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Azad Maidan riots: Five days later, some hard questions for Mumbai police

The city cops are being bombarded with questions in the aftermath of the horrific violence on August 11 in South Mumbai. That the department was caught off-guard is evident in the number of casualties — many of them cops —, including two deaths, large-scale destruction of public property, and the few arrests that have been made so far. On behalf of all peace-loving Mumbaikars (is there any other kind), MiD DAY has these five questions for the police department, answers to which will go a long way in precluding recurrence of such anarchy in future:

Azad Maidan violence
Off-guard: The Mumbai police were just equipped with lathis to control the unruly mobs at Azad Maidan on August 11.

cops in Thailand
Take a look at how cops in Thailand (above) are always well-equipped to control mobs armed with protective helmets, shields and guards

1. WHY, DESPITE SEVERAL RIOTS, IS OUR POLICE FORCE ILL-EQUIPPED TO HANDLE SUCH SITUATIONS?
Despite intelligence about the estimated crowd, no adequate arrangements were made to tackle the riot-like situation. For a multitude of around 20,000, only 700 cops were deployed – including four senior police officers. Only four platoons of SRPF, which is effective in controlling the crowd, were at the scene. Also, Mumbai police’s water cannon Varun that was used to disperse crowds has been sold to a scrap dealer after it developed an irreparable technical snag. No replacement has been hired till date. 

2. WHY DID COMMISSIONER OF POLICE ARUP PATNAIK FORCE A DCP TO RELEASE AN APPREHENDED RIOTER FROM THE SPOT?
On the day of the riot, police commissioner Arup Patnaik was seen arguing with local deputy commissioner of police Dr Ravindra Shisve who had caught hold of one of the rioters red-handed. Patnaik threatened the DCP of suspension and asked him to release the miscreant immediately. 

3. WHY HAVE ONLY 26 PEOPLE BEEN ARRESTED SO FAR DESPITE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE AVAILABLE?
Soon after the violence, 23 people were booked under charges of murder, rioting, molestation, attempt to murder and Arms Act, despite the fact that the rioters were in thousands.

ARRESTED

On Wednesday, three more protesters were picked up from Dongri. Cops said they are yet to use the CCTV footage to confirm the involvement of the persons arrested in Saturday’s fiasco. Those found guilty would be prosecuted, while the innocents would be released. All the arrests hereafter would be based on the CCTV visuals collected by investigators. Sources in Crime Branch say that they are waiting for Ramzan to get over to make further arrests.

4. IF SPEAKERS INCITED THE PROTESTERS WITH HATE SPEECHES, WHY ARE THEY STILL ROAMING FREE?
Till date the cops have only issued summons to people who were present on the dais and even gave speeches. Preliminary investigations revealed there were at least 17 people on the podium, which included leaders of the Raza Academy and former assistant commissioner of police Shamsher Khan Pathan. Of the 17, only five had given speeches. Investigators are going through their speeches to ascertain if they had provoked the crowd present at Azad Maidan.

5. WHY HAVE NO LESSONS BEEN LEARNT FROM THE PROTEST IN 2006 THAT WENT VIOLENT?
In March 2006, cops had faced a similar situation when certain activists of Muslim organisations protesting the visit of US President George Bush to India and the cartoons on Prophet Muhammad went berserk, damaging private property and creating traffic disruptions.

Muslim organisations at Azad maidan in 2006
Deja vu: A protest organised by Muslim organisations at Azad maidan in 2006 went awry, when the mob went violent. Incidentally, Arup Patnaik was the Joint CP (Law and Order) at the time

The mob threw stones, attacked buildings and damaged a BEST bus stop. Though the situation was brought under control without any casualty, the officers forgot to take lessons from it and gave permission for such a huge gathering at Azad Maidan. 

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