Mumbai: Maharashtra remained on edge after the anniversary of a battle fought 200 years ago brought to fore simmering caste tensions, even as a statewide bandh called today to protest the state government’s alleged failure to stop violence witnessed stray protests by Dalits.
Dalit protesters tried to block tracks at the Thane railway station today morning, but they were chased away 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.
Today’s class 11 exams at St Xavier’s College in South Mumbai have been cancelled, college authorities said.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader and B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar called for Maharashtra bandh to protest the state government’s “failure” to stop the violence at Bhima Koregaon village in Pune district two days ago.
Ambedkar alleged that Hindu Ekta Aghadi was responsible for the violence.
He said that the Maharashtra Democratic Front, Maharashtra Left Front and some 250 other organisations have supported the call for shutdown.
Civic buses were again targeted in Mumbai today.
Thirteen buses of the civic transport service ‘BEST’ were damaged by protesters in Kalanagar area (Bandra), Dharavi, Kamraj Nagar, Santosh Nagar, Dindoshi and Hanuman Nagar, an official from the Disaster Management Unit of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said.
Mumbai’s famed tiffin carriers, Dabbawalas, chose not to provide their services today.
Anil Garg, president of the School Bus Owners Association (SBOA), told PTI, “Ninety-nine percent of our buses are off the road in the state today for security reasons. Only one or two percent of buses are on roads.”
“We have decided not to ply school buses in the first shift (during morning hours) today and if circumstances allow, we will run the buses in the second shift,” Garg said.
“Since law and order situation is beyond our control, we cannot take risk,” he added.
Some 40,000 school buses are affiliated to the SBOA in the state.
Garg also claimed that some school buses were damaged by protesters in Mumbai today, but the police did not corroborate the claim.
Mumbai police today registered nine cases in connection with yesterday’s violent protests. Over 100 people have been detained in the city since yesterday.
Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who was in Mumbai yesterday, alleged the attacks on Dalits in Pune district two days ago were carried out by supporters of the 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 last night that they had received a complaint against Mewani 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.
Violence erupted in Pune district when Dalit groups were celebrating the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the forces of the British East India Company defeated the Peshwa’s army.
Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community – then considered untouchable – were part of the East India Company’s forces. The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory is seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits.