In its protest against Padmaavat, the Karni Sena unleashed violence in at least seven states in the four days leading up the film’s release on Thursday. Claiming that the movie insults a queen who belonged to their community, Rajput agitators have clashed with the police, burned vehicles and, in one instance, attacked a bus full of schoolchildren. Despite being ordered by the Supreme Court to ensure that screenings go unimpeded, the governments of these states have largely allowed the rioters to proceed unhindered.
But despite seeming to treat the rioters with kid gloves, the police in these seven states had by Thursday arrested around 150 people and registered at least 35 cases against them. They have been charged with rioting, arson and assaulting public servants. While most of the arrested people have been identified as members of the Karni Sena, a few belong to smaller groups that were demonstrating solidarity with the Sena broadly on the basis of their Rajput identity. The majority are aged 20 to 35 years and include unemployed men, students, small traders and workers in small business enterprises from both rural and urban areas, senior police officials said.
The police, though, say they are not sure how the Rajasthan-based Karni Sena managed to stitch together such wide support across states.
Since there is no centralised source of information about the violence, Scroll.in examined records and spoke with police officials on the ground in the affected states – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra – to get a sense of the Karni Sena’s reach and the scale and intensity of its violent agitation.
This is where the Shri Rajput Karni Sena was founded in 2006 by Lokendra Singh Kalvi, the son of a minister in Chandra Shekhar’s cabinet, and Ajit Singh Mamdoli. In 2008, Mamdoli split from the Sena following differences over Kalvi’s decision to contest that year’s Assembly election as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate and formed his own faction. Seven years later, Kalvi expelled the Sena’s state president Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi, who went on to form the Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena.
“The Karni Sena today is a very complicated network,” a senior Rajasthan police official said. “That is a reason we often come across senior members of its factions who deny the involvement of their cadets in violent incidents. Firstly, all three factions operate with the generic name Karni Sena and at times even the police find it difficult to ascertain which is which in the initial phase of investigation. Then there are fringe groups which also operate under the same banner every time they show solidarity with the Karni Sena.”
Since January 21, the Rajasthan police have registered at least 10 cases of rioting and unlawful assembly in connection with the violence, said the senior official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. He could not provide the number of people arrested.
Hemant Priyadarshy, inspector general of police who looks after Jaipur, Alwar and Sikar districts, which have witnessed frequent protests and road blockades in the past few days, could not provide many details either.
The Rajasthan police estimate that the two older factions of the Karni Sena together have around a lakh members. The authorities have a fair idea of the areas of their influence, but they are largely clueless about the faction led by Gogamedi. The website of the Sri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena claims to have more than 2,000 members, most of them in Rajasthan, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
The three factions though have come together to agitate against Padmaavat and have also garnered support from smaller groups across the seven states, the official said.
Though most of the agitators arrested so far are from the states where they committed the offence, the Rajasthan police say there is a possibility of Karni Sena members from Rajasthan leading violent demonstrations in other states.
“The Karni Sena factions operate largely with funding from the community, and politically they have often changed sides as per their convenience,” the senior official said. “We are keeping a close eye on members of the group in Alwar and Ajmer, where they can act as miscreants during the upcoming Lok Sabha bye-polls.”
On January 21, supporters of the Karni Sena and associated groups blocked roads in Surat. They also threw stones at vehicles, burnt tyres and clashed with the police in at least four places. The police registered five cases and arrested 23 people, said JK Pandya, the public relation officer of the Surat police. “The charges against them include rioting, unlawful assembly, damaging property, wrongful restraint, physical assault, obstructing public servant from doing duty and assaulting them.”
In the following 24 hours, another senior police official in Surat said, 19 more agitators were arrested. All were residents of Surat and belonged to the Karni Sena as well as other groups. The police identified these as the Bhawani Sena, the Surya Sena and the Mahakal Sena.
On January 23, violence broke out in Ahmedabad. The agitators vandalised a shopping mall with a cinema and torched vehicles at three places, They dispersed only when the police opened fire. The incidents took place hours after the Supreme Court refused to modify its order scrapping the ban on the film’s screening imposed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat.
Three cases were registered in connection with the violence in Ahmedabad, senior police officials in the city said, and at least 40 persons had arrested, most of them from villages and townships on the outskirts of the city.
Scroll.in tried to contact KLN Rao, a joint commissioner of police in Ahmedabad who is monitoring the investigation into the three cases, but he did not respond to calls or text messages.
