Mumbai Bandh roundup: How Dalit protestors brought city to a standstill

Jan 04, 2018, 08:30 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar

Train, bus and Metro services hit for the most part of the day as protesters take over the roads in Mumbai

Protesters relax at Worli Naka. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Protesters relax at Worli Naka. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Mumbai's public transport experienced a near total collapse on Wednesday, as protesting Dalits took over the city's roads, railways and even the Metro. Trains and Metro services remained suspended for the better part of the day, while the fear of vandalising mobs kept autorickshaw and cab drivers off the roads.

Also read: How Dalit angst triggered a Maharashtra shutdown

The first protests began on Central Railway (CR) at Thane station around 7.45 am, and from there, the agitation spread to several stations across all three railway lines. Until 10.30 am, CR's main line witnessed sporadic rail roko demonstrations at Diva, Titwala and Vasind stations. However, these lasted only for minutes, as railway staff, and cops from the Railway Protection Force and Government Railway Police quickly cleared out the mob.

CR stations vandalised
It was only 11.30 am onwards that services were badly hit by rail rokos at Ghatkopar, Vikhroli and Kanjurmarg stations. Protestors ripped out benches at Kanjurmarg station, smashed indicators and dustbins, and vandalised the station. Railway staffers were able to save the escalators by locking them up. Booking windows were smashed at Dombivli, where many protestors were caned and detained. The Harbour line, which was completely paralysed by rail rokos on Tuesday, ran normally last morning, but got disrupted post 11.15 am, after protestors staged rail rokos at Juinagar and Govandi stations. Services were suspended on the main and the Harbour on CR till 4 pm, when the police got the situation under control.

Police officers nab one of the hooligans at Chembur. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Police officers nab one of the hooligans at Chembur. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

No chilling for WR
On Western Railway (WR), the authorities withdrew the new AC local train after four trips. The majority of the protestors' ire was focused on Virar and Goregaon stations, where the rail rokos began at 8.25 am. Stones were pelted at trains, and some food stalls and indicators were broken at Goregaon station, but there was no other major damage on WR. Protestors also blocked trains at Nalasopara. The protests led to a delay of 30 minutes in services. There were about 110 cancellations on CR, and 60 on WR. "Preventive arrests/detention were done by GRP/Police, with the assistance of RPF while removing protesters from the station premises/tracks. RPF has registered 13 cases under the Railway Act for nuisance, obstructing trains, etc, against unidentified persons. The offenders will be identified on the basis of CCTV footage," a railway spokesperson said.

Metro services shut
Mumbai Metro services were partially suspended from 11.30 am onwards, between Ghatkopar and Airport Road. Sources said protestors had entered the Metro posing as commuters till Ghatkopar, where they jumped in front of the rake and shouted slogans and waved flags. Services resumed around 4.55pm on the Ghatkopar-Airport Road leg. Services were undisturbed on the Versova-Airport Road stretch.

BEST is worst hit
BEST buses took the worst of the beating yesterday, with as many as 90 buses getting damaged in vandalism and stone-pelting incidents. Four bus drivers got injured at Worli and Powai, said a BEST spokesperson. In Thane, protestors set buses ablaze, damaging them beyond repair. Out of 3,370 daily services, 162 buses were suspended. Bus services were suspended in areas such as Kandivli, Goregaon, Powai, Andheri, Sahar, Mulund and Worli.

Meter down
Only about 30 per cent of kaali-peeli cabs were plying yesterday, and many taxis and auto rickshaws went off road in the late afternoon, after attacks on drivers. Two cabs were damaged at Mankhurd, while a few auto drivers were assaulted and their vehicles damaged. Ola and Uber cabs were also few and far in between, and several citizens took to Twitter to complain about the lack of road transport.

Testing times for students
Attendance dipped to 40 per cent on Wednesday. Schools in Govandi, Mankhurd, Mulund, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Kanjurmarg, Vikhroli, Kandivli East and Borivli remained closed. Very few students or teachers turned up at those that were open. Most city colleges stayed open, but there too, attendance was scarce. In junior colleges, the Std XII preliminary examination has been postponed. However, MU was adamant on proceeding with its exams as per schedule. But after several missed the afternoon papers, it announced it would hold re-examinations for them.

Western suburbs
Bandra East, Kherwadi and Kalanagar wore a deserted look early in the day, as around 50 RPI(A) protesters gathered there at 9.30 am and asked shopkeepers to down their shutters. The protesters also visited corporate offices in the locality and asked employees to observe the bandh. Around 11.30 am, close to 300 protesters staged a rasta roko at Kherwadi, but the police handled the situation effectively, and ask the mob to not inconvenience commuters. In Goregaon, protestors blocked the road near the Bombay Exhibition Centre, close to the WEH.

Eastern and Central
As a precautionary measure, security was beefed up at Ramabai Colony in Ghatkopar East, which has a considerable Dalit population. A local alleged that around 10 am, protesters heading from Mumbai to Thane stopped and punctured the tyres of cars on the road. Powai was also affected, as locals reported several incidents of stone-pelting and rasta roko, forcing motorists to turn around from JVLR.

Arterial roads shut down
Officials from the traffic police control room told this paper that the Eastern Freeway had been closed as a precautionary measure around 2.30 pm, after protestors pelted stones at vehicles. The Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), which is one of the arterial roads in the city connecting the eastern and western suburbs, was also hit pretty badly by stone-pelting incidents and rasta roko demonstrations, particularly on the Powai side.

Saved by slum residents
With trains stranded for hours together due to the protests, commuters remained trapped in the coaches without food or water. Residents of slums along the Kanjurmarg-Ghatkopar stretch saved the day by fetching water in large pots and cans, and distributing it to commuters in disposable glasses. Santosh, one of the slum dwellers, said, "We could not go to work, so we got together to help those trapped instead. Many commuters were stuck in the train, but at least we could help them in this way." Nishit Jain, a commuter, said, "This is the famed humanity and resilience that you see in Mumbai during crises."

To go or not to go
Mamta Bangera
HR professional from Thane
'My office is in Airoli, but today I chose to stay home, as I did not want to get stuck in traffic because of the protest. But many of my colleagues reached work without any problem'

Kaushal Dubey
Call centre employee from Goregaon
'My boss asked those who lived near Andheri to come to work. I live in Aarey and couldn't get an Ola or Uber cab. Finally, I hitched a ride with a biker'

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