Blue squared off against red at Howrah station on Thursday morning, and the clash of colours had nothing to do with the India vs Zimbabwe World Cup war-paint.
The face-off between unlicensed porters — in blue — and the licensed ones in red took an ugly turn for around three hours early on Thursday. At least eight passengers, including a woman, were injured as bricks and bottles, masquerading as missiles, flew around in the new complex, railway officials said.
Trouble started soon after the arrival of the Jodhpur Express, when the coolies in blue and red began to gather near the taxi stand. “The unlicensed porters had called a bandh from Thursday to press their demand for regularisation of their services, but were forced to call it off after the high court intervened,” said Swapan Chowdhury, divisional railway manager (DRM), Howrah.
Around 300 porters on either side gathered on the spot and started squabbling over the loading and unloading of goods. Flashpoint was reached, witnesses said, when a licensed porter accused the ‘rivals’ of being “thieves” and “giving all coolies a bad name”.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose, with bricks, rods and soft-drink bottles — some in red and some in blue — flying all over the place. Passengers arriving to catch early morning local and long-distance trains were caught in the clash and had to be escorted out of the station by jawans of the Railway Protection Force (RPF). The outnumbered policemen beat a hasty retreat to the platform inspectors’ barracks. “We had warned the railway police on Tuesday, but they did not post enough men at the station,” said an Eastern Railway official.
Later, superintendent of policen (Howrah) Rajesh Kumar arrived with Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel to restore order. Police said 25 persons were arrested on charges of rioting. Howrah DRM Chowdhury said things returned to normal around 8 am. “There was no major disruption of services,” he added.
Railway officials alleged that the entire incident had been ‘pre-planned’. “Hundreds of iron rods, two truck-loads of soft-drink bottles and other items used in the clashes could not have been assembled instantly at 5:30 in the morning,” said an official, adding that the Citu-backed porters in blue “often resort to violence in the turf-tussle at the station”. Citu leader and CPM legislator from Howrah Lagan Deo Singh, however, alleged that the porters in red had joined hands with the railway authorities to trigger trouble.