Vehicles, govt building torched during protest by Satnami community in Chhattisgarh; cops hurt

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Balodabazar (Chhattisgarh), Jun 10 (PTI) Several cars, motorcycles and a government building were torched after a protest called by the Satnami community to denounce damage to their religious pillar in Chhattisgarh's Balodabazar city turned violent on Monday, prompting authorities to clamp prohibitory orders, officials said.

Several police personnel were injured in stone-pelting by protesters, an official said, adding Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai was briefed on the situation by the chief secretary and the DGP.

The Balodabazar-Bhatapara district administration imposed section 144 of the CrPC, prohibiting assembly of four or more people, rallies and processions, in Balodabazar city, he said.

On the intervening night of May 15-16, unidentified persons vandalized a 'jaitkhamb', a structure worshipped by the Satnami community as a sacred symbol, near holy Amar Gufa in Giroudpuri dham in Balodabazar district.

The local police had arrested three persons for their alleged involvement in the desecration, but the Satnami community insisted on a probe by a central agency into the matter, the official said.

To protest against the incident, the Satnami community had called for a demonstration at Dussehra Maidan here and gherao of the collector's office on Monday.

A large number of Satnami community members gathered to attend the protest. Police had put barricades at several places to stop the protesters from heading towards the collectorate.

"The Satnami community had called for a peaceful demonstration but the protest turned violent. Protesters pelted stones at police personnel and entered the collectorate by breaking barricades. They pelted stones at the office building and torched several vehicles parked there," said Balodabazar Superintendent of Police Sadanand Kumar.

Some 5,000 protesters broke through police barricades and pelted stones, leaving several cops injured, he said.

They entered the collectorate, set several cars, two-wheelers as well as the building housing the Superintendent of Police office on fire. The agitators also pelted stones at the collector's office and shattered window panes, Kumar said.

The fire was doused and the situation brought under control, the SP added.

"We have gathered video footage of the violence and will take strict action against the culprits. An assessment of damage caused by the violence was underway," the official said.

Visuals from the protest site showed some 50 motorcycles, two dozen cars and the SP office building in the collectorate in flames. A fire brigade vehicle was also torched by the mob. The protesters were seen clashing with police personnel.

In a post on X, Chief Minister Sai said he has directed the Raipur range Inspector General of Police and Raipur division commissioner to immediately reach the spot.

He said he had called the chief secretary and the DGP and took preliminary information about the incident and also sought a report on it.

Appealing for peace, the CM said he has directed officials to take strict action against those who disturb social harmony.

After the violence and arson, Balodabazar-Bhatapara Collector KL Chouhan issued an order imposing section 144 of the CrPC in Baldobazar municipality areas from 9 pm on Monday till 12 midnight of June 16.

The order stated that as a result of vandalism and arson targeting vehicles and buildings in the composite district office premises during the state-level agitation (gherao of collector and SP offices) by the Satnami samaj on Monday, an atmosphere of fear has been created among the residents of Balodabazar, including officers and employees working there.

Following the incident, anti-social elements can create an atmosphere of fear and disturb peace in the district. Keeping this in view, it was necessary to take immediate action (impose CrPC section 144) to maintain peace and order in the Balodabazar area, it added.

As per the order, "rally or procession will be completely prohibited in the Balodabazar Municipality till further orders. The entry of a group of five or more persons from other districts or outsiders will be prohibited. No person shall come out in a public place carrying any type of weapon like sword, axe, stick, knife, axe etc." The state government has already ordered a judicial probe into the vandalization of 'jaitkhamb', an official said.

"On the demand of various organizations and representatives of the Satnami community, Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Sharma, who also holds Home portfolio, has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident," the official said.

Sharma, in a statement on Monday morning, said incidents that disturb social harmony will not be tolerated and strict action will be taken against the culprits.

The Deputy CM urged people to maintain peace and social harmony.

The influential Satnami community, founded by medieval era social reformer Baba Ghasidas, represents a majority of Scheduled Castes in Chhattisgarh. PTI COR TKP BNM RSY