On January 21, a mob of around 20 people vandalised a shopping mall in Kurukshetra. They reportedly attacked the mall with hammers and swords, and even fired weapons.
Abhinandan Garg, superintendent of police in Kurukshetra, said they were members of a local Rajput group that supports the Karni Sena. A resident of Kurukshetra town was arrested and 10 suspects were detained for questioning. “A case has been registered for rioting, unlawful assembly and vandalism,” Garg said.
The suspects all belong to the Rajput community and are aged between 18 and 35 years, another police official said.
On January 24, agitators claiming to be associated with the Karni Sena created havoc in Gurgaon in the National Capital Region, blocking roads, torching two vehicles and even attacking a school bus.
In response, the police registered four cases and arrested 31 people. At least eight people were also taken into preventive detention “to maintain law and order”, said Ravinder Kumar, public relations officer of the Gurgaon police.
Most of the suspects are said to be from Rajput-dominated villages such as Alipur, Wazirpur, Ghamroj and Nareda. The police said they are looking for more suspects in these villages, but insisted they will not comment on which group the suspect owe allegiance to until the investigation is complete.
Two instances of protests were reported on January 24, but only one has led to a police case so far. It involved a group of men claiming to be members of the Karni Sena blocking a road and shattering the glass facade of a showroom in northwestern part of the city. The police, though, have not been able to arrest any suspect. “We can comment on the matter only after we track down the accused,” said Aslam Khan, deputy commissioner of police. “The accused had their faces covered. As far as presence of Karni Sena is concerned, it has never come to light in the northwest district.”
The police arrested 14 agitators for indulging in violence in Noida and Greater Noida on January 21. Fifteen men on motorbikes had smashed glass screens at the Delhi-Noida-Delhi Flyway toll plaza that morning. In Greater Noida, a mob had gathered at Pari Chowk and blocked the surrounding roads. The protestors also gathered at The Grand Venice Mall to oppose the screening of Padmaavat there. Some agitators also tried to block the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway by burning tyres near the Hajipur underpass.
The police have identified the groups that led the protests as the Karni Sena and the Rajput Utthan Samiti. The Uttar Pradesh president of one of the Karni Sena factions, Thakur Karan Singh, was arrested on January 25. In all, the Noida police have registered four cases for rioting with arms, obstructing public servants from doing duty and causing mischief leading to damage of property. Singh has been booked in two of the four cases, the police said in a statement.
Similar cases were registered in Meerut and Lucknow, but no person was arrested. “Some of the accused have been identified and we are trying to track them down,” said Manzil Saini, senior superintendent of police in Meerut. “There is no presence of the Karni Sena in Meerut known to the police but there are groups which are supporting them.”
Many instances of violence in the state have not led to police cases, however. One example is Mathura, where mobs armed with guns held demonstrations on railway tracks.“The protests were symbolic in nature and they did not cause any problem to the general public,” Swapnil Mamgain, senior superintendent of police in Mathura, explained why no case was registered. “For instance, the train services did not get interrupted because of the protest on the railway tracks.”
As for the identity of the protestors, Mamgain said they were Rajputs and their leaders belonged to various regional parties. “They did not belong to the Karni Sena but stood in their support for the ban on Padmaavat,” he added.
On January 24, four instances of rioting, vandalism and blocking of roads were reported from rural areas of Indore, leading to three police cases but no arrest. “We have identified four individuals in connection with the protests and they are absconding,” said Nagendra Singh, an additional superintendent of police in Indore.
The same day, violence also broke out in the capital Bhopal, where a group of men targeted vehicles and ended up setting fire to the car of one of their own men. “A case of arson and rioting has been registered in connection with the incident and five persons have been arrested so far,” said Superintendent of Police Rahul Kumar. “Two of the arrested persons are associated with a local Rajput group which is supporting the Karni Sena.”
A group of around 25 people, claiming to me associated with the Karni Sena, blocked a bypass road and attacked vehicles in Pune. They also robbed some passersby, the police claimed.
A case was registered and the accused were charged with dacoity, rioting, causing damage to property, blocking public road and unlawful assembly. “Fifteen persons were arrested in connection with the incident and they were produced before a court which sent them in police custody until January 27,” said Praveen Mundhe, deputy commissioner of police.
Mundhe said the arrested men are all “migrants from Rajasthan”. “Most of them are workers in local shops in the city and have told investigators that they are associated with Karni Sena, but that is yet to be verified,” he said. “Karni Sena, however, has no prior record in the city.”