PFI Kerala strike
Besides police personnel, some bus and lorry drivers and commuters suffered injuries in stone pelting and other related incidents. Pic: Twitter

PFI hartal in Kerala turns violent; HC takes suo motu case

Widespread stone pelting at public transport buses, damaging of shops and vehicles, and sporadic incidents of violence were witnessed in many places in Kerala on Friday (September 23) during the statewide dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Islamic outfit Popular Front of India (PFI).

The hartal was called by the PFI to protest against the raids in the offices and residences of its leaders and their subsequent arrests on Thursday by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and other agencies for allegedly supporting terror activities in the country.

Hartal supporters took out protest marches, blocked vehicles and forcefully downed the shutters of shops in various places, where the outfit has a strong presence.

Also read: What is PFI and why has the Centre ordered a nationwide crackdown?

Besides police personnel, some bus and lorry drivers and commuters suffered injuries in stone pelting and other related incidents.

What Kerala HC said

The Kerala High Court took a case on its own over PFI’s hartal and subsequent sporadic incidents of violence in the state today.

The court said holding hartals were banned by it earlier and the destruction of public property cannot be accepted.

The court also directed the state administration to take stern action against those who violate the court order banning hartals.

In Erattupetta town of Kottayam district, police had to resort to lathi-charge to disperse hartal supporters when they tried to block the vehicles after gathering in large numbers, closed the shops and threatened the people who were travelling on private vehicles.

Hundreds of PFI activists were reportedly detained in local police stations as a precautionary measure, sources said.

Watch: 106 PFI cadre arrested following NIA raids across 11 states

More police personnel were deployed in and around the town as tension continued to prevail in the area.

Kannur locals hit back 

Meanwhile, a group of PFI activists were beaten up in Kannur by local people when they tried to forcefully down the shutters of shops here as part of the hartal. Angry local people reacted strongly when the protesters asked them to close the shops, beat them up and handed one of them to the police at the Central Bazar in Payyannur, Kannur in the politically-volatile northern district. 

In the visuals aired by local television channels, it could be seen that one of the hartal supporters was beaten up by a group of local people, who chased him when he tried to run away and handed him over to the police later. A policeman could be seen taking him in an autorickshaw in the visuals. According to local people, the incident happened when a group of PFI workers rushed to the bazaar area knowing that some of the shops were open. 

Besides the shoppers and local people, those belonging to other political parties also said to have joined in the bid to check the PFI workers’ attempt to close the shops.

Police personnel attacked

At Pallimukku in Kollam, a hartal supporter allegedly hit two police personnel, who were on patrolling duty, with his bike when they tried to stop him from abusing commuters. Though he managed to escape from the spot, a manhunt was on to nab him, police said.

A lottery shop, kept open at Sankranthi Kavala in Kottayam, was destroyed by the hartal supporters while some freight lorries, which were on on its way from Mangaluru, were stopped and its keys were snatched away by them on a national highway in Kannur which caused blocked traffic in the area.

Local media reported that a petrol bomb was hurled at a vehicle that was carrying newspapers for distribution at Narayanpara in Kannur in the morning.

Stones were pelted at Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses (KSRTC) in almost all districts including Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kozhikode, Wayanad, and Alappuzha.

Sevaral buses were largely destroyed as their glasses were broken and seats were damaged. However, Transport Minister Antony Raju said there was no move to stop the services in the wake of widespread attacks against the KSRTC buses.

Also read: PFI case: NIA raids multiple locations in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana

“Our intention is to provide maximum service to the commuters who are facing difficulty to travel during the hartal day. Police will surely take action against those who resort to violence and destruction,” he said.

A 15-year-old girl and an auto-rickshaw driver suffered minor injuries in the stone pelting allegedly by PFI activists in Kozhikode and Kannur respectively.

Lorry driver injured in Kozhikode

A lorry driver, who was on his way to Erode in Tamil Nadu, suffered severe injuries on his nose and eyes after the hartal supporters hurled stones and broke the glass of his vehicle in Kozhikode.

“They attacked us deliberately with an intention to destroy the lorry. The vehicle was parked on the roadside when they came and attacked it. I went to a private hospital for first aid and now I am going to the government hospital for a detailed check-up,” he said.

As soon as the PFI called for a hartal on Thursday, the state police chief had given directions to beef up security across Kerala and to take stern action against those who violate the law.

But, there were complaints that police did not act swiftly in many places when hartal supporters tried to block vehicles and forcefully shut down the shops on Friday.

Also read: Security beefed up in Kerala as PFI calls hartal to protest arrest of leaders

Though a large number of hartal supporters, who indulged in violence and criminal activities, were taken into custody across the state, no exact figure was available at the moment, sources said.

The PFI on Thursday had said a hartal will be observed in the state today “against the RSS-controlled fascist governments attempt to silence dissenting voices using the central agencies”.

The hartal would be held from 6 AM to 6 PM, A Abdul Sathar, state general secretary, PFI, had said in the statement.

106 PFI functionaries arrested

On Thursday, PFI workers had taken out marches to the places where raids were carried out and raised slogans against the Centre and its investigating agencies. However, central forces were already deployed in all such places as part of strengthening security.

Multi-agency teams spearheaded by the NIA had arrested 106 functionaries of the PFI on Thursday in near-simultaneous raids at 93 locations in 15 states for allegedly supporting terror activities in the country.

Kerala, where PFI has some strong pockets, accounted for the maximum number of 22 arrests, officials said.

PFI state president CP Mohammed Basheer, national chairman OMA Salam, national secretary Nasaruddin Elamaram, former chairman E Abubacker and others were among those arrested.

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