Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dalit protests: Two trains set on fire

Dalit protests: Two trains set on fire - - News on Dalit protests: Two trains set on fire: "Two trains have been burnt in Maharashtra by Dalits protesting the vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue. There's violence and tension in cities across the state and in Mumbai as well, as Dalit protestors continue to take to the streets and clash with the police.

The Karjat-CST train and five bogies of the Deccan Queen have been torched in Ullhasnagar after passengers were told to get out of the train. The immediate provocation has been the vandalisation of an Amedbakr statue in Kanpur in UP.

But Dalit emotions in the state have been simmering after a Dalit family was brutally killed in Khairlanji in September. Meanwhile, Congress President Sonia Gandhi spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on the issue. Deshmukh, who is in Singapore on an official visit, is cutting short his trip and returning home on Friday.

Ironically, in Kanpur, the vandalised statue of Ambedkar has been reparied. The statue was damaged by unknown people on Wednesday. The Deccan Queen, the premier train linking Mumbai and Pune, was set on fire by angry Dalit protestors at Ulhasnagar on the city's outskirts.

By the evening, a copycat attack took place on another train. A local train from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Karjat was torched. Right from the morning, the streets of Mumbai's eastern suburbs - Chembur, Bhandup and Mulund - were on fire.

Areas where urban Dalits are concentrated in dense pockets and where they spilled onto the streets again blocked roads, damaged buses, burnt tyres and threw stones at vehicles. The protests were limited to only some parts of the city but as they were played again and again, they set the city on edge.

By afternoon the streets were deserted. Most of the city chose to stay off the roads. People left offices early. Dalit rage was boiling over not just at the Ambedkar statue desecration at Kanpur and the Dalit killings of a family in Vidharbha, but also over the death of a Dalit youth in Nashik on Wednesday night.

It looked almost as if Mumbai's Dalits were catching up with their counterparts in the rest of Maharashtra. "We will do anything to defend our Babasaheb," said a protestor. "We are organising these protests on behalf of the RPI (Athavale) group. We are trying to be as peaceful as possible," added another protestor.

Three people have been killed so far. Of these, two Dalits were killed in police firing in Osmanabad and two more injured in Aurangabad. Public transport in parts of Mumbai has been affected. Protestors burnt 77 buses and damaged private vehicles.

Schools and shopping areas in Mumbai suburbs have been shut down. Minor incidents of stone pelting have also been reported on Mumbai's suburban rail network between Bhandup and Mulund stations. There were also incidents of violent protests in Kherwadi in Bandra East, where around 15 to 20 agitators pelted stones on passing vehicles. The government claims that the situation is under control.

"The situation is under control. People are cooperating. The Kanpur incident must be condemned, but the reaction was emotional. There was some violence, but latest reports show peace is returning," said RR Patil, Deputy Chief Minister, Maharashtra.

According to the Maharashtra DGP, curfew has been imposed in Nanded, Osmanabad, Buldhana and Pimpri districts of Maharashtra. Nashik is tense after a night of violence where a young Dalit protestor was killed in a stone-pelting incident. Six people have been arrested in the case.

Trouble began when a statue of B R Ambedkar was vandalised in a Kanpur locality on Wednesday night. Within hours, protests broke out in Kanpur followed by protests in various towns of Maharashtra, including Nashik, Kalyan and Bhiwandi.

Sangli and Solapur, which saw protests after the Kherlanji incident, are also tense. Most of the protests are being led by various factions of the Republican Party of India - the leading platform for Dalits in Maharashtra.

However, in several cities, the violence has been spontaneous with residents of Dalit areas and bastis spilling onto the streets."

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