YouTuber Vikas Fhatak (41) alias ‘Hindustani Bhau’ was on Tuesday afternoon produced before a magistrate court in Bandra and remanded in police custody, along with his aide Ikrar Khan (25), till February 4.
Fhatak was brought to the Bandra magistrate court amid heavy police bandobast. Speaking on behalf of Dharavi police, public prosecutor Prasad Joshi argued before the court, “The accused is a habitual offender. He had done a protest on the similar issue in Shivaji park. In this case too he made a video on Instagram and asked students to come to Dharavi. He was arrested from a luxurious hotel where he was staying in a room booked under someone else’s name.”
“Also, it’s not possible that over 800 students came on their own. We want to find out who paid for his hotel stay and we suspect some organisation is behind sending the students,” Joshi said.
Fhatak, seated at the back, expressed his willingness to speak, which the magistrate Komalsingh Rajput allowed. He said, “I made the video and gave a call to students to come to the protest, but some miscreants committed violence. There is no student involved. They caught one man with me (Khan), but he is not a student. No organisation or political party is behind me. I am ready to undergo any punishment you give if it’s proven that I am associated with any group.”
His lawyer added, “My client issues an unconditional apology. He is also ready to bear all the expenses for the damage caused in the incident. We request for a short custody.”
Khan, the other accused, told the court, “I came from Masjid Bunder. There was a huge crowd at Dharavi and I went to see what was happening. Some people were pelting stones. I was next to them and the police caught me.”
After listening to both sides, the court sent the two accused to police custody till February 4.
Earlier in the day, police arrested Fhatak and Khan for orchestrating the riots in Dharavi where over a thousand students, mostly minors, choked the roads and some of them took to violence on Monday demanding the cancellation of offline board exams for Class 10 and 12 in view of the pandemic.
An FIR has been registered against Fhatak and several others under IPC sections 353 (obstructing public servant from discharging duty),332 (causing hurt to public servant), 427 (mischief causing damage), 109 (abetment) and 114 (abettor present when offence committed), 143, 145, 146, 149 for unlawful assembly and rioting and 188, 269, 270 for violating Covid-19 guidelines. The police have also booked them under section 3 (mischief causing damage) of Prevention of Damage to Public Property act 1984.
Students across various cities in the state, including Mumbai, held protests on Monday demanding the cancellation of the offline board exams. The call for protest was given by Fhatak. On January 29, he had uploaded a video on Instagram asking students to “peacefully protest” with him against the government’s decision in Dharavi outside the residence of state School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad.
The protests took a violent turn in Mumbai and Nagpur, with some students damaging private and police vehicles by pelting stones. The police had to resort to lathi-charge to disperse the mob. The protests at Jalgaon and Aurangabad remained peaceful.
Around 1,000 to 1,500 students gathered outside the minister’s residence on Monday. Divisional Assistant Commissioner of Police, Suresh Jadhav, told The Indian Express, “Only some students in the crowd acted like goons and took to violence. They broke the glasses of a few private vehicles and one police van.”
“Until and unless the pandemic is over, there should not be exams. Many students have already lost their lives due to depression. Due to online classes, many have lost out on academics without adequate access. The government should cancel the exam, considering the physical and mental health of these students. Otherwise, hold an online exam,” Fhatak had said in one of his videos.
A police officer from Dharavi said, “Around 100 to 150 police personnel were at the spot to disperse the crowd. An SRPF team was also brought in… Hindustani Bhau had to be escorted from the spot as a lot of crowd had gathered around him… arresting him would have created more issues.”
In a related development, a second FIR was registered against Fhatak in Nagpur. Ajni police, which had registered two FIRs against approximately 150 to 200 students who rioted and damaged a private bus on Monday, said Tuesday that they have added Fhatak as an accused in one of the cases.
The state government has ordered an inquiry into the protests.