| Vehicles set ablaze after the trouble in Agra on Wednesday. (PTI)
Lucknow, Aug. 29: A speeding truck that mowed down four persons walking home after prayers left Agra burning and Taj Mahal shut as a night of “atonement” flared into a morning of mayhem.
Rampaging mobs torched at least 20 trucks, eight police vehicles, a petrol pump and a shoe factory, and blocked the highway to Delhi before riot policemen fired in the air and burst tear gas shells to subdue the protesters.
One person was killed and over 50, including more than a dozen policemen, were injured in the violence that continued till late in the day.
“The situation is tense but under control to a large extent. SPs at all levels are on the spot, traffic has been diverted and the fires have been extinguished,” Uttar Pradesh police chief Vikram Singh said.
The dead man, identified as Abdul Latif, 26, had come out to look for his brother after hearing that four men had been run over.
“We are yet to find out if Latif died in the police firing or firing by anti-socials,” principal secretary (home) J.N. Chamber said in Lucknow.
All schools and colleges have been closed for the next three days while foreign tourists were advised to stay indoors.
“We sensed a threat in the way the crowd turned violent,” said district magistrate Mukesh Meshram. “We also immediately declared the area where the Taj is located curfew-bound.”
The Taj was reopened later but prohibitory orders remained in force in the entire city.
Passions flared as the killer truck sped away after running over the four men early today when they were returning from a Shab-e-Barat prayer, when Muslims remember their dead on the “night of forgiveness or atonement”. The popular belief is on this night, Allah prepares the destiny for all people on Earth for the coming year.
As morning broke, hundreds of people from the community spilled on to the streets and brick-batted the police, injuring an additional superintendent and the additional district magistrate.
Police forces were rushed in from Mathura, Etah, Mainpuri and Ferozabad while the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary deployed in the city.
Television footage showed smoke billowing over one neighbourhood, people throwing bottles and stones, and vehicles burning.
The violence soon spread to new areas as local toughs joined the fray. Police sources said the trouble, which began as a street violence, took on a communal colour around noon when the arsonists, among them local criminal elements, attacked houses of other communities in the Rakabganj and Nai ki Mandi areas.
The rival communities retaliated, forcing the police to clamp curfew in these areas. Later, curfew was imposed on other areas. Agra residents said the mob also attacked Nai ki Mandi police station.
“I believe the first sin of the administration was not to control the spate of violence quickly in the morning,” said Agra MP Raj Babbar, who tried to pacify the crowds.
Police chief Singh, who visited Agra in the afternoon, echoed him. “They reached late and there was no reason why vehicular traffic, closed in some areas of the city last night for Shab-e-Barat, should be thrown open before the processionists had dispersed,” he said.
The state government has ordered a magisterial probe.