavis appealed for calm and warned against the spread rumours on social media. He also ordered an inquiry by a sitting High Court judge into Monday’s violence.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has attacked the BJP, in power both in Maharashtra and at the Centre, and its ideological mentor RSS, tweeting: “A central pillar of the RSS/BJP’s fascist vision for India is that Dalits should remain at the bottom of Indian society. Una, Rohith Vemula and now Bhima-Koregaon are potent symbols of the resistance.”
The Pune police has registered cases against Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who head two local right-wing organisations — the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan – after Monday’s clashes in which a man died and more than 12 people were injured. The two groups had opposed the event, asking why a British victory was being celebrated.
Clashes had broken out between Dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindu organisations during the bi-centennial celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha battle at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune. It is believed that Dalits were part of the British forces. The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory was seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits, who celebrate January 1 as “Victory Day”.