A VIDEO of terrified school children huddled in a Gurgaon school bus as a mob, protesting the release of Padmaavat, attacked them with stones and sticks Wednesday became a symbol of government apathy to maintenance of law and order.
Shot by a passenger on the bus, the video captures just 13 seconds of the four-minute ordeal that students — the youngest was aged four — teachers and school staff went through as the bus drove past a mob that had just torched a Haryana Roadways bus.
The attack on the school bus was among dozens of protests across at least six states Wednesday, a day before the release of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. The Supreme Court had Tuesday cleared the decks for the film’s release for Thursday.
Despite the SC order, violent protests spread to cities and towns in several states including Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharastra. The Multiplex Association of India (MAI) announced that its members in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa would not screen Padmaavat.
In the Gurgaon video, staff and students are seen crouching on the floor of the bus and the shattered windows in the background only underscore the horror and confusion. One student is heard sobbing constantly, while at the end of the video a girl, clad in a red sweater, is seen crying in the arms of a staff member trying to reassure her. As the bus races away, staff members are heard telling each other and the children to keep low and not get up, fearing more violence.
“Traffic was clearing up when some men from the mob began throwing stones at us. They came at us with faces covered,” said Parvesh Kumar, the driver of the GD Goenka World School, Sohna, school bus.
According to officials, there were ten children on board the bus at the time, who study in grades ranging from nursery to class XII. In addition, there were three teachers, one conductor, and a helper who were also in the vehicle, apart from the driver.
“We did not even have a chance to understand what was happening, or request the men to not harm us. They attacked us so suddenly that we barely had enough time to get ourselves and the students out of the harm’s way,” said a school employee who was in the bus.
Confirming the incident, Manish Sehgal, PRO of Gurgaon Police, said, “The school bus was driving past the area when a roadways bus was set afire, and protesters threw stones at the school bus as well. Some glass was shattered, but no injuries have been reported until now.”
Neeta Bali, the principal of the school, said, “We immediately called all our buses back. Parents were informed, snacks were given to them and they were dispersed an hour later. We have decided to observe a holiday tomorrow, seeing the unrest.” Following the incident, at least 10 other schools in Gurgaon informed parents that they would remain shut as a precautionary measure.
The Gurgaon police have detained 13 following the incident. Commissioner of Police, Sandeep Khirwar, confirmed that the video of the incident “will be included” in the investigation. Khirwar said adequate forces would be deployment to ensure “no such targeting of school buses”.
Asked if police had identified the group the mob belong to he said: “I will not ascribe any of those detained to any group. These are miscreants who have carried out this incident. Any leaders or organisations who have facilitated the violence, however, will also be held culpable.”
Despite earlier SC orders, which put the onus of security on state governments, several multiplexes and single screen theatres have refused to screen Padmavaat citing law and order trouble. The MAI, which represents close to 75 per cent of multiplex owners, said the film would not be screened in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa.
Citing the “prevailing law and order situation”, MAI president Deepak Asher said the decision was taken by the association members on their own. “The safety of our patrons and visitors to the malls and multiplexes is of paramount importance, and under the present circumstances, it was apprehended that there could be a potential risk to such safety, all the members of the Association have individually considered it prudent to not screen the movie at present,” he said, adding that the situation may be reviewed.
Taking cue, single screens in three states have also chosen to play it safe. The chairman of the Bhopal Cinema Owners’ Association, Ranveer Singh, said no theatre in the city would screen the film. Sudhir Bindal of Velocity in Indore said that the violence and the government’s inaction has led to the decision. “Pad man has been postponed and we have no film to show. But we don’t have a choice. The situation is scary and the government is watching the drama,” said Bindal. “No one wants to take the risk,” confirmed the owner of Jaipur’s Raj Mandir, Pushpendra Surana.
Following the apex court’s orders, the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS), which has spearheaded protests against the film, Wednesday asked for a ‘Janta curfew’ (curfew by the people) to “block” the movie, a day ahead of its release.
In Delhi too, police confirmed mobs had vandalised vehicles in Maurya Enclave despite heavy security cover before the Republic Day parade and a major summit with southeast Asian leaders. Pune police confirmed the arrest of 15 demonstrators, allegedly from Rajasthan, after a mob damaged at least ten vehicles.
“Let us not come to a stage where exhibition of a movie of this nature after issuance of certificate is crippled… People must understand that it (CBFC) is a statutory body. Supreme Court has passed an order. People have to abide by it. If they don’t like it, don’t watch,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had said Tuesday.