Vantage point

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Trouble in Paradise

Pune has been one of the most non-violent cities in India. There have been no riots for as long as I have lived there, crime rate is quite low, and the crowds on Pune's streets are quite well-behaved. A lot of us who have grown up in Pune often talk, after touching a lot of wood, about how we have lived a very sheltered and safe life in the city. No natural disasters, no riots, no major acts of violence.... let me go and touch some more wood. In fact I remember that after the Babri Masjid was demolished and Mumbai burnt, Pune was remarkably peaceful. I was in school then, and apart from a "precautionary half day" on 7th December, things went about as if nothing had happened.

Don't get me wrong. I am not painting Pune as a city where violence is unheard of. Of course there are murders, fights, the occasional political clashes. Where Pune has been....or had been...untouched was with respect to the mob phenomenon. The Pune "mob" has never really done anything sinister.

That record has been tarnished today with reports of violence, stone-throwing and lathi-charge (All words never mentioned in the same byline as the name Pune) in the city during the Ganpati immersion procession. The story has not yet appeared online, so my information is limited to what I heard on TV.

Apparently, the Pune police decided to strictly enforce the Supreme Court deadline of 10 p.m. on loud-speakers. So a while after 10 p.m. at the Alka Talkies Chowk, which is the spot where all the main Ganpati routes converge, the police asked the Ganpati mandals to switch off their loudspeakers. This caused some trouble, with a lot of the mandal volunteers, almost definitely inebriated, refusing to comply, and throwing stones at the PMC tent, which regulates the procession.

What happened exactly after this is a bit sketchy, but it seems as if the police didn't take to this stoning kindly, and started lathi-charging the miscreants. Anybody who has been to Alka Talkies Chowk during visarjan will know that it is jam-packed with mandal volunteers and so the potential of something like this spiralling out of control is high. Apparently that is what happened with the violence spreading as the mob started stoning and destroying public property, and there are even reports of a police van being set on fire.

As things stand now, almost a hundred Ganpatis are still to be immersed, and the situation is returning to normal. The exact details will be known only later today.

Hope this is just a one-off incident of trouble in paradise.