Normal life in Mumbai, Pune and several towns of Maharashtra was disrupted Wednesday as a state-wide bandh called by Dalit groups led to a near-complete shutdown. In Mumbai, protesters targeted buses, obstructed suburban local services and blocked roads at key points as shops and establishments in large parts of the suburbs remained shut throughout the day.
The bandh, withdrawn around 5 pm, was called by Bharatiya Republican Party Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar in protest against clashes in villages around Bhima Koregaon near Pune on the 200th anniversary of the battle between British forces, including Mahar troops, and the Peshwa army.
A second complaint was filed against Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. They were accused of inciting violence during the battle commemoration anniversary. The complaint, police said, will be attached to the first FIR that was filed against the two Tuesday. Also Read: Protests bring Maratha-Dalit rift out in the open
Thirty-five-year-old Sushma Andhare, an office-bearer of an organisation working for the welfare of nomadic tribes, who was in Bhima Koregaon for the celebrations, filed a complaint against Bhide and Ekbote. Andhare, in her complaint said, when she and some others reached Shikrapur toll booth, a huge mob carrying saffron flags attacked them. The mob was pelting stones, she said.
“In the past, there was never any opposition to people going to Bhima Koregaon. But this time it was planned conspiracy by Bhide and Ekbote to orchestrate violence and incite riots by spreading communal hatred. The two were not present at the spot, but that does not mean they were not behind these acts,” Andhare alleged. READ: What was the Battle of Koregaon?
Ekbote and Bhide’s supporters have denied the charges. Senior inspector Mukund Mahajan of Yerawada police station, where the complaint was filed, said it will be forwarded to Shikrapur police station and attached to the FIR filed Tuesday.
In Mumbai, police personnel, including riot control police, were deployed at “sensitive locations” including Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Worli Naka, Amar Mahal in Chembur, Thane and near most railway stations. Despite police presence, rail services were hit repeatedly by rail rokos at various stations including Virar, Thane, Goregaon, Chembur and Govandi. Later in the afternoon, protesters also managed to block the tracks at Dadar. The newly introduced AC local service was suspended after it managed to only reach Vasai from Virar.
Government Railway Police (GRP) commissioner Niket Kaushik said, “While the harbour line and western railway had intermittent problems, the central line was impacted in a big way. Ghatkopar and Kanjurmarg railway stations faced major problems with some seats at Kanjurmarg police station being thrown on the railway tracks. We will register FIRs in the case.”
All four main highways were blocked by protesters. On several arterial roads including the Eastern Freeway into South Mumbai (blocked at Panjrapol in Chembur), Eastern Express Highway (blocked by protesters in Chembur and Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar) and the Sion Panvel Highway into Mumbai (blocked at various points), motorists drove around in circles to find their way to work or home. Ambulances and police vehicles were allowed to pass. Auto-drivers and taxi-drivers ere forced off the roads by protesters. Also Read: Road, rail movement affected, here is a list of routes to avoid
Mumbai police spokesperson DCP Sachin Patil said, “Till afternoon, nine FIRs were registered and the registration of some more FIRs is underway at different places. More than 150 miscreants were detained across the city.”
In Thane, there were incidents of stone-pelting on auto rickshaws, buses and other vehicles. Protestors stopped public buses and commuters were forced to alight. In Mumbai, at least 52 BEST buses were damaged in stone-pelting.
Several schools remained shut across Mumbai and suburbs. Those that remained open had to send children home owing to poor attendance. Examinations conducted by Mumbai University were also affected. The Mumbai dabbawalla service remained non-operational too. Attendance in various government as well as private corporate offices remained low.
In Pune, the bandh saw a lukewarm response in the morning, with many office-goers reaching their workplaces without much trouble. But by noon, as protesters hit the streets and blocked roads, the shutdown began. Most commercial establishments closed down by noon. Stones were hurled at buses and the Pune Mahanagar Pariwahan Mahamandal Ltd said at least 55 buses were damaged, leading to suspension of services until evening.