Hundreds of policemen staged a flag march, warning people to remain indoors as smoke billowed out of shops in Odisha’s communal violence-hit Bhadrak town on Saturday. Firefighters were dousing fires while roads festooned with saffron flags for Ram Navami celebration looked deserted. The violence was triggered over alleged offensive comments against Ram and Sita on Facebook earlier this week.
“We have arrested 35 people from both the communities. The situation is under control and would soon be normal. No one should believe any rumours,” said Odisha police chief KB Singh, who rushed to Bhadrak on Friday.
Authorities extended curfew in the town until Sunday morning a day after rioters went on a rampage for about five hours and burnt shops in the town’s Kutchery Bazar, Chandan Bazar and Charampa bypass areas. “I was home and was about to get biryani from my fastfood outlet when I heard about rioters running amok. I could save my shop, but the Khemka cloth house near my shop was completely gutted,” said Ritik, a resident.
In Pawan bazar, businessman Pawan Bagaria and his mother could barely escape as rioters entered his shop and torched furniture. Babu Mian’s MM Glass House was burnt down.
Resident blamed processions for the violence and said that the district administration should never have allowed them. “There was section 144 imposed in the town. So how were hundreds of youths allowed to go around shouting slogans and setting shops ablaze,” asked Surya Narayan Mohanty, a resident. “The district did not have an officiating collector for over a month as the previous one was on leave before he retired on March 31.”
Akram Khan, whose meat shop was burnt down, said police could not anticipate the trouble. “In Bhadrak, Hindus and Muslims have been living peacefully.’’ He blamed “a few hotheads from both the communities’’.
The state government had posted a new district collector on Friday while police forces were rushed from neighbouring districts to deal with the situation. Three companies of Central para-military personnel are assisting the police.
Examinations scheduled until Wednesday were suspended. There was no food and medicines for patients at the district headquarters hospital.