The Mumbai police refused permission for an event to be attended by Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and student leader Umar Khalid on Thursday, as their Pune counterparts booked the duo for making “provocative” speeches that led to caste clashes and violence in Maharashtra.
The police action came a day after a bandh called by Prakash Ambedkar’s ‘Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh’, and supported by some other organisations, crippled normal life in Mumbai and several other places.
The bandh, called to protest alleged violence targeting Dalits during a rally to mark the the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle on January 1, left a trail of destruction in Mumbai and in some other places, where 200 government-run buses were vandalised, roads blocked and train services disrupted.
Alleged provocative speeches by Mevani and Khalid at Pune have been blamed for the subsequent violence, which claimed two lives.
As Mumbaikars struggled to return to normalcy, police denied permission for holding an event in the city which Mevani, now an independent MLA in Gujarat, and Khalid, were to attend, and rounded up 112 students and activists.
Those detained included Datta Daghe, president of Chhatra Bharati, the organiser of the event, MLC Kapil Patil, Allahabad University student leader Richa Singh and Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Pradip Narwal, police said.
Before being detained, Richa Singh told reporters outside the Bhaidas Hall that the police action against the event was “dictatorship” and that it was “an Emergency-like situation”. “We will take this fight to Parliament,” she said.
There was heavy police deployment in and around the Bhaidas auditorium.
In a related development, Pune police registered an FIR against Mevani and Khalid for their alleged “provocative” speeches at an event on December 31.
Mevani and Khalid had attended the “Elgar Parishad”, an event organised in connection with the commemoration of the Bhima-Koregaon battle.
A day later, clashes between Dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindu organisations during the celebrations left a man dead. Another person died during Wednesday’s bandh.
Cases were registered by the Pimpri police against Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who head the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan respectively, for allegedly inciting the violence. The two organisations had opposed the celebration of “British victory” in the battle.
Dalits commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community - then considered untouchable - were part of the East India Company’s forces.
The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory was seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of the architect of Indian Constitution B R Ambedkar, met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday and raised the issue of police denying permission for the youth leaders’ event.
“It was discussed with Fadnavis. He told us it was not the right time to hold such an event. I think such an event can be organised some time later,” Ambedkar said.
The issue of caste clashes in Maharashtra resonated in the Rajya Sabha, with members condemning the violence and demanding a speedy judicial inquiry and punishment for culprits.
Rajani Patil of the Congress alleged that atrocities against Dalits had taken place under the watch of the Maharashtra government, and demanded setting up of a commission to investigate the entire series of violent incidents.
Nationalist Congress Party chief and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar apprised the House of the history of the Bhima-Koregaon event and Dalit sentiments attached to it.
The veteran leader said he could recall that in the past 50 years no violent incident took place during the commemoration, but unfortunately a massive gathering was
pelted with stones this time.
Pawar said the state administration should have been more vigilant as a large gathering was expected in Pune, and urged people to forget the incident and move on.
Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena said Hindu organisations should not be blamed for all such incidents, and claimed an “invisible hand” was working to divide and rule the society.
Photograph: Jignesh Mevani/Facebook