Rajkot, July 20 (IANS) Five more youngsters attempted to kill themselves in Saurashtra region on Wednesday as ‘Gujarat Bandh’ called by Dalit organisations evoked a partial response, marred by sporadic incidents of arson and stone-pelting.
The statewide shutdown was called to protest the brutal assault on four Dalit youths in Una town of Saurashtra on July 11 for skinning a dead cow — their traditional family profession.
As the issue is assuming political overtones, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel wasted no time in rushing to Una on Wednesday.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and National Congress Party leader Praful Patel will on Thursday call on the four youths as well as enquire after five other youngsters who attempted suicide in the last three days. One of them died later.
The Chief Minister landed at the Diu airport on Wednesday morning and drove to the Mota Samadhiyala village in Una taluka to meet the families of the four Dalit youths who were beaten up by radical elements.
Anandiben claimed all 25 Dalit families in the village were satisfied with the government’s action in the assault case.
The bandh was near complete in Saurashtra region but evoked mixed response in other parts. Over 200 persons were arrested on charge of arson and violence. However, no reports of any casualty due to violence has come from the state so far.
Reports of blockades at several places were received from Junagadh, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Morbi, Mahuva and Bhavnagar in Saurashtra and Kheda, Mehsana, Palanpur, Patan and Chhota Udepur in central and north Gujarat.
Thousands of Dalits took out protest rallies and forced shops and commercial establishments to down shutters in these towns.
The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation too was forced to suspend its operations on many routes in Saurashtra and north Gujarat. Over a dozen public and private buses were torched or damaged in Saurashtra region during the bandh.
Protesters in Porbander set a private bus ablaze near the Airport Road after heavy stone-pelting. Bandh supporters also attacked the office of Deputy Superintendent of Police (Rural) and damaged police vehicles parked there.
Over a dozen members of the Dalit community were detained in Mochi Nagar area of Rajkot when they tried to dump dead animals at a public place near the Civil Hospital in protest the Una incident.
In north and central Gujarat, the protesters in Surendranagar and Botat stopped two goods and passenger trains, while hose in Mehsana attacked a municipality building with stones.
The police detained over 70 protesters in Kosamba town in Surat district, while in Surat city thousands of Dalits took out a protest rally.
In Ahmedabad, crowds forced traders to close shops in the first half of the day.
At least 75 bandh supporters were detained in Sarangpur area of Ahmedabad and predominantly Dalit areas like Kalapinagar, Asarwa, Saijpur, Majurgam, Amraivadi, Saraspur. Memco-Naroda crossing in the city’s eastern part witnessed a successful bandh.
Police lobbed teargas shells and resorted to mild lathicharge to disperse mobs in Chandkheda, Juna Vadaj, Bhimjipura, Chandlodiya and Ranip in the western part of the city as they tried to enforce the bandh.
Around 1,500 sweepers of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation too went on a flash strike.
The Gujarat government has ordered a CID-Crime Branch inquiry, formation of a special designated court in consultation with the Gujarat High Court and filing of a chargesheet in 60 days in the case of assault on the four Dalits. So far, 16 persons have been arrested.
The persons who tried to commit suicide on Wednesday included Hirabhai Solanki, Vinod Nanji Solanki and Hitu Natubhai Chauhan, who drank poison and also tried to immolate themselves. They were rushed to Dhoraji Civil Hospital.
One more person, who could not be identified, too tried to consume poison in Botad, while Suresh Laxmanbhai Vaniya allegedly tried to consume poison in Gondal.
During the last 72 hours, 17 persons have attempted to killed themselves in Gujarat.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister said the government will provide financial help to the families of the Dalit youths for the construction of houses and toilets. Dalit children studying in Class 5 and above will be enrolled in government model schools for free.
She said police protection has been ordered to families of the four youths. They had complained of threat calls. “Such calls are being recorded and whosoever is responsible will be arrested,” Anandiben said.