MILIND Gaikwad is a second-year MBA student at the Mumbai Institute of Management & Research. Shubham Yede is a student of electronics engineering at the polytechnic college run by the Vivekanand Education Society. Sumit Thorat is a third-year BSc student of IT at Mumbai University.
The three of them, based in Chembur, are some of the young faces among the around 40 persons arrested by Mumbai Police in connection with cases of vandalism and rioting that took place during the Maharashtra bandh called by various Dalit groups on January 3.
All of them are now in judicial custody, but the families of these youths and a few others have a different story to tell.
Gaikwad’s family claims that around 3 pm Wednesday, Gaikwad stepped out of his hostel to take “stock of the situation”. Late at night, a friend informed the family that the 28-year-old had been taken to the Chembur police station and placed under arrest.
In its FIR, Mumbai Police claims that Gaikwad, who hails from Ahmednagar and moved to Mumbai in 2016, was part of the mob that “hurled stones” at BEST buses, participated in “rasta roko” and engaged in sloganeering.
Thorat was picked up from Govandi in central suburban Mumbai on the afternoon of the bandh. A resident of neighbouring Lumbini baug in Chembur, his family claims Thorat stepped out to “take a break from his studies”. By evening, the family learnt that Thorat had been arrested.
Yede was arrested by Govandi police from the same spot as Thorat. His family, too, claims that he has been wrongfully booked.
Govandi police also arrested Shivam Randhive, a 22-year-old TB patient undergoing treatment. A resident of Lumbini Baug, Randhive has been booked for riots and assault on policemen. His family insists that Randhive, who had an operation scheduled the day after the bandh, had nothing to do with the protest. “Instead of arresting the real perpetrators who vandalised and did a rasta roko, students and patients have been arrested by police without verifying credentials,” said Yogesh, Randhive’s cousin.
The FIRs filed by police in Chembur, which witnessed intense protests, details the role of these alleged rioters.
In one FIR, the complainant Hariba Jadhav, a BEST driver on the Sion-Trombay highway, states: “The mob stopped my bus and started sloganeering… They then pelted stones on the front windows panes. One stone hit my right leg and I started bleeding.”
In another FIR, complainant Dilip Katkar, an Assistant Sub Inspector, narrates how police were compelled to carry out a lathicharge to rein in the mob.
“A crowd of around 500-700 people gathered near Chembur Naka and caused a rasta-roko. This led to a major traffic breakdown at Sion-Trombay Highway. The mob started pelting stones on BEST buses and private vehicles parked on the road. The police requested the mob to not indulge in violence but when they failed to adhere to the request, we had to resort to a light lathicharge and disperse the crowd,” reads the FIR.
The FIR also states that the mob tried to set a police outpost in Chembur on fire. “Around 4 pm when we received a call, we rushed to the spot and saw that the window panes of the outpost were broken and fire was noticed on the hay on the roof of the outpost. The fire brigade had to be called to douse the flames,” according to the FIR.
However, in Govandi, home to a large number of Dalits, residents alleged that these charges are being levelled by a “biased police force”.
Suhas Sable, father of 22-year old Akshay, a first-year B.Com student arrested by Chembur Police, alleged that the state government “failed to secure the rights” of their community.
“My relative was attacked in the Bhima Koregaon violence (over celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle between British forces, including Mahar soldiers, and the Peshwa army). Justice would be delivered if the culprits behind the violence in Pune are brought to book,” said Sable, referring to cases lodged against Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.
“When other communities protest, the government turns a blind eye, the loss caused is waived off. In our case, the protests are seen as causing trouble. All we need is equal opportunity for our kids. My sons are students but they are struggling to make it to the mainstream due to lack of opportunity,” said Sable, claiming that his son was wrongfully booked.
Mumbai Police have booked the accused under stringent sections of the IPC, including section 333 pertaining to voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from duty. Other sections include those pertaining to rioting —- 143 to 149.
So far, police have filed 25 cases across the city and said that the arrests were based on CCTV footage and video recordings. A senior officer said all police stations were instructed to record protest activity on the day of the bandh to contest any allegations of wrongful arrest and use the footage as evidence during trial.
Wednesday’s bandh was called by Dalit groups who claimed that members of their community were targeted during clashes that broke out near Bhima Koregaon and other villages around Pune on the anniversary of the battle of 1818.
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