Washington, DC – The US State Department supported the rights of the protestors as reports poured in, of thousands of protesters from India’s low-caste Dalit community disrupting key transport services in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai.
A State Department spokesperson told IAT, “We’re aware of these protests in and around Mumbai in recent days,” adding, “The United States strongly supports the right of peaceful assembly and protest, but there is no excuse for violence.”
The spokesperson referred IAT to “the government of India for more information.”
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, came to a standstill on Wednesday (Jan. 3) as Dalit (low caste) groups protested against earlier violence on Monday, involving right-wing Hindu groups in Pune city.
Several local trains were delayed or cancelled, buses damaged and shops were shuttered while schools were closed. Similar disruptions were also reported from other parts of the western state of Maharashtra. Dozens of police officers were injured and most injuries were a result of stones pelted on police, according to an official, quoted in the local media reports.
Earlier, one man was killed in the clashes as Dalits marked the 200th anniversary of a battle they won, fighting alongside British colonial forces, against an upper caste ruler. The violence in Pune district erupted when Dalit groups were celebrating the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the forces of the British East India Company defeated the Peshwa’s army.
With hundreds of protesters arrested since then, the state authorities appealed for peace. Devendra Fadnavis, the state’s chief minister, ordered a judicial inquiry into the clashes in Pune. Opposition politicians in the state government accused the ruling party of tolerating nationalist violence.
The protests also sparked heated debates on the national level. Responding to the incidents, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party tweeted: “A central pillar of the RSS/BJP’s fascist vision for India is that Dalits should remain at the bottom of Indian society. Una, Rohith Vemula and now Bhima-Koregaon are potent symbols of the resistance.”
The shockwaves were felt in the Indian capital Delhi also as both houses of Parliament were repeatedly adjourned on Wednesday in response to the protests.