Dalit protests sweep Maharashtra, two trains torched


Pune, Nov 30 (IANS) Thousands of Dalits went on the rampage in Maharashtra Thursday burning two trains and attacking public and private transport to protest against the desecration of a statue of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar as police firing claimed two lives in Nashik.

In daylong violence, mobs stopped the Pune-bound Deccan Queen train at Ulhasnagar, 135 km from here, and set it ablaze after ordering passengers to disembark.

Two and a half hours later, another mob stopped a Mumbai-Karjat point-to-point local train, also near Ulhasnagar, and set four coaches - two in the front and two in the back - on fire, also after asking the passengers to get off.

No one was injured in either incident. Firefighters managed to control the blaze from spreading to the whole of Deccan Queen, a hugely popular and 77-year-old train that plies daily between Mumbai and Pune.

The firefighters rushed to the site of the second burning train too. By then, however, leaping flames had destroyed some of the coaches.

Violence also erupted in several places in Maharashtra including Mumbai. Buses and private vehicles were stoned in several places in the country's financial capital including Andheri, Santa Cruz, Worli, Khar, Mulund, Bandra and Chembur, causing widespread confusion and panic.

Policemen rushed from one site to another to disperse the mobs, making summary arrests. Authorities imposed curfew in parts of the state.

The sudden outburst of violence was sparked by Wednesday's desecration of Ambedkar's statue in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, scenes of which were beamed to all parts of the country by television channels.

As the news spread in Mumbai and other parts of Maharasthra Thursday, Dalits - already furious over the killing of a five-member family in Khairlanji in Nagpur district - went on the rampage. Dalits regard Ambedkar, one of the framers of the Indian constitution, as a virtual god.

Pune Police Commissioner Himanshu Roy told IANS that the situation "is tense and there are pockets of trouble but it will be contained".

Train services were immediately suspended between Mumbai and Pune, and also in Mumbai and in neighbouring areas including Thane district.

Railway spokesman I.K. Chari in New Delhi told IANS that the railways had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in the wake of the train arson.

Also Thursday, the police opened fire at a mob in Nashik killing a 23-year-old man and a 13-year-old boy. The man died instantly while the boy succumbed to his injuries in a hospital.

Thousands dependent on public transport were left stranded in Mumbai in the wake of the violence. Most incidents took place in suburban and central parts of Mumbai.

"There is total confusion because trains have stopped plying," a resident of Dombivili town in Thane district told IANS. Electric trains are the lifeline of Mumbai and its environs, transporting millions every day.

Maharasthra Director General of Police P.S. Pasricha told reporters that the situation would be "under control by evening".

"It was natural for some reaction because of what happened in Kanpur," he said. "The situation should be under control by today evening."






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