LARGE numbers of motorists and bus commuters who ventured out Wednesday found themselves parked for hours a few metres away from protesters squatting on the roads, blocking off main arterial roads in the suburbs. All four major highways were blocked by rasta rokos — Western Express Highway at Kala Nagar junction, Eastern Express Highway at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Sion-Panvel Road at Chembur, and the Eastern Freeway at Panjrapol.
As a few hundred protesters gathered and sat on the roads across Mumbai and its suburbs, policemen with riot control shields and helmets stood ready, but did not attempt to move protesters or open up the roads to motorists. However, the protesters made way for ambulances at all points.
The worst blockades were in Chembur, Ghatkopar, Mankhurd and Panjrapol, where motorists drove around in circles trying to find a way into South Mumbai or a way back home, but in vain. Policemen had no information on what advice to give such motorists.
At the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Ghatkopar, people gathered at the entrance of the colony early Wednesday, but police managed to keep them off the Eastern Express Highway. Around 11 am, the protesters ran towards the highway and stopped traffic movement in both directions. Around 12.30 pm, protesters also headed towards the Ghatkopar depot junction, about a kilometre from Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, on the Eastern Express Highway and blocked traffic there as well. The protesters forcefully halted vehicles even as policemen either stayed silent or instructed vehicles to turn around and return in the direction they had come from
“We are not damaging anything. Our protest is to seek justice for the riots in Bhima Koregaon,” said Harsh Jadhav, a resident of Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar. The Eastern Express Highway remained blocked until 5 pm, when the bandh was called off by Dalit leaders.
Amir Shaikh, who runs a tourist car, said it was the second consecutive day. of business lost. “Despite telling the protesters that my passengers have to catch an outstation train at Kurla terminus, they are not allowing us to go,” he said.
In Chembur, heavy police bandobast was in place at Amar Mahal junction and Chembur Naka, both badly affected on Tuesday. At the junction towards the Eastern Express Highway, traffic remained unaffected in the first half of the day despite multiple rallies from Chembur and other areas such as Kurla. But protesters found their way to the Eastern Express highway by 2 pm, blocking it for a few hours. This blockade remained till the bandh was called off after 4.30 pm.
At Chembur Naka, too, multiple rallies throughout the day spilling on to the Sion-Panvel highway was leading to blocking of traffic in phases.
At Panjrapol, the entry point to the Eastern Freeway, a rasta roko that began at 11.45 am continued till the evening. As policemen advised motorists to turn around and drive back, those who did so found themselves stranded with the Govandi-Mankhurd end of the freeway also blocked by noon.
Around 10.30 am, there were four different groups of protesters that converged at the Gandhi Nagar junction in Kanjur Marg junction from Vikhroli, Powai, Bhandup and Kanjurmarg.
“It was not by chance that the four groups reached the junction at the same time leading to a crowd at the spot. We believe it was all planned and coordinated on WhatsApp,” said a police officer patrolling the area.
As the crowds started swelling at the Gandhi Nagar junction, traffic on all sides was brought to a halt. Dawood Shaikh, who works in a travel company, said, “I was coming from Powai when the mob attacked our bus. As my office is in Vikhroli, I thought I would come to Gandhi Nagar and hire an autorickshaw. But the mob had already stopped vehicles from moving. I came to know that the mob attacked another bus from our travel company in Vikhroli.”
Around 2 pm, agitators started pelting with stones buses and private vehicles stranded at the junction. In order to stop the protesters from destroying the property, the police staff stationed at the junction confronted them, and a constable charged a protester with his lathi in a fit of rage. Later, the protesters started charging at the policemen, due to which they had to step back.
The mob that had been damaging vehicles also entered the Saroj Bhavan society in Vikhroli. The residents alleged that a group comprising 20-25 individuals entered their building premises and started damaging the property. Pankaj Singh, a resident, was also attacked with a metal rod as he intervened.
Singh said, “I was at home, when suddenly a mob entered our society around 1 pm. They started throwing stones at every house and damaged the cars parked in the vicinity. As I stepped ahead to stop them, they attacked me with a metal rod and paver blocks.” He sustained 15 stitches on his head.
At the panch-rasta junction in Mulund (West), nearly 1,000 protesters had assembled and were chanting slogans. As a result of rasta roko at the major junction that sees the intersection of five roads, there were traffic snarls across Mulund West. The protesting crowd comprised primarily women and youngsters.
Apart from Mulund, protest rallies were also carried out in south and central Mumbai, including Mahalaxmi, Tardeo, Worli Naka, Nagpada, Byculla and Colaba in the first half of the day.
In Bandra, protesters gathered in huge numbers on the highway by mid-morning, asking autos to stop plying and shops to shut down. Over 1,000 locals shouted slogans on Western Express Highway, also blocking vehicular traffic towards Bandra Kurla Complex.
Smiten Shah, who works at Bharat Diamond Bourse, reached Bandra station only to find a total shutdown of autos and temporary hold-up of BEST buses. “I have no option but to walk 4 km to BKC,” he said.
Hundreds of Dalit protesters marched from Samata Nagar towards Damu Nagar via Lokhandawala Township shouting anti-government, anti-Maratha, anti-Brahmin and anti-Peshwa slogans. They stopped autorickshaws, private cars and bikes on the Western Express Highway. Some also deflated bus tyres near Magathane depot. One of the protesters, Paresh Dhumal, said, “We are not here to fight for just the death of one youth. We have been attacked again and again, and the government is doing nothing to ensure our safety. Like we feel helpless, we wanted to see the government machinery helpless too.”
The protesters warned of intensifying the protest if anyone was arrested. “Despite our call for a bandh, if people stepped out, they will have to suffer. We are not stopping ambulances or those going to hospital. Others have to park their vehicles and go back walking,” said Arvind Bansode, who led the march from Samata Nagar to Damu Nagar. Additional Commissioner of Police (North Region) Rajesh Pradhan was at the site.
Elsewhere on the Western Express Highway, there were rasta rokos near Magathane and near Samata Nagar police station.
Thane, Navi Mumbai
The 20-km Ghodbunder Road that connects Thane with the western suburbs was blocked by protesters through the day. Arriving near Brahmand around 10 am, they neither allowed vehicles to pass in any direction nor let vehicles pick up those stranded due to the blockade. “I am waiting for my brother-in-law who lives in Kasarwadavli. However, they have stopped him just behind the Bramhand signal. I will have to walk all the way there,” said Sunita Maher, a teacher in a private school on Ghodbunder Road. A businessman who had to reach Vapi to visit his ailing wife was among those waiting. Anjali Ugale, one of the protesters sitting on the road, said, “People should have postponed their trips.”
The Jambhli Naka road was also blocked with a rasta roko early in the morning, stopping those headed to the railway station. Buses were stopped and autorickshaws forced to abandon customers mid-way. Among the protesters was Aishwarya Kadam, a college student from Rabale, who said: “Commuters should walk if they want to get to their work place urgently. Our people from Koregaon had to walk to Mumbai too.”
At Kalwa Naka, several private and public vehicles were stopped. “It is a day to mourn for atrocities committed on us,” said Kailash Ujwe, a protester who could be seen pulling back two-wheeler riders who tried to get through. “I had to go to office, in Airoli, but I guess I am going to go home now,” said Rubin George, a resident stuck in the rasta roko.
In Navi Mumbai, the expressway and the road leading out of Kalamboli had been blocked in both directions since afternoon while the police tried with little success to convince protesters to let vehicles pass. In Kalyan, the road in front of the Prem petrol pump had been blocked for almost three hours.