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Army alerted

Special Correspondent

Police open fire as tribals resort to large-scale violence in Rishabdev

JAIPUR: The Army was alerted on Thursday as tribals in South West Rajasthan's Rishabdev town resorted to large-scale violence. Five tribals were injured -- one of them said to be critical -- when the police opened fire to control the mobs, which had positioned themselves on the hillocks and targeted those below with bows and arrows, slings and stones.

Angry tribals set fire to as many as 15 gang saws, used for cutting the famous green marble mined from the area, and torched a house and one bus. They showered stones on the police personnel below creating utter panic and terror among the non-Adivasi population. This was the second day of their violent confrontation with the authorities over the issue of ownership of the famous Rishabdev temple.

On Wednesday the tribals had clashed with the police forcing them to resort to tear gas and firing. The police action resulted in bullet injuries to two Adivasis. The tribals reportedly used the traditional bows and arrows and "gufon" (slings) besides country-made guns to attack the police.

Those injured included M.N. Dinesh, Superintendent of Police, Udaipur, Additional Collector B.S. Pawar and two Deputy SPs, besides over three dozens of police personnel. The mobs, which stayed on in the hillocks for the night, resumed their attack on the habitation in the town below the next day.

"The situation is very serious. The mobs have gone out of control," Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, who hails from the neighbourhood, told journalists here in the evening. "We have sent additional forces to the town and have alerted the Army," he said.

The State Government has constituted a Cabinet sub-committee to look into the temple issue. Mr. Kataria put the number of those assembled over the hillocks around 5,000.

Pradesh Congress Committee president B.D. Kalla, who condemned the police action against tribals, demanded a judicial enquiry into it. "Instead of initiating a dialogue with the Adivasi population, the Government itself created a law and order situation by its erratic action," he charged.

The trouble had started the previous day when the Adivasis of the town, named after the revered idol Rishabdev, confronted the police after gathering at one place to discuss the recent Supreme Court order over ownership of the temple. The dispute over the temple, involving the Adivasis, Jain and Hindu communities, goes back to 1940s. Both the sects of Jains also claim their right to worship the idol.

The tribals, for whom Rishabdev is "Kesariya Baba", are reportedly piqued over the Supreme Court verdict, delivered on January 4, directing the Rajasthan Government to constitute a committee to manage the temple affairs. The Court had also asked the Government to look into the claims of the two sects of the Jain community -- the Shwetambers and the Digambers. The temple is presently managed by the Devasthan Department.

"The Supreme Court order has led to misgivings in the minds of the Adivasis over the future status of the temple. They fear that their claim over the temple has been overlooked," said Raghuveer Singh Meena, tribal leader and Congress MLA from neighbouring Sarada, talking to this correspondent on phone.

The Government is looking for some intermediaries to talk to the tribals and Mr. Meena is said to be one among them. The authorities are also planning to send more police personnel, including the lone officer of the Indian Police Officer belonging to the Bheel tribe, to the affected area.

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