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Armed men wreak havoc in Panchkula
Bus torched, private vehicles damaged as Haryana bandh evokes mixed response
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Panchkula, September 2
Tremors of the Gohana incident were felt in the township this morning when unruly mobs brandishing swords and lathis, wreaked havoc on the roads. A bus full of passengers was torched, with the passengers barely being able to get down to safety. Scores of other government and private vehicles were damaged by the arsonists, though no loss of life was reported.

In the name of caste politics, a reported Dalit mob demanded that a complete bandh be observed to protest against the torching of Dalitsí houses in Gohana. About 200 armed men, mostly from Mauli Jagran village in neighbouring Chandigarh, crossed over to Panchkula at about 7.50 am. The Chandigarh Police Control Room reportedly flashed the message to their counterparts here that the men were planning to march towards the house of former Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal in Sector 7.

These men, led by Dalbir Singh, a local Congress Councillor, reached the Sector 7/8/17/18 roundabout, and stopped the traffic. Two Haryana Roadways buses full of passengers were stopped and the crowds charged at the buses with lathis, before the police could control them.

They then rushed towards Sector 17, and poured kerosene over a Punjab Roadways bus, after allowing the passengers to rush out.

But before the mob could torch the bus, a posse of cops had rushed here and shooed the crowd away. The mob also broke several road signboards and guide maps. They then moved towards the Sector 16/17 roundabout, and charged at private commuters with lathis. Some private vehicles were damaged as a result. All this while, the police made attempts to stop the mob, whenever it attacked any vehicle, but did not take any retaliatory action.

Later, Deputy Commissioner Brijendra Singh and Superintendent of Police Balbir Singh said that their strategy lay in controlling the situation, rather than attacking the mob and letting the situation get out of hand.

By this time, the mob had dispersed to different parts of the town in smaller groups. In Sector 16, a CTU bus was torched, even before the passengers could climb down. Two women suffered minor burn injuries, after their clothes caught fire. A PCR motor cycle (HR-03F-1320) was also burnt, and a fire tender rushed to the spot was pelted with stones and damaged.

Elsewhere, a group of protesters gheraoed the Sector 19 police post and pelted stones at the building. A liquor vend in Rajiv Colony, a slum colony near Sector 17, and another in Mauli Jagran, Chandigarh, was looted. Attempts were made to loot a vend in Budanpur near Sector 16, but the police thwarted the attempt. Many among the mob, entered Sector 17 and 18, and damaged about a dozen private vehicles parked outside the houses. In Sector 16, a group of miscreants stopped commuters, attacked them and looted them. The police was forced to fire in the air and shoo them away.

The Deputy Commissioner said that they had videographed the entire sequence of events and the guilty would be brought to book. They reiterated that the police did not lash out at the mob, because of the backlash it could entail, claiming that they had succeeded in bringing the situation under control.

The bandh call was a total success in Bhiwani. People of Balmiki community had started assembling at Ghantaghar Chowk in the city from early in the morning and later started closing down markets and educational institutions under the leadership of Dalit leader, Mr Melu Ram. The government-run transport system was also hit by the bandh call and buses were forced to ply through alternative routes instead of the highway.

Karnal and Panipat were the two other districts that attracted widespread response to the bandh call.

At Kaithal, protesters numbering about 500, many of them women, assembled at the Balmiki Chowk and raised slogans against the state government, the district administration of Sonepat and the BJP. A deputation of protesters then submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner demanding a CBI probe into the Gohana incident, adequate compensation to the victims of arson and their rehabilitation.

A partial bandh was observed in Kurukshetra where over 100 young protesters were seen persuading the shopkeepers to close down their shops in the main bazar and Naya Bazar and Palika Bazar. The protesters held a rally at Kacha Gher and demanded removal of Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and a judicial probe into the Gohana incident.

At Jhajjar the main bazar and shops remained closed for most of the day. The Dalits also organised a protest march in the city and submitted a memorandum to the DC demanding immediate transfer of police officials of Sonepat and arrest of the culprits involved in the torching of houses.

At Gurgaon, members of various organisations of Dalits took out a joint procession in the city and submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner urging immediate action against the culprits, as well as the officials who had been found wanting in their duties in preventing the ugly incident. However, the call for Haryana bandh had no impact in the city as life continued in its normal pace.

There was not much response to the bandh call at Rohtak. Shops at Gohana stand, Old Bus Stand area and quila bazar remained closed for a few hours in the morning and re-opened in the afternoon.

Tension gripped Yamunanagar when over 300 activists of the Akhil Bhartiya Balmiki Dharm Samaj forced shopkeepers to down shutters in several markets. Thanks to a heavy deployment of police in the town, no untoward incident took place and the shops re-opened later in the day. The bandh call had no affect in Jagadhari town. No major untoward incident was reported in Sirsa but the bandh was almost complete in the town.

The situation remained tense throughout the day and windowpanes of a Haryana Roadways bus and a private car were damaged in the town. The stone pelting agitators also damaged properties, including the Jat Bhawan and a sweet shop. Though in the morning the shops and other commercial areas were opened as normal days but they were shut down later by the agitating Dalits.
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