Day after Dalit protests in Maharashtra, Dalit bodies have called for state-wide shutdown
Mumbai: Mumbai is tense today amid a massive bandh or strike called by Dalit groups and parties across Maharashtra as the state marked its third day of seething tension between Dalits and upper castes, mainly Marathas. Supporters, allegedly of Dalit parties, tried to block trains and buses in and around Mumbai. Schools and offices remain open. Airlines have said they will not charge passengers who do not show up for flights. Protests were held in Nagpur, Pune and Baramati and arson was reported from several areas. The tension began 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.
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The bandh today was called by Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar. Mumbai is being guarded by nearly 21,000 security personnel of the state government.
Clashes erupted on January 1 in Pune during the commemoration by Dalit groups of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon. As an argument between some assembled Dalits and right-wing groups spun out of control, a 28-year-old Maratha was killed.
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."
Yesterday, 100 people were detained in Mumbai, the police said. Most of them were Dalit protesters.
Today, 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.
In Mumbai, 13 buses of the civic transport service 'BEST' were damaged by protesters. Local train service at Harbour Line was disrupted following protests at Gowadi. Bus services to Satara and Baramati town, too, were suspended this morning.
School bus operators in Mumbai did not ply buses in the morning as a precautionary measure, but schools remained open. Mumbai's famous Dabbawallas also suspended services for the day, citing difficulties in commuting.
Total shutdown was observed 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.
Protests also took pace in Goregaon and Virar, where angry Dalits tried to force shopkeepers to shut shops and disrupted road traffic.