Four days after Maratha groups called off a state-wide agitation seeking reservation in jobs and education in Maharashtra, violent protests spread across Chakan and Khed areas in Pune Monday, where at least 20 vehicles were set ablaze and another 40 vandalised.
Demonstrators also blocked the Pune-Nashik highway for seven hours. At least eight police personnel, including three officers, sustained injuries in clashes.
The Aurangabad Police are also investigating the alleged suicide of Pramod Hore Patil (31), who jumped in front of a train Monday. Police said the man had posted a message on Facebook demanding reservation for Marathas.
Protests demanding Maratha reservation across the state intensified after a 28-year-old Maratha youth Kakasaheb Dattatraya Shinde (28), committed suicide by jumping into the Godavari river from a bridge in Kaygaon Toka village in Gangapur tehsil of Aurangabad. The incident had taken place when a group of people staging a Jal Samadhi andolan.
Since then, Aurangabad has remained the epicentre of Maratha reservation demands. The Marathas, who constitute 33 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding 16 per cent quota in education and employment.
Protests Monday began at around 11 am in Chakan, Rajgurunagar and Khed areas along the Pune-Nashik highway, where police had received reports of large gatherings and had deployed security forces. At around 11.45, as some local leaders addressed the protesters at Talegaon Chowk in Chakan, the crowds grew and around 12-noon agitators blocked the highway.
“The protest turned violent around 12.30 pm. A mob of over 1,000 people, chanting slogans walked towards Talegaon Chowk carrying sticks and fuel bottles. They started setting vehicles ablaze. They torched at least 20 vehicles, most either State Transport or Civic transport buses,” said a senior police officer.
“We were anticipating some disturbance. But after the vandalism and arson started, a larger force was called in.”
Protesters also threw stones at private vehicles and buses on the highway and police estimated at least 40 vehicles were damaged. “To control the mob, we had to resort to lathi-charge and fire canisters of tear gas. When the mob continued the rampage, some bullets were fired in the air,” a senior police officer said.
Order was restored about five hours later and traffic on the Pune-Nashik highway started again at around 6 pm.
“All this damage will be recorded. Video footage of the mobs and gatherings will be examined and accordingly, cases will be registered. A probe will also be conducted into how suddenly a mob was mobilised and who were the people who resorted to arson and to which groups they belong,” said a police officer.
Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram said that the district administration and police have remained on alert after violence was reported in towns and cities of Marathwada last week. “While only a rally was scheduled in Chakan and Khed, based on our own assessment, we were alert to deal with the situation. In fact, new Pune Rural SP Sandip Patil joined only today and he was in the field throughout the day. The rallies started peacefully but towards the end, there was some stone throwing and some elements set some vehicles ablaze,” he said.