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Maharashtra bandh: Cong takes up fight in House as Dalits protest on the streets

Congress and other opposition parties disrupt Parliament over Bhima Koregaon violence in which Dalits clashed with right-wing groups as a statewide bandh is observed in Maharashtra on Wednesday.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2018 15:20 IST
Mumbaikars read newspapers outside closed shops in Dadar on Wednesday.
Mumbaikars read newspapers outside closed shops in Dadar on Wednesday. (Bhushan Koyande / HT)

Protesters briefly disrupted train services and pelted stones at state-run buses in a few areas in Mumbai on Wednesday during a state-wide shutdown to protest Monday’s violence in Bhima Koregaon in Pune district as the Centre and Congress party sparred over the issue in Parliament.

Clashes between Dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindu organisations erupted at Bhima Koregaon and neighbouring villages during the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of a British-Peshwa battle in which the forces of the British East India Company defeated the Peshwa’s army. (Catch LIVE updates here)

A 28-year-old man was killed in the violence.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge blamed the RSS and Hindutva outfits for the violence against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon, saying they were to trying drive a wedge in the society.

“A Supreme Court judge should be appointed for inquiry in the Bhima Koregaon violence. The PM should also give a statement, he cannot stay mum. He is a ‘mauni baba’ (mute spectator) on such issues,” he said in the Lok Sabha.

The government, however, accused the Congress of politicising the incident.

“Aag ko bujhaane ke bajaaye bhadkaane ka kaam Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi aur Congress party kar rahi hai. Ise desh bardasht nahin karega (Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party are trying to add fuel to the fire. The country will not tolerate it),” parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said.

“Congress divide and rule ki policy use kar rahi hai. Aur Sabka saath sabka vikaas karke Narendra Modi ji desh ko saath le rahe hain (The Congress is using the divide and rule policy. And Narendra Modiji is trying to bring the country together through the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas policy),” he said.

The Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 2pm as several opposition members, including those from the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, raised the issue of caste violence in Maharashtra.

The shutdown evoked a greater response in mofussil areas compared to urban pockets of Mumbai, Pune, Thane, and Nagpur and other cities.

In the morning, Dalit protesters jumped on railway tracks, shouting slogans and waving flags to block tracks at the Thane railway station, but were prevented by the security forces and the traffic on the Central Railway line remained uninterrupted, said a railway official.

Protesters also tried to block rail traffic on the Western line in suburban Goregaon, said a police official.

In Mumbai, schools and colleges opened as usual but schoolbuses stayed off roads as a precaution. A private school bus was stoned in Chembur but there were no injuries.

While the state government clarified that it has not declared a school holiday, bus operators said they won’t run school buses in Mumbai.

“We can’t risk students’ safety and security. Will take a second decision at 11 am if we can run them in the second half, depending on the situation,” a School Bus Owners’ Association spokesperson said.

St Xavier’s College in south Mumbai cancelled the Class 11 examinations, college authorities said.

Though many taxi-auto rickshaw unions have supported the shutdown, the city’s lifeline, the suburban trains and the BEST (Bombay Electric Supply And Transport) bus services were plying near-normally.

Some autos and taxis were also seen plying in various areas, but the famed Dabbawalas cancelled their services for the day. Many shops and establishments also opened for work as usual in the city and the suburbs and there were the familiar crowds on roads and highways.

In Pune, shopkeepers opened their establishments and public transport was running smoothly during the morning hours but many schools in the city were shut after the authorities asked students not to come as a precautionary measure.

“Officially, we did not declare that we will close the school. But, we are not taking any attendance. If parents want to bring their children to schools, then its fine,” principal of St Joseph School Flory Fargose said.

Some parents chose to keep their children home, others were rendered helpless as the pool-cars and school vans did not come to pick them.

“We were waiting and anxious in the morning about the situation in schools, but eventually couldn’t send our child to school today, as the van driver refused to come,” Suresh Nikam, a parent, said.

“None of us are going to pick the students for school in this high-risk situation. This was decided last night itself,” Sachin Dinde, a van-driver from Vishrantwadi, said.

The Savitribai Phule Pune University postponed its examination for MCom to avoid possible inconvenience to the students.

Many state transport buses did not ply between Pune and nearby villages in view of the violence, said officials.

The coastal Konkan region reported a near-total shutdown, as also Dalit strongholds of Marathwada like Beed, Latur, Solapur, Jalgaon, Dhule, Ahmednagar, Nashik and Palghar. Internet services were suspended in Aurangabad for the day.

The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses in some sensitive districts have been suspended as a precaution after it suffered damages to 187 buses in Tuesday’s violence.

The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party headed by the grandson of BR Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, called for a “peaceful Maharashtra shutdown” on Wednesday to express anger over the Pune incidents of January 1.

The shutdown call has elicited support from various Dalit parties, Leftist parties, some Maratha groups with the likelihood of other parties supporting it.

Prakash Ambedkar has alleged that Hindu Ekta Aghadi was responsible for the violence. He said Maharashtra Democratic Front, Maharashtra Left Front and some 250 other organisations have supported his call.

Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who was in Mumbai on Tuesday, alleged that the attacks on Dalits in Pune district were carried out by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

“These organisations are modern-day Peshwas, representing Brahminism in its worst form. Two hundred years ago, our forefathers fought against the Peshwas. Today, Dalits of my generation are fighting against the new Peshwas,” he said.

“Why can’t Dalits peacefully commemorate the anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle? The attackers have resorted to such methods because they are scared of Dalit assertion,” he said.

Pune Police said on Tuesday that they have received a complaint against Mevani and Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid for their “provocative” speeches at an event in Pune on December 31.

Mevani and Khalid had attended the “Elgar Parishad”, an event organised to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon, at Shaniwar Wada in Pune.

Hundreds of thousands of people gather at Bhima Koregaon every year to mark the anniversary of an 1818 war between the British and the Peshwa.

Many Dalit leaders believe the war was won by the British with the help of Dalit soldiers in the regiment, who defeated a large army of the Peshwa, who was alleged to have instituted oppressive caste practices.

The celebrations gathered momentum in 1927 after BR Ambedkar visited the spot and called the Bhima Koregaon battle a war against caste. Historians are divided on the subject.

But this year, the celebrations have been controversial, with several right-wing groups, such as the Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Mahasangh calling the event anti-national.