I was DCP in Bandra during the 1992-93 riots. After that, Mumbai burnt for three and-a-half months. So we need to be careful and not cause any harm to anyone,” was Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik’s urgent plea from the stage at Azad Maidan on Saturday, following the riot that broke out at the venue during what was meant to be a peaceful protest against the ethic clashes in Assam and Myanmar.
Unruly elements from the 36,000 people-strong crowd, decimated and set fire to police vehicles and broadcasting vans. The violence, which broke out at about 3 pm, was eventually brought under control, but not before two youths lost their lives in the police firing that ensued. More than 50 people were injured, 49 BEST buses were attacked, and three OB vans, and three police vans were torhced, along with cars and motorbikes.
Police sources allege that the riot was planned. “We found large rocks in the area, which we are certain were not present at the Maidan. Somebody brought them to the event. The organisers targeted and attracted youths in the 18 to 25 age group.” Sources said that last night, a meeting was held at the Mumbai Aman Committee’s office in Musafirkhana, where it decided not to participate in Saturday’s gathering. This was because their sources in the Mumbai Police warned them there could be a riot.
Things got out of hand when a few people on the dais made statements about the mainstream media ignoring the violence in Assam and Mynamar. This appears to have instigated the crowd, which targeted an OB van of a news channel whose cameraman was about to upload the feed of the protests to its headquarters.
Amit Khambe, the video journalist who was in the OB van, said, “A few people came charging towards the van. To save my life, I jumped off without my camera. Soon, I saw the van go up in flames.” He added that a few men among the protesters helped him get out safely.
According to journalist Hetal Gangar, whose OB van was also parked outside, “The engineers inside the van told me that they begged for their life. Only after the protesters were assured that they would leave immediately was the OB van allowed to be moved.”
Two die in police firing
One of the victims has been identified as Mohammed Umar Ansar (25), a resident of Garib Nagar Bandra (E). According to his friend, Alam Khan, who was present at Azad Maidan, they had gone with friends to protest against the atrocities in Assam and Myanmar. He rubbished claims that the police tried to pacify the crowd. “If police were firing in the air, why did my friend die from gunshot wounds to the shoulder and throat?”
The second deceased has been identified as Altaf Shaikh (18). He succumbed to gunshot wounds to his back and chest. Police, helped by Samajwadi Party president Abu Asim Azmi, were seen combing through bloodied pages which were found in the youth’s pocket, looking for clues to his identity, which was unknown at the time. Both were brought to St George Hospital near CST.
Goregaon resident Akbar Ali (32) sustained bullet wounds and was initially brought to GT Hospital near Dhobi Talao. He was shifted to JJ Hospital.
Dr TP Lahane, dean of JJ Hospital said, “About 45 policemen have sustained injuries. Eight have head injuries. Another nine civilians were injured.” Nearly 21 policemen are recuperating at St George Hospital. Two more underwent treatment at JJ Hospital.
Some officers, with soiled clothes and minor injuries, were seen back in action, patrolling the streets. API Amar Patil, who suffered minor cuts and bruises said, “These are old injuries; nothing is wrong with me.”
Padmakar Juikar, senior inspector of MRA Marg police station, suffered a blow to the back of his head, but continued to patrol the area until he began feeling uneasy. He is now reportedly in a critical condition in St George Hospital.
Patnaik left speechless
An irate crowd of about 30 to 40 persons confronted Patnaik at the hospital, demanded to know how two youths fell to police bullets. Earlier in the evening, a confident Patnaik had briefed the media outside Azad Maidan. “There were certain elements in the crowd who precipitated the problem. At least one police officer from MRA Marg police station has been seriously injured.”
Dressed in a riot helmet and full dress uniform, Patnaik added that the investigation had been transferred to the Crime Branch. “Officers from the Law and Order department will be preoccupied with peacekeeping measures for the next few days. I have given the responsibility of investigation to the Crime Branch.”
Hashim Sayyed, a protester who was managing the dispersal of the crowd, said, “We are peace-loving people and wouldn’t do anything of this sort. We do not support any form of violence and neither does our religion. But there’s no denying that the media didn’t cover the Assam and Myanmar violence as they should have,” he said.
He added that Muslim organisations across the city are trying their best to keep the community calm so that no untoward incidents follow.