Angered by the desecration of B R Ambedkar's statue in Kanpur, Dalits in several parts of Maharashtra went on a rampage on Thursday, setting three trains on fire, damaging over 100 buses and clashing with police in violent protests that left four persons dead and over 60 injured.
As the state witnessed protests for the second day, authories imposed curfew in Nanded town of Marathwada region, Pimpri in Pune district and Nandurbar town in north Maharashtra following incidents of violence there.
Two persons died in police firing on Thursday at Osmanabad in Marathwada, while one each died in Nanded and Nashik during protests on Wednesday night.
Five compartments of the Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen train were torched by a mob of over 6,000 people at Ulhasnagar in Thane district, 56 km from Mumbai.
Some compartments of a commuter train were also torched at Ulhasnagar, where police fired in the air to control violent crowds.
"The protestors first asked passengers to alight from the Deccan Queen and then set it afire," Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil told reporters.
Asked if the protests were also a fall out of the killing of four members of a Dalit family at at Khairlanji on September 29, Patil declined to comment.
"Till we have proof, we cannot say that the violence, including today's train burning incident, was pre-planned," he said.
Patil said the police are taking all precautionary steps to maintain law and order in Mumbai on December 6, when lakhs of Ambedkar's followers are expected to gather in Mumbai for the leader's death anniversary.
The protests erupted after a statue of Ambedkar at Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh was allegedly vandalised on Wednesday.
Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy hinted to reporters that the protests could be a fall out of the Khairlanji killings and said the police had asked the government to declare December 6 a local public holiday.
A total of 176 people were arrested in Mumbai on Thursday and at least 13 policemen, including Additional Commissioner of Police K L Bisnoi, were injured in the protests.
Over 100 buses and 35 private vehicles were damaged in stone pelting and Roy pegged the loss to property in the region of Rs 30 lakh.
Suburban train services were affected in parts of Mumbai as protestors squatted on the tracks. Shops and establishments in the city were also closed in view of the protests.
A spokesman of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport said 91 of its buses were damaged and four drivers and a woman passenger injured in stone pelting.
Mumbai's eastern suburb of Bhandup witnessed the maximum violence and police used batons and teargas to disperse crowds there.
Protests were also witnessed in suburbs like Kherwadi, Trombay, Kurla, Mulund and Kalina, police said.
Municipal transport and autorickshaws went off the roads in Thane and Navi Mumbai following incidents of stone pelting.
The mob in Ulhasnagar also vandalised a railway station and assaulted a railway employee, and State Police Chief P S Pasricha said the police were in touch with the railway administration in Delhi to strengthen security to prevent such incidents.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has cut short his three-day official visit to Singapore and will return to Mumbai on Friday.
One compartment of a train was set on fire at Matunga Yard in Mumbai, but no injuries have been reported.
Some people tried to block Eastern and Western Express Highways, but due to the timely intervention of police, the traffic was restored after a few minutes.
Train services between Kalyan and Ambernath stations on the Central Railway line were affected and shuttle services are being run between Ambernath and Karjat, the spokesperson said adding, there were rail rokos at Bhandup and Airoli stations in the morning that affected suburban train services briefly.
Small groups of 15-20 people continued to protest against the incident in Dalit-dominated pockets in the north and north-east parts of Mumbai, police said adding, incidents of stone pelting were reported from Trombay, Chembur, Kurla, Bhandup, Mulund and Navghar in north-east Mumbai. Stone-pelting incidents also occurred at Kherwadi, Kurar, Pali Hill in Bandra and Goregaon in north-west Mumbai.
There were also reports of protests in Kherwadi in Bandra east, where around 15 to 20 agitators pelted stones on passing vehicles on the arterial Western Express highway. The situation has been brought under control now.
In Thane, corporation-run buses are off the road due to stone pelting. A Municipal Transport Corporation bus going from Kalyan to Dombivili was set on fire at Manpada by a violent mob. Autorickshaws were also not plying in the city. Protestors have forced owners of shops and establishments to down shutters and only emergency services are operating.
According to police, over a dozen offences have been registered at various police stations in connection with the violent protests in Thane district and an unspecified number of persons have been arrested.
In Nashik district, Dalit activists tried to set afire a Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation bus in Ambad area on Thursday, police said. Protesters had damaged 100 vehicles and set on fire a MSRTC bus at Sinnar-Phata in the district on Wednesday. MSRTC suspended its bus services to all routes in Nashik, affecting commuters, MSRTC officials said.
Stone-pelting was also reported in Bhim Nagar locality in Nashik Road area, where commercial establishments and banks remained closed. The functioning of educational institutions too were adversely affected here, police said.
Three persons were arrested for allegedly lynching Dalit youth Rangnath Shankar Dhale, 23, on Wednesday night on Jail Road, police said. Dhale's body was brought to the Nashik civil hospital for autopsy and will be cremated later in the day at Nashik Road.
Meanwhile, the state government has announced a financial aid of Rs 1 lakh and government job to the next of kin of the slain Dalit youth.
Maharashtra Public Works Department Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who toured trouble-torn localities of Nashik Road and Vihitgaon on Thursday, visited Dhale's house at Muktidham and announced the financial assistance and job. He also assured free treatment to Dhale's ailing father.
In Nanded town of Marathwada region, authorities imposed curfew from 5 am on Thursday as a 'precautionary' measure in view of Thursday's protests. The curfew will continue till 7 pm, Nanded Superintendent of Police Fatehsinh Patil told PTI over phone.
So far, eight people have been injured in incidents of stone-pelting over the statue desecration, he said.
Curfew has been enforced for 24 hours in 12 localities of Pune's Pimpri-Chinchwad from 6:30 am on Thursday, Police Commissioner D N Jadhav told reporters.
He said the situation had been brought under control for sometime on Wednesday. But the agitation spread from one area to another, leading to violence at 44 places in Pune city and Pimpri-Chinchwad areas resulting to injuries to 13 policemen.
Jadhav said 60 vehicles were damaged and set ablaze by agitators since the stir began in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
The police commissioner said agitators blocked roads at a number of places in Pimpri-Chinchwad and in Pune station vicinity.
The agitators threw burning tyres on the railway tracks at Khirkee when the Deccan Queen Express was going to Mumbai from Pune.
The road block agitation affected train services and vehicular raffic between Pune-Mumbai in the morning.
Jadhav said a senior police officer will be holding meeting with Dalit leaders with a view to finding a solution to the ongoing agitation.
In Aurangabad, police fired one round in the air on Wednesday night to disperse a crowd of 1,000 Dalit protestors demonstrating at Mukundwadi area of the city. According to police, the protestors gathered on Jalna Road in Mukundwadi at around 9 pm and subsequently some of them began pelting stones at passing vehicles.
A police team, which reached the spot by around 10 pm, failed to pacify the protesters, who then turned their ire on the police. In the ensuing melee, six persons, including sub-inspector and a constable, were injured, prompting the police to fire in the air. The injured were admitted to a city hospital.
Over 1,500 protestors have been arrested across the state for various incidents of stone-pelting and arson. Of them, 400 were caught indulging in violent acts.
In Surat, a mob pelted stones and damaged vehicles in Pandesara locality, police said.
"A mob of about 50-odd people took out a rally in the area to protest the statue desecration," Surat Police Commissioner Sudhir Sinha told PTI.
"Members of this group became violent and pelted stones and damaged a bus and another vehicle at Prem Nagar and Dakshineshwar Temple area," he added.
"Eight persons were arrested in connection with the violence," Sinha said adding, security has been reinforced in the affected areas.
In Hubli, Karnataka, activists belonging to various Dalit organisations stoned a dozen city buses, police said.
The protesters took out a procession from Kittur Rani Chennamma circle to the Ambedkar statue opposite Hubli Head Post Office and later held a meeting in which it was decided that a state-wide bandh call would be given after consulting other Dalit organisations in the state.
Normal life was affected for some time as buses stopped plying for about two hours. The services, however, resumed later.
The situation is under control now, police said.
"The emerging law and order situation in the state warrants my presence there," Maharashtra chief minister told PTI from Singapore.
Deshmukh, who was on an official tour of Singapore to scout for investments, said he had concluded meetings with potential investors on Thursday.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also spoke to Deshmukh on the situation in Maharashtra.
"I can understand their (Dalits') feelings because Babasaheb Ambedkar's statue has been damaged in Kanpur, but the time has come that they strengthen themselves and cooperate with the state government," Deshmukh said.
He asked Dalit leaders to come out and appeal to the people to restore normalcy.
With UNI inputs