A rally organised to protest atrocities in Assam and Myanmar turned violent on Saturday as the assembled participants took to attacking media professionals and police personnel. Two protesters are reportedly dead, two photographers and several policemen are said to be injured.
The protest, which had been facilitated by the Raza Academy and groups belonging to the Barelvi sect, was initially only meant to denounce violence against Muslims in Myanmar and Assam. It was only at 3pm that the otherwise peaceful assembly was disturbed by a group of youngsters who arrived shouting slogans against the media and the police. In the aftermath, scores of protesters were then denied entry into Azad Maidan, a space which religious leaders were already using to deliver speeches.
The number of protesters was being estimated at well over 60,000, and at some point, the mob outside turned violent and torched three media OB vans. Journalists and members of their crew were intimidated and made to run away. The raging mob then turned its attention to police vans and BEST buses. According to the eyewitnesses, police were mostly targeted.
A police vehicle was turned upside down before it was set afire right outside the BMC headquarters. The police driver of the vehicle has reportedly suffered severe injuries. Vinod Jagdale, a reporter with News 24, had his OB van set aflame. He claims that the members of his crew were threatened with death if their coverage didn’t stop. “They were shouting slogans against us, claiming the media was biased while reporting the atrocities in Assam,” he added. The OBs of ABP Majha and P7 were also burnt.
Another eyewitness said that the Raza academy is known for peaceful protests.
He iterated that Saturday’s violence is the handiwork of some youths who have been disturbed by the violence in Assam and Myanmar. “It’s unfortunate that the protest turned violent. The unrest against the violence in Assam and Myanmar is obvious but this cannot be the way of protest,” said Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi. He said that the persons responsible for the violence should be punished.
A riot-like situation lasted for more than three hours outside the CST station as protesters returning from the rally targeted several vehicles on DN Road and Mahapalika Marg. Nearly 10 BEST buses, police vans and private vehicles were attacked with the help of bricks, stones and sticks. Central and harbour railway lines were disrupted for more than four hours as the mob tried to bring services to a halt. Protesters on trains were found shouting slogans of ‘Inquilaab Zindabad’.
Speaking to television channels, leader of opposition in the legislative council Vinod Tawde said that members of the mob at Azad Maidan were carrying weapons. This fuelled tensions further, and when he visited the spot at around 5 pm, there were complaints made against him to the police commissioner Arup Patnaik. According to Farid Khan, a social activist from Mazgaon and a participant in the rally, “It’s unfortunate that a rally meant for a peaceful protest turned violent. Pictures of Myanmar
and Assam that were available on the social networking sites had created furore among the youths of a certain community. The pictures were making the rounds through mobile networks and this led to the unrest among them,” he added. While analysing the violence, he added, “I believe the protesters involved in the violence were in their 20s and were not likely to have witnessed the riots of 1992 and 1993. This was the reason that they resorted to the violent acts. The reaction was spontaneous and could have been avoided had it been handled carefully.”
Home minister RR Patil, who had left his hometown Sangli to visit the spot later in the evening, has told DNA that the police have been successful in bringing the situation under control. “Our first aim was to bring things to normalcy. Police will investigate the reasons behind the riots,” he added. He also rubbished the claims made by Vinod Tawde.
An iftaar party organised by minorities welfare minister Mohemmed Arif Naseem Khan was cancelled after the incident. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was supposed to attend the party at the Haj House, a few meters away from the spot of the riot. According to police sources, public sentiment was against any arrangement for an Iftaar with the backdrop of the violence in Assam and Myanmar.