Maharashtra bandh: Protests were held in Nagpur, Pune and Baramati with arson reported from several areas
Mumbai/Delhi: After a day of protests, road and rail traffic disruption, and sporadic violence, the massive shutdown across Maharashtra called by Dalit groups and parties, was called off. The shutdown generated tension in Mumbai and a number of towns and cities across Maharashtra, as the state marked its third day of seething tension between Dalits and upper castes, mainly Marathas. In Mumbai, supporters, allegedly of Dalit parties, tried to block trains, metro and buses, and forced shops in some areas to shut down. Two major roads in Mumbai's Bandra were blocked. Coupled with route diversions by the police, it caused traffic jams in parts of the city. There have been students' protests in Delhi too.
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The bandh was called off around 4.30 pm by Prakash Ambedkar -- the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar -- who had given the strike call yesterday after massive protests in Mumbai. He said the shutdown, which had the support of 250 Dalits groups, had been peaceful.
The state government had taken immediate measures, deploying nearly 21,000 security personnel to keep the peace in Mumbai. Extra troops were sent to other towns and cities. Huge groups of protesters, however, descended on Mumbai and other parts to Maharashtra to enforce the bandh today.
In the evening, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said an inquiry will be conducted in the incidents of violence that took place across Maharashtra. "We are monitoring the CCTV footage of the violence," he added.
In Mumbai, local trains were blocked at Ghatkopar, causing delays on the Central Harbour lines. Thirteen buses of the civic transport service 'BEST' were also damaged. Offices, schools and colleges remained open, though school bus operators did not ply buses in the morning as a precautionary measure.
Protests were held in Nagpur, Pune and Baramati and arson was reported from several areas. There was a total shutdown in Baramati, a town near Pune, and Sangli and Miraj, two towns in south Maharashtra. In Nagpur, most schools and markets remained shut and bus services were disrupted as protests were held in sensitive parts of the town. Sporadic violence was reported from Aurangabad too.
Thane, a major suburb of Mumbai, saw the imposition of prohibitory orders that banned large gatherings. Slogan-shouting Dalit activists attempted a rail-blockade, but were foiled by security forces.
The tension had started on Monday when lakhs of Dalits gathered in the village of Bhima-Koregaon, about 30 km from Pune, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a battle that saw Dalit soldiers fighting with the British, defeating the army of the upper caste Peshwas or rulers. A 28-year-old Maratha was killed in the clashes.
Right-wing groups question why a British victory against Marathas should be celebrated and accuse Jignesh Mewani, Dalit leader from Gujarat who was just elected to public office, and Umar Khalid of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU, of inciting caste tension.
Appealing for calm, Jignesh Mewani tweeted, "Maharashtra government must ensure rule of law. I appeal to the people of Maharashtra to maintain peace."
After yesterday's protests, during which roads and railway tracks were blocked in parts of Mumbai and its adjoining areas, 100 people were detained, the police said. Most of them were Dalit protesters.