2 Suburbs, 45 Arrests: In Mumbai, Fear After Bhima-Koregaon Violence

25-year-old Ganesh Gaikwad approached the NDTV crew, looked into the camera with folded hands and begged for his message to be recorded: "See how many of our men have been arrested. Come and see our injuries. All you have shown is the traffic jams, disruptions and violence on the day of the Bandh. That's fine, but did you all forget to record the brutality with which even peaceful protesters were lathi- charged?"

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2 Suburbs, 45 Arrests: In Mumbai, Fear After Bhima-Koregaon Violence

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Residents gather to share their grief and fear

Mumbai:  The violence at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1 and a protest shutdown in its aftermath have left Dalit colonies in Mumbai - and near the city - angry and vulnerable. Several men have been picked up from such areas and they face serious charges.

NDTV accompanied activists to two such areas, Chembur and Govandi, from where as many as 45 young Dalit men have been arrested and jailed.

In Chembur's Lal Dongar, almost 50 residents gather near a Buddhist shrine to share their grief and fear.

On January 1, most of them had gone for the Bhima-Koregaon memorial, as they had often done in the past. "It's an annual pilgrimage for us. It marks the victory of our Mahar ancestors against the oppressive Peshwa rule. No one could imagine it would turn into this nightmare," says Vaman Shine, an elderly man in his seventies. He has attended the memorial every year since he was a child.

Meena Dinkar Kadlak pushed through the crowd to speak to NDTV and broke into sobs as she shared the story of her son, Shrinik Kadlak, arrested last Wednesday and accused of "voluntarily causing grievous harm to a public servant on duty" - a charge that can land him in jail for 10 years.

"He's innocent. He is a college student who had gone to show his solidarity on the day of the bandh, just like we all had. Now he is in Arthur Road Jail. The police have no evidence and are not giving us any information. I am unable to eat. Look at his father... he went into shock and has only just been released from hospital," said Meena, pointing to her husband Dinkar Kadlak, who stared vacantly into space, his eyes red and swollen.

There is a deluge of similar testimonies - young Dalit men arrested and charged with serious offences, their families unable to get access to them or any information.

"We go from one neighbourhood to the next, trying to get information. We cross-check with the police and the court, and the numbers are alarming," reveals Mahendra Rokde, an active member of Samvidhan Savardahn Samiti, a group that focuses on constitutional rights. Rokde, along with other activists, are trying to counsel the families and arrange lawyers to fight their cases.

The Mumbai police insists all action was taken for the sake of law and order and no one was arrested without "evidence" that, it claims, includes CCTV and ground footage.

According to media reports, Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dalit icon Bhim Rao Ambedkar, met Devendra Fadnavis last Thursday and later said the Maharashtra chief minister had agreed to halt the "combing operations".

On Monday evening  Rokde and his team got information that 150 Dalit men had been arrested from another Mumbai suburb, Kalyan, but they said they would verify and then confirm the number.

Within such Dalit pockets across the city, the sense of injustice, rage and fear is rising. There's also disbelief, that the dominant narratives ignore the attacks that Dalits faced on January 1, and seek to blame them instead for the violence in Mumbai during the bandh or shutdown on January 3.

25-year-old Ganesh Gaikwad approached the NDTV crew, looked into the camera with folded hands and begged for his message to be recorded: "See how many of our men have been arrested. Come and see our injuries. All you have shown is the traffic jams, disruptions and violence on the day of the Bandh. That's fine, but did you all forget to record the brutality with which even peaceful protesters were lathi- charged?"

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In Gautam Nagar, Panjrapol, another predominantly Dalit neighbourhood in Chembur, there are several cases of residents who suffered serious injuries in police action. 32-year-old Siddharth Rokde has fractures that will require surgery. 'I had gone for the Bandh as it was important for us to show our support. Our people were attacked for no fault of theirs at Bhima-Koregaon. When the police lathi-charged us, they did it so viciously. They thrashed even those of us who were peacefully protesting, as is our right," said Rokde.

His wife Bharti worries about what lies ahead. "My husband is the only earning member, we're poor, who do we file a complaint against when even the police are not with us?"

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