AURANGABAD: Authorities on Tuesday rushed more forces and shut down internet services as Maratha protesters demanding reservation in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district and parts of Marathwada set vehicles, including those of the police and fire departments, on fire and pelted stones even as two men tried to commit suicide. “Seventy percent force of all the units have been mobilised,” additional director general of police (law and order) Bipin Bihari said while speaking to the Hindustan Times. Seven battalions of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) have been deployed in certain sensitive areas besides the local police, officials said. Authorities suspended internet service to stop users from spreading rumours on social media in Aurangabad, where tension prevailed in May due to communal riots in which the police faced wrath for not handling the situation well.
The protests follow a call for a shutdown in Maharashtra by Maratha Sakal Samaj, an umbrella organisation for various Maratha outfits, after 27-year-old Kakasaheb Shinde jumped into the Godavari river and drowned on Monday during the agitation by the community for reservation in government jobs and education. The two youngsters, who attempted suicide on Tuesday, have been admitted to Ghati Hospital.
The protesters turned violent in Aurangabad’s Kaygaon during Shinde’s funeral, which was performed amid brewing tension, with tight security arrangement. Local Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire was reportedly manhandled by the mob and his vehicle pelted with stones.
“Private and state transport buses were also set on fire. Similar incidents of stone-pelting and buses being set on fire are being reported in Hingoli and other parts of Marathwada,” a police officer from Aurangabad said on the condition of anonymity. The shutdown affected all the eight districts of Marathwada region but there was a mixed response in the rest of the state. “The bandh has got a huge response in all eight districts of Marathwada. Once the funeral is over, we will decide what to do next,” Maratha Sakal Samaj’s Ravindra Kale said. In Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai shops, schools and colleges were open and there were no disruptions in public transport.
“The call was given by organisations from central Maharashtra late on Monday. Organisers from other parts of the state, particularly in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, did not get time to prepare for it,” Virendra Pawar, one of the Mumbai-based organisers, said. “We have also not pressed for it as devotees who had gathered at Pandharpur for Ashadhi Ekadashi are heading home. We will have meetings on Tuesday afternoon and decide on our future course of action.” Maratha Kranti Morcha took a rally from Pimpri Chowk to Pimpri market in Pimpri-Chinchwad and another was organised in Pune as workers requested shopowners to close their shop.
The state government held a tehsildar and a police officer responsible for Shinde’s death and sent them on forced leave. Shinde drowned in the Godavari River near Kaygaon in Gangakhed tehsil on Monday during the jalsamadhi protest announced by the Maratha community for their pending demands. Earlier in the day, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said people with vested political interests were provoking these outfits.