Clashes were reported Monday from different districts of Punjab’s Malwa region during the Bharat Bandh call given by Dalit outfits against the Supreme Court’s judgment on the SC/ST Act. While a head constable was hurt in Mansa, in Bathinda, Dalit protesters were lathicharged. Railway property was damaged in Ferozepur, apart from a few shops being attacked. The bandh in Malwa was the most effective between 10 am to 4 pm. Also, four FIRs were lodged against Dalit protesters in Mansa, Bathinda and Ferozepur.
While educational institutions stayed shut, government offices remained open. As protests started after 10 am, most government staffers made to their offices which opened at 9 am. Markets, private factories remained closed as workers failed to turn up. Road as well as train traffic was disrupted in the region due to the bandh.
Railways’ Ferozepur division revealed that six trains in this division were cancelled, and an equal number of trains were short-terminated as they were stopped by protesters, six other trains short-originated.
Private vehicles too stayed off roads, mostly due to road bloackades. Markets in Ferozepur, Bathinda, Fazilka, Muktsar opened after 5 pm, but despite there was little footfall. Upkar Singh, president of Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Undertakings, said,”It was a kind of forced bandh as workers could not reach factories due to protests on roads and hence we had no choice but to keep our factories closed.”
A clash broke out between Beopar Mandal, Bareta in Mansa district and Dalit Samaj protesters in Bareta Mandi where shopkeepers of general caetgory refused to close their shops and called the bandh illegal. As a clash broke out between two sides, head constable Pargat Singh, who was in civil dress, was hurt after being hit by a stick being carried by a Dalit protester. Pargat was allegedly hit four times on the head and had to get stitches later. The head constable was doing videography of the incident when he was attacked by Dalit protesters. There are over 200 shops in Bareta Mandi. Police have an lodged FIR for attempt to murder against 5 Dalit leaders by name, while 25 unknown persons have been booked. They have been identified as Shinderpal Singh, Sema Singh, Jarnail Singh and few others. No arrests have been made.
In Sangrur district, apart from the protest march by Dalit Samaj, Beopar Mandal of Amargarh area staged a protest outside the police station of Amargarh under the leadership of Prem Kapoor, the BJP president of Amargarh town, Sangrur. Kapoor, however, said that the protest he led was a shopkeepers’ protest. “It was a government-sponsored bandh as DSP Malerkotla himself got our shops closed, protesters came afterwards. What is the role of police in getting shops closed? We want transfer of DSP and an apology from his side as well,” he said. Shopkeepers also alleged that protesters stole material from their shops in name of bandh after some of them refused to shut their shops. They demanded police case against the protesters and compensation for the loss. Protesters also broke window panes at a Miniplex theatre in Malerkotla.
A mild lathicharge was reported at Mehna chowk in Bathinda district where protesters from Dalit organisations were seen roaming with rods and swords. They broke window panes of three-shops that were open for business, and even targeted few two-wheelers parked on the road. A car was damaged too. This led to a clash between the shopkeepers and Dalit protesters. Shopkeepers even thrashed a few persons part of the mob. Later, police resorted to a lathicharge. Eight persons have been booked under CrPC 107/151 which is a bailable offence. Another FIR has been lodged on charges of damage to public property.
Protesters under the banner of Dalit Manch barged inside the office of divisional railway manager (DRM), Ferozepur Zone, and broke window panes. Sources claimed that few railway employees were also involved in this incident. Not only this, in yet another incident, they stopped Ferozepur-Fazilka local train in Ferozepur city area and even broke the window panes of few boogies. However, no passenger was hurt in this incident. Few protesters even entered Ferozepur cantonment station and broke window panes of the ticket counter. They gathered in large numbers outside DC Ramvir Singh’s office, who received a memorandum from the Dalit Manch outside his office. In Ferozepur, some shops were also damaged in the city area where shopkeepers objected to forcible closure. FIR has been lodged against protesters for causing damage to public property.
In Muktsar, protesters under the banner of Dalit Manch and Valmiki Sangh took out a protest march from different bazaras of Muktsar, Malaut, Gidderbaha and Lambi constituency. Everywhere, a number of them were carrying rods and swords. Few clashes erupted in Malaut when shopkeepers argued for a forced bandh, but later markets were closed as a precautionary measure.
One person was injured near Jangawala turn in Mamdot area of Ferozepur when Dalit protesters allegedly attacked him with a baseball bat. He was admitted to a nearby hospital where he got stitches on the forehead.
Fazilka was tense a day before the bandh call after the incident of carcasses thrown outside house of a Beopar Mandal member in Jalalabad. None of the shops opened in the entire district. Even here, police was seen getting shops closed much before the protest march. The markets closed after 10 am.
In Barnala town, BJP leaders had earlier urged shopkeepers to keep the shops open. But shopkeepers finally closed their shops after police intervened and convinced them to shut shops. In Handaiya area of Barnala, a heated argument took place between shopkeepers and Dalit protesters over forcible closure of shops. However, finally markets remained shut.
Four FIRs registered
Mukhwinder Singh Chhina, IG Bathinda range, said,”Four FIRs have been lodged under my zone, out of which one is in Mansa with attempt to murder charges, while two in Bathinda and one in Ferozepur. A S Rai, IG Patiala zone, said, “No FIR has been lodged in my zone. We will examine the complaint of Beopar Mandal at Amargarh area in Sangrur while stray incident of damage to a theatre was reported in Malerkotla. Few other complaints are being examined.”