Maharashtra cooperatives minister Harshavardhan Patil on Friday sustained severe eye injuries in an ink attack by suspected activists of the Dhangar (shepherd) community which is agitating for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The Congress leader suspected the presence of chemicals in the ink because he suffered “unbearable pain” and “irritation” in his left eye following the ink attack at Bhigwan village in Pune district.
His face too swelled within moments of the ink attack.
“Immediately after the ink went inside my left eye, its caused severe pain and irritation. The drops that fell on clothes made holes. This indicates the protesters mixed chemicals with the ink,” Patil said.
He said he was not able to open his left eye despite receiving initial treatment at Baramati. Later, he was admitted to Ruby Hospital in Pune.
Dr Mahesh Kate who treated Patil in Baramati said, “Even as I cleaned minister’s eye, there was unbearable pain and irritation. Ordinary ink cannot cause such pain unless it has some chemicals.”
Patil was about to enter his car after attending a programme at Bhigwan when he protesters stopped him and poured an entire bottle of ink on him.
The police arrested three Dhangar activists even as the incident led to tension in Patil’s hometown Indapur, 120 km from Pune. Hundreds of Congress workers took to the streets and shut down commercial establishments.
Patil appealed to Congress workers not to take the law into their hands. “I appeal to everyone to maintain peace and allow the police to do their job.”
Dhangars currently enjoy reservation under Nomadic Tribe (NT) category and are entitled for 3.5% reservation. The community members are demanding inclusion in the ST category, which has 7% quota.
Moreover, since the NT category is not recognised at central level, community members feel they are deprived of jobs in Union government services.
At the central level, the ST list includes Dhangad community, while Dhangars are excluded.
The Dhangars have been demanding ST status for long. The latest organised protests began about three weeks ago.