Chaos in Mumbai as low-caste Dalits go on strike

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MUMBAI: Many businesses in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai closed yesterday as protesters from a low-caste community blocked traffic and shopping malls and staged sit-ins on railway lines after clashes with right-wing Hindus earlier on Monday.

The call for a strike across the western state of Maharashtra led to largely peaceful protests, but life in many parts of Mumbai was disrupted with the Dalits pelting buses with stones and deflating tyres in some areas.

Railway lines and some major roads leading into the city were blocked.

The Dalits, who rank at the bottom of India's ancient caste hierarchy, called the strike in protest against attacks from right-wing groups in the city of Pune on Monday.

The strike shut businesses and schools in Mumbai and other cities across the state.

"The government did not arrest the perpetrators of violence in Pune. Hindu group members were beating Dalits and the police were just watching from afar," said protester Sandeep Kamble.

"We are demanding the arrest of the culprits."

Dalits were ostracised by upper-caste Hindus for centuries when they used to do jobs considered dirty, such as garbage picking.

The protests followed celebrations by Dalits in Pune, 150km from Mumbai, on the 200th anniversary of a battle they had won, fighting alongside British colonial forces, against an upper-caste ruler.

Those celebrations were disrupted by right-wing Hindu groups and a 28-year-old man was killed in the clashes, according to the state government.

In parts of the Mumbai suburb of Thane, officials banned the assembly of crowds, small or large, to control protesters, who disrupted road and rail services during the morning rush hour.

Schools were closed in some cities and the Internet service was cut in places to restrict social media access and the spread of rumours.

Fleet taxis, along with cab hailing services such as Uber and Ola, were also largely off the roads in Mumbai yesterday. Several offices asked employees to work from home. - REUTERS