Maharashtra bandh called off, after protests throw Mumbai out of gear
Strike called off on Wednesday evening, after protesters block roads, tracks, vandalise vehicles, property, and shut down shops through the daymumbai Updated: Jan 03, 2018 16:39 IST
What started as a lukewarm response to the Maharashtra bandh — called by Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and his associates — on Wednesday morning escalated to a full-blown agitation across Mumbai and neighbouring Thane and Navi Mumbai, with protesters staging road blocks and rail rokos, vandalising vehicles and public property, threatening shopkeepers and auto, taxi drivers, and burning bikes.
After bringing the city to its knees, in the evening, around 4pm, Ambedkar announced that the strike had been withdrawn.
Through the day, protests, demonstrations and disruptions were reported in Parel, Dadar, Worli, Bandra, Khar, Goregaon, Kandivli, Borivli, Ghatkopar and Mulund, among other places, the police said. Women and children were seen participating in large numbers in these agitations.
The Mumbai police registered nine criminal cases and detained over 100 protesters so far.
Wednesday morning saw less vehicular traffic than usual, though BEST buses, taxis, radio cabs and autos plied in most parts of the island city and the suburbs. However, as protests worsened, vehicles went off the roads. Demonstrators also moved in large numbers on motorcycles in several localities and blocked traffic.
In the afternoon, parts of arterial roads such as the Western Express Highway, the Eastern Express Highway and Eastern Freeway were blocked by protesters, the traffic police said.
“We have been stuck here since 11am when protesters forced bus passengers to get down,” a bus conductor said at Link Road, Goregaon.
Republican Party of India (RPI) activists were seen stopping share-auto services at Vasai-Nalasopara and Virar.
Trains were on time during the morning peak hours despite demonstrations at Thane and Virar stations, but by mid-day, services were affected badly after rail rokos were staged on all three corridors of the Central Railway as well as on the Western Railway. Metro services too were partially shut following protests. Trains, however, were less crowded as compared to normal days.
The one-day bandh affected fliers, many of whom opted to wait it out at the domestic terminal rather than step into the chaos. A Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Mumbai has been cancelled because of the stir.
The impact of the bandh was more visible in the city’s eastern suburbs, which faced the brunt of the agitations on Tuesday, and people stayed off the streets, shops remained closed, and children were not sent to schools.
With the state education department not declaring a holiday, several schools and colleges stayed open, though many also declared the day off, and the School Bus Owners’ Association (SBOA) did not ply their buses. All educational institutions that were open saw poor attendance.
Banks and offices in the city were working, but in most areas, shops either voluntarily stayed shut or were forced to down their shutters. A group of protestors trying to pull down shutters of shops in Andheri, Bandra and Powai were rounded up by the police.
There was strong police presence across the city, and additional reinforcement in Dalit-dominant areas such as Ghatkopar’s Ramabai Nagar, though police officials did not use force against demonstrators, following government orders. One incident of lathicharge was reported in Chembur.
“We want justice. Those who pelted stones in Bhima Koregaon should be held under the murder and atrocity Act,” said an irate woman protester, who did not wish to be named, at Panch Rasta in Mulund.
“Do not believe in or spread rumours, continue with your daily activities. The police administration is there and geared up to deal with any untoward situations,” said Sachin Patil, deputy commissioner of police and spokesperson.
Major roads leading into the city such as the Sion-Panvel Highway and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway also saw road blocks, which resulted in traffic jams.
The bandh actually has limited support, as it does not have the backing of the Opposition, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.
Violent protests erupted in Mumbai, Pune, and other cities across Maharashtra on Tuesday, a day after clashes in Pune district during celebrations to mark the bicentenary of a British-Peshwa war claimed one life and left four others injured. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered a judicial inquiry into the Pune incident.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people gather at Bhima Koregaon to mark the anniversary of an 1818 war between the British and the Peshwas. Many Dalit leaders believe the war was won by the British with the help of the Dalit soldiers in the regiment, who defeated a large army of the Peshwas, who allegedly instituted oppressive caste practices.