Unruly mobs in the garb of religious devotees continued to unleash on Thursday the annual menace that citizens have come to associate with the kanwariya pilgrimage, as the police preferred to adopt a no-guns-just-roses approach to law enforcement.
Fresh incidents of wanton violence and random road blockades by several angry kanwariyas were reported from UP and parts of Delhi-NCR, where they were extended floral welcomes by some administrative functionaries and police officers.
“One man’s wild street party is another man’s safety-cum-logistics nightmare. I had to commute by taxi for fear of rubbing the pilgrims the wrong way while driving and risk getting lynched or having my car destroyed at the very least,” said Indirapuram resident Ritesh Kumar, who had to negotiate long traffic snarls on way to his workplace in central Delhi. Some kanwariya groups engaged in clashes with locals in places as diverse as the riverside town of Varanasi and the glass-and-steel Millennium City of Gurugram. While Delhi Police arrested one man over Wednesday’s incident of a young couple’s car being vandalised in Moti Nagar, a video of a group of kanwariyas collectively destroying a police van in Bulandshahr was widely shared on social media on Thursday.
“Those involved in the incident have been identified and eight persons have been named in the case and efforts are underway to arrest them,” Praveen Ranjan, SP (city), Bulandshahr, said.
The man arrested for the Moti Nagar incident, Rahul aka Billa, was described by police as a “drug addict with a criminal record” who was out on bail. His accomplices were being identified based on photographic and video evidence, police said.
Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar led the chorus of netizens coming down heavily on these rowdy kanwariya groups for their unruly behaviour.
“Public display of hooliganism should be unacceptable. Behavior of Kanwarias on national highways is a public hazard. Why should state authorities not control this movement & stop loud offensive music & takeover roads for hrs. Should Hooliganism be allowed in the name of religion?” Kumar tweeted.
Facing flak over showering flowers on kanwariyas from a helicopter hired for two days at a cost of R14.21 lakh to the public exchequer, a senior UP police officer said the matter should not be given a religious hue.
“No religious angle should be given to this; flowers are used to welcome people. Administration respects all religions and actively takes part, even in Gurupurab, Eid, Bakrid or Jain festivals,” said Prashant Kumar, the additional director general (ADGP) of Meerut zone.
Kumar, along with commissioner Anita Meshram, Meerut DM Anil Dhengra and SSP Rajesh Kumar Pandey showered flowers on kanwariyas on the Meerut route, while Saharanpur commissioner CP Tripathi, DIG Sharad Sachan, DM Alok Kumar Pandey and SSP Upendra Agarwal did the same in their respective ranges.
Ghaziabad police and administration officials, including SP (City) Akash Tomar, ASP (Indirapuram) Ravi Kumar, and Khoda municipal council executive officer KK Bhadan, showered petals on the pilgrims in Indirapuram on Thursday. Tomar said the event for welcoming the kanwariyas was organised by members of a ‘citizen volunteer force’ and the venue saw good participation by members of the Muslim community.
A section of the kanwariyas appealed to the mobs to not give the yatra a bad name. After violence by kanwariyas in Haridwar last week, members of the Shiv Parvati Sheeshwal Dham Shiv Kanwd Sewa Samiti Mandi Adampur appealed for calm, asking participants to cooperate with law enforcement.
But another group of kanwariyas allegedly assaulted a cyclist after his bicycle grazed one of them in Chawan village near Pataudi on Wednesday evening, police said. The group allegedly attacked the victim with canes and sledge hammers, leaving him seriously injured.
Rajesh Kumar, deputy commissioner of police (DCP), Manesar, said the victim decided against filing a police complaint.
“A police team was rushed to the spot and took control of the situation. The victim was taken to a local hospital for treatment,” Kumar said.
After the incident, a group of villagers gathered at the spot and protested against the brutality of kanwariyas, demanding strict measures, police said without elaborating what action was taken, if any.
Reacting to reports that some Muslim families in a Bareilly village left their homes recently fearing violence when the kanwariyas would pass through there, police said a few people may have been away on work.
“They must have gone for some personal work and by now many have returned,” Bareilly (Rural) SP Satish Kumar said. “We have deployed adequate force in the village to ensure normalcy and there was no law and order problem today.”
Last Friday, a group of kanwariyas had gone on a rampage on National Highway 58 near Daulrala town when a Provincial Armed Constabulary vehicle hit two motorcycle-borne pilgrims. The angry pilgrims not only damaged the patrol vehicle but also blocked the highway for hours.
The Uttar Pradesh government had this time lifted the ban on playing of DJs during the pilgrimage. District administration officers were directed to permit kanwariyas to play bhajans or film songs that were not vulgar or provocative.
(With inputs from HTC Varanasi, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Gurugram, and agencies)
First Published: Aug 09, 2018 23:37 IST