Staff Reporter

Private vehicles and buses were targeted by strike supporters in the city

VHP’s dawn-to-dusk hartal disrupts normal life

Two KSRTC conductors injured in stone-throwing

Thiruvananthapuram: The plight of K. Anandakumar, whose vehicle was attacked by strike supporters on Thursday, perhaps best illustrates the helplessness of citizens on hartal days. Urgent personal business had forced the 44-year-old resident of Kowdiar to travel on Thursday, though his relatives had warned him that general strikes called by cadre organisations could turn violent.

(The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had called for a nation-wide strike on Thursday to protest the Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to reclaim the land handed over to the Amarnath Shrine Trust).

Mr. Anandkumar said he stopped his car on the left side of the road at Attakulangara when he saw a VHP procession approach. “I heard a crash and found a youngster gleefully smashing the rear windscreen of my car. I was stunned. It took me several minutes to regain composure and alert the police. Thankfully, I was not injured in the attack.”

On the basis of Anandkumar’s complaint, the Fort police registered a case against “several yet to be identified VHP workers” on the charge of damaging private property.

An official said those responsible for the attack might never be caught. He said scores of similar cases of destruction of private property during riots are pending disposal in police stations. The police have written off many such cases citing lack of evidence.

Another official said it was very difficult to investigate wanton acts of violence committed by mobs on the move. The police often named leaders of organisations which call for general strikes as accused in such property damage cases. It is also relying on video evidence, including footages provided by television news channels, to prosecute rioters.

The VHP “dawn-to-dusk” hartal was no different from other recent general strikes. It brought life to a standstill in the district, except in a few isolated pockets where the organisation has no sway.

A large section of residents, who are used to such strikes, had prepared well in advance for the hartal.

It was revelry in several hostels and lodges accommodating students and young professionals. Government-owned liquor outlets registered record sales on the previous day of the hartal.

The owner of a video rental outlet said there was a heavy rush for film CDs and DVDs on Wednesday. Shopping malls were also crowded. Meat, fish and vegetable stalls at Palayam market remained open late into the night on Wednesday.

The public found it difficult to access hospitals. Some relied on police vehicles to rush the aged and ailing to hospitals. Private buses remained off road. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operated minimal services.

Hartal supporters targeted KSRTC buses and private vehicles at Plamoodu, Pongumoodu, Peroorkada and Balaramapuram. Two KSRTC conductors were injured in the stone throwing. They forced the closure of shops and eateries in many places. Persons suspected to be VHP workers threatened the staff at the KSRTC’s control room.