Mumbai: As if the fire on the Kamala Mills premises was not bad enough, Mumbai city was brought down to its knees on Tuesday morning – a fallout of the Bhim-Koregaon violence, allegedly triggered by right wing groups.
More than 100 people were detained as Dalit protesters blocked major Mumbai roads, disrupted local train services in rush hour and forced shops to down shutters. Mostly, the protestors were from the Republican Party of India (Prakash Ambedkar faction).
Riot police had to be requisitioned as protesters vent their ire on public property – buses and cars. But even that did not douse the seething anger and Dalit groups have called for a state-wide bandh on Wednesday, the brunt of which may be felt in Mumbai. Extra forces have been requisitioned and if, need be, orders banning large gatherings may be imposed. Some areas have also been identified where internet could be suspended to control rumours on social media; the city was in a tizzy on Tuesday on account of such rumours.
The first indication of trouble came when the traffic grind to a halt on Tuesday morning at the Eastern Express Highway; the embargo lasted till post-noon. The protest had a cascading effect and the Central Railway were constrained to suspend their suburban services between Kurla and Vashi.
The protest fanned out as Dalit groups from Chembur, Vikhroli, Mankhurd and Govandi spilled into the streets. Protesters attempted to march towards Ambedkar Garden in Chembur, but were restricted by the police. They retaliated by blocking the traffic on the roads, including on the Sion Panvel highway. More trouble is expected on Wednesday, especially in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs. Prakash Ambedkar’s call for bandh has been backed by numerous Dalit outfits but the main political parties will keep at bay. Almost every second lane in Ghatkopar was blocked by protestors. Men, women and children in almost every age group could be seen participating in the protests and even pelting stones at the police, which struggled to control the situation.
Areas like Lokhande Marg, Anand Nagar, Siddhart Colony, Ramabai Colony and Ashok Nagar, which have mostly Dalit residents, were the other flashpoints where the police resorted to lathi charge. Incidentally, the media was restrained from clicking snaps of the protests.
The police used the social media to notify citizens to steer clear of certain roads. They were advised to take roads where the traffic was slow, but moving. Normalcy was restored on Eastern Express late on Tuesday evening. The police were not spared and at least two sustained injuries. J D More, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, has a fracture in the forearm and was admitted at Zen Hospital. Deepak Khedekar, 33-year-old constable, suffered an eye injury.
Disruption fuel led by rumour
FLASHPOINTS: Chembur, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar and Bhandup where thousands of Dalits took to the streets.
HARBOUR LINE DISRUPTED: Scores of youth blocked the Harbour Line near Chembur, leading to stoppage of train service for hours
STRANDED: Several lakhs of commuters were stranded on stations or in stationary trains and many preferred to walk on the railway tracks to their destinations.
SHOPS FORCED TO DOWN SHUTTERS: Youths spilled onto roads in eastern suburbs asking shops, restaurants and commercial establishments to down shutters, and staged road blocks.
STANDSTILL ON EASTERN EXPRESS HIGHWAY: Mob blocked traffic for hours; massive traffic snarls elsewhere, some several kilometres long. Restored in evening.
VIOLENCE OUTSIDE MUMBAI: Protests and violence in Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Dhule, Beed, Nashik, Pune, Solapur, Thane and Palghar.
DAMAGE: At least 25 buses of MSRTC, besides private luxury buses and other vehicles damaged in stone-pelting by riotous mobs.
From oppressed to a warrior community
Vijay Diwas is commemorated on the first day of the New Year by a large section of Dalits in Maharashtra to mark the victory of a small troop of soldiers from the Mahar community over the mighty Peshwas in 1818. The Mahars’ victory in the Battle of Bhima Koregaon has never been part of popular, mainstream history. But it has been celebrated by many for several years. The narrative of Bhima Koregaon is symbolic of an attitudinal shift in the perception of the Mahar community from being an oppressed community to a warrior one. Some right-wing groups in Pune had opposed the event, asking why a British victory was being celebrated. Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, in turn, had called the BJP and Sangh Parivar the ‘new Peshwas’ at the celebrations in Pune on Monday.
Bandh called by RPI (Ambedkar), backed by CPI (ML)
NOT SUPPORTING: Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena
EDUCATIONAL Confusion whether institutions will remain open
MSRTC BUSES will have grills but not BEST buses, no order not to run the buses
TAXIS WILL ply, until there is threat to the drivers
RAILWAYS too will operate all services
UBER has not yet committed itself
OLA CABS will remain off the roads, says union.
SHOPS TOLD to remain shut, to avoid damage
CHEMISTS will remain open, however with shutters down
CITY POLICE, Armed forces and state reserve police force will be deployed