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Minority-owned shops targeted during bandh in Amravati, 60 held: Police

In the Kotwali area, where the violence took place, police officials said they were outnumbered by a massive gathering of activists of the BJP, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

Written by Jayprakash S Naidu | Amravati |
Updated: November 15, 2021 7:03:06 am
Security forces in Amravati on Saturday. (Express photo)

Shops owned by the minority Muslim community were targeted for arson and destruction during a bandh called by the BJP in this city, 150 km west of Nagpur in central Maharashtra, officials told The Indian Express.

In the Kotwali area, where the violence took place, police officials said they were outnumbered by a massive gathering of activists of the BJP, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

“They gathered at Rajkamal Chowk. A section of this crowd turned violent, burnt two shops, damaged some other shops, burnt vehicles. Almost all the victims are from the minority community. It appears that the violence had been planned a day in advance in retaliation for the violence on Friday by some members of the minority community,” said a police official.

Two shops and three two-wheelers parked outside one of these shops were burnt. One other shop was damaged, and the shop owner’s vehicle also burnt. Two shrines were also damaged.

On Friday, a massive protest march called by Raza Academy, a Muslim organisation, against the anti-Muslim violence in Tripura, had passed through the Kotwali area and stones were thrown at the house of local BJP leader Pravin Pote, breaking a window. One person was injured in the stone-pelting elsewhere. By police estimates, some 25,000 people participated in this protest.

The BJP called Saturday’s bandh in response, and, according to local police estimates, around 6,000 workers of the party and other allied organisations came out to enforce the closure, which is when the violence erupted. Pote was seen in a video urging BJP workers to gather at Rajkamal Chowk. He also instructed that there should be no violence.

In all, the police have registered 26 FIRs, 15 of them for Saturday’s violence and 11 for Friday’s incidents, at various police stations across the city, and arrested 60 people.

“All those involved have been booked for both Friday’s and Saturday’s violence,” a senior police official in Amravati said.

A senior police official in Mumbai said the force was taken by surprise by the violence. “But we are sending out a strong message that this cannot happen again,” he said.

Several top police officers were despatched here from Mumbai on Saturday as the situation threatened to spin out of control. There are likely to be more arrests.

Despite the heavy police presence, there were minor clashes on Saturday night too between the two communities near the Kholapuri gate, where stone-pelting took place. The area comprises populations from both communities who live on opposite sides of the gate.

But Sunday, the first day of curfew and internet suspension in Amravati city, passed without incidents. A heavy police presence on the ground implemented the curfew strictly. The city wore a deserted look and only essential services like chemist shops were allowed to operate.

“The situation is completely under control. We took out a flag march on Sunday in the city,” said Rajender Singh, additional director general of police, law and order, Maharashtra, who was in Amravati to take stock of the situation.

The Kotwali area, where the arson and attacks on shops took place, is being heavily policed.

This is the first incident of communal violence in recent memory in Amravati. Namuna is an area where communities have lived peacefully for over two decades. Local residents said the incident has ruined this peace.

“The last time a minor violence was witnessed in Namuna was in the 1990s,” said Asif Khan, 54, who runs an automobile repair business and has been born and brought up here.

Feroze Ahmed, 37, whose two-wheeler repair shop was gutted, told The Indian Express, “I started from scratch and put in decades of efforts to take a shop on rent to run my own business two years ago. The pandemic had hurt my business, but this mindless rioting has ended everything for me. The police were watching as my shop burnt. I have lost property worth Rs 8 lakh. They also burnt three vehicles of my customers parked in front of my shop. How will I pay for all this and care of my family? I am the sole breadwinner. I blame politician Pravin Pote for it. I told police to make him an accused in the case. He was the one who organised the morcha. I want the government to pay for my losses and punish the guilty.”

Shadab Khan, 36, whose shop established in 1970 for repairing electronic items was gutted too, fought back tears as he counted his losses. “Due to Covid-19 my business was badly affected and I had to let go five workers. Now that my shop is gone, I have suffered a loss of Rs 13 lakh and lost my life’s earnings. The mob also stole electronic items from my shop.”

Arshad Khan, 49, whose snacks shops and house were damaged and his vehicle was gutted in the fire, said, “Kuch jahil galat kaam karte hai aur hume bhugadna padta hai (Some stupid people do wrong things and innocents like us are left to suffer). What happened on Friday was wrong and what happened on Saturday was wrong too. I was born and brought up here, and never imagined I would see this day. My college-going children could not sleep at night. My daughter is among the toppers in college. The mob pelted stones at our shop even though we kept our shops shut.”

As the violence resulted in indefinite curfew, all types of business and work have come to a standstill. Ravindra Singh Saluja, president of Amravati Restaurant and Lodging Association, said, “First Covid-19 and now this petty politics have ruined our business. It’s like another lockdown. Not just us, but everyone, especially the poor, are suffering due to this.”

While no policemen were injured on Friday, nine policemen sustained injuries in the violence on Saturday, and one police vehicle was damaged.

The police resorted to use of non-lethal weapons and tear gas to disperse the crowd on Saturday.

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