Maharashtra bandh turns violent; rail, road traffic hit

The day-long Maharashtra bandh to protest the violence post an event to mark 200th anniversary of Bhima Koregaon battle, was called off on Wednesday evening. Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader and Dalit icon BR Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar, who had called the bandh, told reporters that nearly 50 per cent of the state’s population took part in the shut-down. Road blockades, arson and stone-pelting incidents were reported in Mumbai and elsewhere during the day. However, Ambedkar, claimed that the bandh was peaceful. 

Normal life in Mumbai was disrupted as protesters attacked city buses, stopped suburban local services and blocked roads at various places in the city. Dalits began protests in suburban Chembur, Ghatkopar, Kamraj Nagar, Vikhroli, Dindoshi, Kandivali, Jogeshwari, Kalanagar and Mahim. Hundreds of protesters tried to block the Western Express Highway in the morning, but were moved from the spot by police. In view of protests in the city and suburbs, police diverted traffic for smooth vehicular movement.

Incidents of stone pelting were reported at a few places on the harbour line. Protesters jumped on the rail tracks of harbour line at Govandi, Mankhurd and Kurla, due to which suburban services towards Panvel, Belapur and Vashi were stopped for a few hours. Similar protests at Thane, Bhandup, Kanjurmarg, Vikhroli and Ghatkopar stations on Central Railway line led to a long queue of trains on tracks. Hundreds of commuters were spotted walking on the railway tracks. On the Western Railway, protesters obstructed services at Nallasopara Station. Thirteen buses of the civic transport service were damaged by protesters in Kalanagar area (Bandra), Dharavi, Kamraj Nagar, Santosh Nagar, Dindoshi and Hanuman Nagar. The agitation of Dalit outfits halted suburban local train service at Ghatkopar as trains heading towards CSMT were affected. Several local trains running towards CSMT were halted at various stations because of the protestors who stood on the tracks prohibiting any train movement.

Mumbai’s famed Dabbawalas chose not to provide their services and the bus operators didn’t run school buses. Around 40,000 school buses are affiliated to SBOA in the state. Offices in major commercial hubs too witnessed low attendance, as many employees stayed away from work fearing violence. Dalit protesters descended on the tracks at Thane and Goregaon stations in the morning. Mumbai Police registered nine cases in connection with violent protests in the city. Over hundred people have been detained in Mumbai since Tuesday.

In Pune, barring a couple of incidents of stone pelting on public transport buses, the bandh was peaceful. Since Tuesday, 42 buses were damaged in stone pelting.

Pune police had on Tuesday night received a complaint against Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid for their “provocative” speeches at the Elgar Parishad, organised to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon, in Pune on December 31.

Violence erupted in Pune when Dalit groups were celebrating the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the forces of the British East India Company defeated the Peshwa’s army.

Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community were part of the East India Company’s forces. The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory is seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits.