Bhima-Koregaon caste clash spreads across Maharashtra; violence erupts in Mumbai, Aurangabad, Pune

Repercussions of Monday’s violence in Pune that broke out at an event where the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle was being commemorated, spread across other districts in Maharashtra on Tuesday.

Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar and leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, who was present at the Pune gathering on Monday has called for a state-wide bandh in Maharashtra on Wednesday. Other leaders who were seen present at the rally included, Gujarat’s independent MLA and Dalit agitation face Jignesh Mevani, JNU student leader Umar Khalid and mother of Hyderabad university Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, Radhika Vemula.

The call for a state-wide shut down has also elicited support from Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bahujan Samaj Party to express anger over the government ‘failure’ to control the Pune incident.

At the root of the violence was commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, which is celebrated by Dalits as members of the community were part of the The East India Company infantry that defeated the Maratha army of Peshwas in 1818.

It was reported that members of Hindu outfits holding saffron flags took objection to Dalits celebrating the “British victory” and pelted stones on people congregating at the Koregaon war memorial on Monday. What was meant to be a peaceful celebration, ended with a 28-year-old man getting killed, while five others were injured and several vehicles were damaged.

Mumbai brought to halt

Reacting to Monday’s violence in Pune, several Dalit organisations attempted to bring Mumbai to a standstill by blocking major roads on Tuesday. The mob took to railway tracks between Govandi and Chembur of Harbour line bringing the local rail service to a halt for few hours.

Parts of Mumbai that remained blocked due to protest included Eastern Express Highway, Chedda Nagar junction, Vashi Naka and Amar Mahal junction in Chembur, Dharavi, Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mulund, Dadar and Worli.

While the mob targeted parked vehicles, BEST buses and oil tankers, shops, hotels and other commercial establishments in affected areas remained shut.

Vinod Jadhav, north east district president of Republican Party of India (RPI) (A), said that shopkeepers and hoteliers were requested to shut shops. “What happened at Bhima-Koregaon was unexpected. Those believing in Peshwai (Brahmanism) are still treating Dalits as they did in the past. We cannot tolerate this any more. Innocent life was lost and people were injured for no fault of theirs. State government will have to answer us; why their intelligence department failed when they knew it was an event that needed better planning and security,” said Jadhav.

Prakash Bhonsale, NCP leader from Chembur, said protesters damaged buses, tankers and other vehicles. “We tried to pacify them, but they couldn’t take the Monday incident lightly,” he added.

Shiv Sena Shakha offices at Suman Nagar and Diamond Garden were also vandalised damaged by protesters. One of the detained protesters, Siddharth Kasare, an RPI leader from Dharavi, said that the protest will not stop easily.

Sachin Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Mumbai Police (Zone VII), said that section 144 has not been enforced and situation is under control. “More than 100 people have been detained across different locations,” Patil added.

Meanwhile, the protesting mob also injured a number of policemen trying to curtail the violence. Deepak Khedekar (35), a police constable sustained severe eye injury as protesters flung a glass bottle at him near the Chembur railway station. “He is undergoing surgery as of now. We will know the extent of vision loss caused by the injury after the surgery,” said Dr Roy Patankar, director at Zen Hospital, where Khedekar was admitted. Sources said that at least 35 policemen were injured during the course of the day in Mumbai.

High security in Bhima-Koregaon

While Mumbai had to cut down its pace on Tuesday owing to several Dalit organisations taking to the streets, an uneasy calm prevailed in Bhima-Koregaon on Tuesday, barring a few incidents. Police and the State Reserve Force could be seen manning every corner of Bhima-Koregaon. Mobile phone networks were jammed in about 4km-radius around the area as a precautionary measure.

However, a group pf protesters managed to torch a fire brigade truck in Bhima-Koregaon. The firemen had to run and hide in a sugarcane fields when a mob of over 150 people attacked the vehicle.

The violence had already spilled over to Aurangabad district on Monday. Protests had started at Kranti Chowk and Osmanpura area on Monday evening. Dalit activists had gathered at the Peer Bazaar area and forced shops to shut down. A jewelry showroom was damaged, after which all shopkeepers closed their shops, while a mob damaged an ATM in Jai Bhavani Nagar area. At the TV Center area, the hoarding of Shiv Sena was set ablaze.

 Moreover, an angry mob entered the Monday vegetable market and ransacked stalls. A hospital was also targeted by a mob in the Mukundwadi area but as no one was injured in the incident. Around 15 buses of the Maharashtra State Transport Department were also damaged.

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