Most of Mumbai, as well as Pune and Aurangabad, came to a standstill on Wednesday after Dalit groups took to the streets in protest against the violence in Bhima Koregaon on Monday.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar and leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, had called for a statewide bandh in Maharashtra a day after a man was killed in clashes during celebrations to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon near Pune.
Lakhs of people gather every New Year’s Day to commemorate the victory of the English, whose troops comprised mostly Mahar soldiers, against the Brahmin Peshwa-led Maratha Empire in 1818. Many Dalits celebrate the defeat of the Peshwas as the first step in their continuing struggle against caste-based oppression. Clashes broke out in Bhima Koregaon and its surrounding areas during celebrations of Battle of Bhima Koregaon on Monday, after some people, reportedly with saffron flags, pelted stones at cars going towards the village.
The Indian Express focused on the death of a 16-year-old, who was crushed to death by a mob in Nanded. It also reported what triggered the unrest in Bhima Koregaon on December 29 – the removal of a board at a Mahar samadhi that Scroll.in had reported on Wednesday.
The newspaper also highlighted the plight of a pregnant woman who was stuck in the chaos for four hours with labour pain en route to Hiranandani Hospital in Powai. It led with a headline of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh blaming the “Breaking India Brigade” for the shutdown across the state.
“Cops Look On As Mobs Hold City To Ransom” was the headline The Times of India led with. “The Mumbai Police came in for a lot of flak as citizens vented their anger at them for remaining passive bystanders instead of acting against the miscreants,” it reported.
However, it was reported earlier that the police had been asked to not use force against the protestors as long as their agitation remained peaceful. The Times of India, too, quoted an unidentified Maharashtra Cabinet minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party as saying that officers had been “directed not to use tear gas, lathis or any physical force”.
The newspaper focused primarily on the number of buses that were damaged and how the agitation disrupted train and flight services. It reported on the boy who died in Nanded and the losses restaurants incurred in brief, along with reports on the political crisis staring at Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and Prakash Ambedkar calling for action against Bhide Guruji and Milind Ekbote “for inciting mobs against people who had gathered at Bhima Koregaon on January 1”.
In its typical style, Mumbai Mirror led with a full front page photograph of Dalit protestors blocking traffic both ways on the Western Express Highway in Goregaon and a banner headline that read “LOGJAM AHEAD”, warning of future violence over caste differences.
“Wednesday’s bandh, which brought the city to a standstill, will deepen caste fault lines,” the tabloid quoted political analysts as saying.
Similar to the Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day, too, chose to highlight the strength of the mobs that took to the streets with a half-page photograph. The tabloid focused its front-page coverage on how Mumbai’s public transport system was disrupted because of the agitation.
“Fooled by the lukewarm beginning to the statewide bandh called by Dalits, several citizens ventured out yesterday,” one report said. Another added: “Mumbai’s public transport experienced a near total collapse yesterday, as protesting Dalits took over the city’s roads, railways and even the metro.”
Hindi daily the Navbharat Times reported the “major chaos” that the city saw during the Maharashtra bandh. It quoted trader and transport associations as saying that the two days of unrest in Mumbai had led to losses worth Rs 3,000 crore.
In a short report titled “Over 150 in custody”, the Navbharat Times quoted the police as saying more than 25 cities in Maharashtra had felt the impact of the bandh.
The front page of the Times Group’s Maharashtra Times carried the headline, “In the bandh, outbreak of Bhim power”. Similar to the coverage by The Times of India, the newspaper focused on primarily on vehicular damage and disruption of local train services in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.
The Marathi daily also reported that the Dalit protests were a result of the violence people faced at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on New Year’s Day. It also highlighted that 31 police officers were injured in the protests on Wednesday, as well as the death of the 16-year-old in Nanded.
Marathi daily Loksatta led with the headline “Riots stopped, but rift in society”. Reports on its front page highlighted the caste divides that the Dalit protests on Wednesday brought out. The newspaper focused not just on how public transport was disrupted in Mumbai, but also on the tensions in Sangli and Kolhapur where Hindutva elements clashed with Dalit protestors.
Loksatta also reported the death of 16-year-old Yogesh Jadhav in Nanded and carried a short article on the criminal cases registered against right-wing leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who are accused of instigating the violence against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon on Monday.