The violence that erupted at some villages in Ghaziabad on Friday afternoon triggered hundreds of distress calls from residents to the Ghaziabad Police Control Room.
Even as personnel of the Police Armed Constabulary (PAC) descended on National Highways 24 and 58, along with the police forces of Noida, Bulandshahr, Hapur, Ghaziabad and Meerut to control the violence, residents sought refuge inside religious buildings and locked their shops.
Police said they were forced to impose section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. PC) — to affect a virtual lockdown of the area — in an attempt to control the situation.
"More than 200 rioters, all of whom seemed to be aged between 20 and 25, were at the forefront of the protest. After vandalising the local police station, they proceeded to set a PCR van stationed at the Dasna crossing ablaze before barging into the Masuri Police Station and setting vehicles on fire," said a source.
According to police, the violence snowballed into a full-scale riot after local residents found some pages of a religious text with abuses scribbled on them near the Adhyatmik Nagar railway station.
These, police said they had reason to believe, seemed to have been thrown out of a local train heading to Ghaziabad from Hapur around 3:30pm.
"By the time the locals who had spotted the pages decided to approach us, the crowd had swelled into 200 people who began vandalising the police station with rods and sticks that they were armed with when we tried to reason with them," the officer said.
"They soon spilled onto the streets, around 6:40pm, and started waylaying passenger buses and commercial vehicles. In all, more than two dozen light vehicles and 30 to 35 commercial vehicles were damaged. They also indulged in robbery and looting the vehicles."
As they realised that the situation was rapidly slipping out of their hands, the police resorted to firing tear gas shells and bullets in the air in a desperate bid to control the crowd.
However, the rioters refused to relent even after more than a thousand security personnel reached the spot and blockaded the area.
"Four people have been injured in the melee and there are many reports of arson and robbery. We are trying to identify all the culprits but right now our priority is maintenance of law and order in the area," the officer said.