Road and rail traffic in the city was disrupted for over three hours after followers of Asaram Bapu staged demonstrations against the arrest of the self-styled godman for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old girl at his ashram.
Thousands of vehicles were stuck on the Eastern Express Highway from Sion to Ghatkopar and Navi Mumbai. Vehicles proceeding towards Sion from South Mumbai were also entangled in a massive jam. Even though the protest was brought under control after an hour by the police the traffic continued to pile up on the highway.
Services on the Central Railway was badly hit because of the rail roko at Ulhasnagar station. A large number of supporters of the controversial guru squatted on the tracks protesting against the arrest resulting in tremendous inconvenience to commuters.
Many people heading towards Dadar and Parel to do shopping ahead of the Ganesha festival were stranded at Thane, Mulund and several other stations. “The demonstrators were on the tracks from 12.55pm and were protesting for about an hour,” said Central Railway PRO AK Singh.
Ashraf, who was on his way to the airport with his family, said: “I am stuck at Chunabhhati for one hour. I am going to miss my flight.”
Ram Bhai, a spokesperson for Asaram Bapu’s ashram at Goregaon, said, “The protests were organised spontaneously by devotees. The ashram has nothing to do with the demonstrations.”
Asaram’s supporters, including women, claimed he has been framed in the rape case. “We just want that the police to immediately release Bapu. We know that all allegations against him are false,” said Manoj Gupta of Hamara Bharat Foundation.
Gupta, who was among the protesters, alleged that a section of the protestors going towards Sion railway station was lathi-charged and over 100 protesters were detained by the police.
“We did not resort to lathi-charge. However, we booked 69 men and 39 women for the protests under Section 143 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They were later let out on bail,” said Baburao Gavit, senior PI, Sion police station.
The 72-year-old guru was arrested by the Jodhpur police from his ashram in Indore late on on Saturday. Asaram has denied the allegation and has stated that his arrest was “politically motivated.”