A dispute over passengers placing their legs near the gear lever in a bus took an ugly turn with at least six persons claiming injury after a scuffle at Talapady late on Monday night.

The trouble started around 9.30 p.m. when a few boys on Route 44 (State Bank to Talapady) bus “accidentally” hit the gear lever, which irked the driver. A fight ensued, but was not pursued. The injured from the two groups have been admitted into different hospitals.

However, the persons involved narrated the event quite differently.

The two passengers – Ayub (18) and Alfraz (19) – work in a shop in the city, and are residents of Kunjethur in Kasaragod district. They claim that the inebriated driver called his friends on the phone, repeatedly using the word “Muslims”, after the argument in the bus.

“We thought the matter had laid to rest as we apologised for accidentally touching the gear lever. However, when we got off the bus, more than 20 people had gathered there with rods and sticks, and started to assault us. We didn’t even fight back; all we did was repeatedly apologised,” said Ayub, who bore the most injuries, having been beaten on the face, hands and legs.

Alfraz believes that the assault was prompted after the driver asked them where they were from. “When we told them we’re from the Kerala side of the border, they started beating us. I think it is connected to the protests against an anti-Mohammad Facebook post in Kasaragod,” he said, adding that two others were beaten up earlier in the day in Yekkur.

Mirshad, an auto rickshaw driver, and Shamsheer, who was returning to his house on his motorcycle, said they were stopped by the mob and beaten. Both said the men had asked them for their names and asked if they were Muslim. “I didn’t even know what this was about. They started to slap me, and broke the windshield of the auto rickshaw,” said Mirshad.

This version is denied by Chandrakant, the driver, and Swastik, the cleaner of the bus. Both are admitted to a private hospital in Thokkotu for treatment of their injuries. “After the argument in the bus, the Muslim boys, who were drunk, called people on their phone. On reaching Talapady junction around 10 p.m., a group of 20 people started to assault us. On hearing our shouts, people nearby came to our rescue and beat up the boys,” said Chandrakant.

Ullal Police have registered two cases, based on the statements by Chandrakant and Alfraz, but have not made any arrests in either.

Meanwhile, the two youth who were beaten up allegedly by persons of a different community at Jeppinamogaru near Yekkur on Monday morning have filed a complaint with the Mangalore City Police Commissioner on Tuesday.

Drivers show solidarity

Immediately after the incident, private buses on the Talapady route stayed off the road. According to drivers who gathered at a private hospital in Thokkotu to lend support to a driver and cleaner admitted there, personnel from 31 private buses plying on Routes 42, 43 (State Bank to Talapady) participated in the strike.

The drivers claim that this showed an increasing tendency to attack private buses, and cited the stoning of two private buses in Ullal on April 21 as a recent example.

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