Dalits Protest

Dalits stage a demonstration Jan. 2 in Mumbai a day after violence erupted in the village of Koregaon-Bhima Jan. 1 during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha War. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis Jan. 2 announced a Bombay High Court investigation into the riots that left one person dead. (IANS photo)

MUMBAI — Angry Dalits staged rail and road blockades, marches in Mumbai and protests in across Maharashtra Jan. 2 in protest of the Jan. 1 violence in Pune that left one youth dead.

The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party headed by Prakash Ambedkar – the grandson of Bharat Ratna B.R. Ambedkar – called for a peaceful Maharashtra shutdown Jan. 3 to express anger over the Pune incidents.

On Jan. 2 afternoon, thousands of Dalits took to the streets in Chembur, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar, Bhandup and other strongholds in north-eastern section of Mumbai, demanding action against the perpetrators of the Pune riots.

Scores of Dalit youth blocked the Harbor Line of Central Railway near Chembur Jan. 2 afternoon, stopping local train services for hours.

Several lakhs of commuters were stranded at stations or in stationary trains and many preferred to walk on the railway tracks to their destinations.

Similarly, hundreds of youths staged road blocks and marched through the streets in the eastern suburbs, asking shops, restaurants and commercial establishments to down their shutters.

Traffic began moving again after police intervention, however there were massive jams all over the city, some several kilometers long.

Protests and violent incidents were witnessed in other parts of the state, including Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Dhule, Beed, Nashik, Pune, Solapur, Thane and Palghar as Dalits expressed their outraged over the Jan. 1 incident in Koregaon-Bhima in Pune.

At least 25 Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation buses, as well as private luxury buses and other vehicles, were damaged in stone pelting by riotous mobs.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a judicial probe by a sitting High Court judge and a Crime Investigation Department probe into the Jan. 1 violence in Koregaon-Bhima.

The disturbances erupted in the village of Koregaon-Bhima Jan. 1 during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha War, which was fought by the army of Peshwa Bajirao II and a small force of the East India Company that comprised a large number of Dalits.

Several lakhs of Dalits had congregated around the Victory Pillar (Vijay Stambh) erected by the British in Sanaswadi village when suddenly stone pelting started, allegedly by right-wing groups carrying saffron flags.

In the clashes that ensued between the two groups, more than 30 vehicles, including buses, police vans and private vehicles, were torched or damaged and one youth, Rahul Fatangale, 28, of Nanded lost his life.

The police fired tear gas to control the mobs and prohibitory orders were imposed in the entire Pune district, with the situation reported tense but calm Jan. 2.

On Jan. 2 in most districts, protesters staged road blockades stopping traffic and enforced the shutdown of shops and commercial establishments as additional police forces were deployed.

Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar blamed the state government for "lapses" that resulted in the Jan. 1 violence.

"Why did the administration not take adequate precautions for this event which has been celebrated peacefully for 200 years?"  Pawar demanded. "Due to its lapses, there was confusion and rumor-mongering, resulting in the violence."

Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut Jan. 2 hinted at a "big conspiracy" in the recent spurt in sporadic caste-related violence that has been erupting in the state, which needs to be thoroughly investigated and "the hidden hand" must be exposed.

On his part, Ambedkar appealed to his supporters to ensure that the Jan. 3 shutdown take place peacefully without inconveniencing the public and demanded action against those responsible for the Koregaon-Bhima incident.

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