At least two persons were killed and more than 50 injured as a protest at the Azad Maidan here on Saturday against the recent Assam riots and genocidal acts against Muslims in Myanmar turned violent. A state of high alert was issued throughout Mumbai.
Tension and paranoia gripped the city as the three o’clock agitation, organised by the Raza Academy — a city-based organisation claiming to promote Islamic culture — suddenly erupted into violence with the protesters targeting police and mediapersons, setting vehicles afire, smashing cameras and chanting provocative slogans. The police resorted to lathi charge, lobbed tear gas shells and fired in the air to disperse the truculent crowd.
According to police reports, Mohammad Umar (17) and Altaf Sheikh, both of Mumbai, lost their lives in the violence.
In all, 11 vehicles, including three OB vans, were gutted, while 45 policemen and some photographers, including The Hindu’s Vivek Bendre, were injured and their cameras smashed in the melee.
“For a while, there were fears of a relapse of the situation [seen] during the 1992 riots. We have escaped by a hair’s breadth … The situation could have turned lethal. But things are under control in other parts of the city,” said Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, refusing to answer questions whether the violence was spontaneous or pre-planned.
Around 30 police personnel were seriously injured while three civilians sustained bullet injuries.
The injured were rushed to the city’s Saint George’s Hospital and G.T. Hospital.
Train and bus services were hit hard. The miscreants damaged at least 31 BEST buses at the CST Depot, where glass pieces were lying strewn all over. Buses running towards south Mumbai were terminated en route.
“The protesters also shouted slogans on railway platforms,” A K Singh, Public Relations Officer, Central Railway, told The Hindu. There were stray incidents of violence but no local train was damaged.
Businesses in the vicinity remained closed.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who rushed to the Maharashtra capital from Yavatmal, assured the people that things were under control. Home Minister R.R. Patil urged citizens to desist from rumour-mongering.
Muslim organisations such as the Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre have condemned the unruly behaviour of the protesters and called for peace.