Police going soft on general strike-related violence?

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Protesters clash with merchants in Manjeri.
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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala police received a standing ovation when they cracked down on BJP workers who went on a rampage during recent hartals but they are accused of taking it easy when it comes to the incidents related to the two-day general strike sponsored by trade unions.

The police went into overdrive to take to task the BJP workers who resorted to violence to support the party’s hartal call. They even published the list of criminals at the district level. Earlier, during the party’s protests against women’s entry to the Sabarimala shrine, the police had published a photo album of suspected assailants.

The same initiative is missing when it comes to dealing with the attacks related to the general strike, apparently because most of the accused have ties to the ruling CPM. The office of the director general of police said that a list of suspects had not been compiled so far.

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Protesters blocking a train in Ernakulam during the strike.

The director general of police had issued guidelines to deal with the 48-hour general strike organised by trade unions at the national level. The police wanted to avoid the strike being turned into a total shutdown on January 8 and 9.

The police chief had said that those who resorted to violence during the strike would be arrested and slapped with charges. The order was not keenly followed because of the involvement of powerful organisations such as the CITU.

Ironically, the forceful enforcement of the strike happened on the same day when the governor signed into law an ordinance that paved the way for strict actions against those who tried to foment trouble during hartals.

The police have arrested 6,914 persons in 2,187 cases related to hartals. No such data is available in the case of general strike-related violence.

The CPM has initiated compromise talks to save the leaders from cases. Several CPM leaders face cases related to protests including blocking trains. Some of them could be sacked if convicted. A conviction for blocking trains could hamper their chances of contesting elections.

More than 1,000 persons, including joint strike committee convener V Sivan Kutty and party district secretary Anavoor Nagappan, have been accused of blocking trains in Thiruvananthapuram. NGO Union state committee member Suresh Babu and district committee member Suresh Kumar are accused of ransacking the SBI Main Treasury branch in the city.

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The SBI main treasury branch near Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram was attacked during the strike.

The Railway Protection Force has registered 32 cases in the Thiruvananthapuram division for blocking trains. The offence attracts two years of jail and a fine of Rs 2,000 under the Railway Act.

Blocking railway officials from performing their duties can be punished with six months of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 500. Barging into the railway stations can be punished with six months of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000.

The Thiruvananthapuram division is in no mood to settle the cases. Divisional manager H K Sinha told Onmanorama that the railway would go ahead with the cases.

Though the protesters blocked trains, no attacks were reported anywhere. The railway has not estimated its losses for the two days. The RPF has been collecting the photos and videos of protesters in a bid to identify them. Everyone would be slapped with cases and the legal process could prolong for years, authorities said.

The police said that the SBI branch was attacked as part of a definite plan. The NGO Union leaders were irked that the bank employees refused to cooperate with the strike even though some of them were supportive of BJP-sponsored programmes.

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The NGO Union leaders wanted in connection with the attack are yet to be taken into custody. Both of them are employees of the tax department. The police may be giving the duo enough time to settle the case with the bank management.

The case is being probed by the cantonment assistant commissioner. NGO Union Thycaud area secretary A Asokan and district secretariat member T V Harilal had surrendered on Thursday. They have been remanded.

The police have also identified Sreevalsan, an employee of the treasury directorate, Anil Kumar, a civil supplies department staff and Bijuraj, a health department staff, as problem makers. Cases have been registered against 15 unidentified persons.

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