Aspiring military recruits were seen protesting and demanding the abolition of the scheme by chanting slogans of we want justice about their enrolment. (DC Image)
HYDERABAD: The police on Friday opened fire at hundreds of unemployed youth, protesting against the Central government’s Agnipath military recruitment scheme, who went on a rampage at the Secunderabad Railway Station, killing a youth hailing from Warangal and injuring 14 others.
Panic prevailed at the station on Friday morning, as the protestors set trains ablaze and vandalised the station premises while shouting slogans against the scheme, demanding long-term recruitment in the defence forces. The protest lasted for about 10 hours before the police cleared the premises. Railway officials put the damage at about `9 crore.
Officials said the police detained 26 individuals for violence, and the Government Railway Police (GRP) booked cases against them.
The situation escalated within seconds as the protesters, most of them covering their faces with masks and clothes, went on a rampage by setting on fire trains, including Kolkata-bound East Coast Express, the Secunderabad-Manmad Ajanta Express, Raipur Express, Integral Coach Factory train and Rajkot Express.
They also set several stalls ablaze, blocked railway tracks with two-wheelers, gunny bags and wheelbarrows of railway porters. Several stall owners also complained that their cash and goods were stolen. Goods kept at the station’s parcel office were also said to be stolen.
According to the railway officials, the protestors entered the station premises through a side entrance at around 9 am and raised slogans and waved banners and placards. After holding a protest in front of a train stationed on Platform No. 1, they pulled out cargo on to the platform and the tracks and burnt them. They then started attacking trains and other properties.
As the situation escalated, the police reportedly fired about 10 rounds with rubber bullets to disperse the mob.
While D. Damodar Rakesh, an 18-year-old from Warangal, was allegedly killed in the firing, the injured individuals were identified as Jagannath Rangaswamy, 20, K. Rakesh, 20, J. Srikanth, 20, A. Kumar, 21, Parashuram, 22, P. Mohan, 20, Nagender Babu, 21, and Vakkari Vinay, 20, among others.
Dr Raja Rao, superintendent of Gandhi Hospital, where the victims of police firing were taken to, confirmed that one person was brought dead. "Two others underwent surgery at the Gandhi Hospital. The 11 other protestors suffered minor injuries and are stable and under observation," Dr Raja Rao said. One of the two persons who underwent surgeries had suffered a fractured femur and another had a chest injury. "The type and cause of their injuries will be analysed by the speciality doctors concerned," he added.
The protesters claimed that they were angry at the Centre for announcing the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces, even while they had been waiting for three years for the Common Entrance Exam (CEE) to be conducted, despite passing physical and medical tests.
They said the protest became violent once after the Railway Protection Force personnel charged at them. "We were protesting peacefully on the tracks. Once they started charging against us, we had to retaliate to protect ourselves," said a protester.
"Even though the protests are happening nation-wide, the firing took place only in Secunderabad. We want to know who gave orders to open fire on us. Who is responsible for the death of our fellow aspirant," asked a protestor.
Officials confirmed that the RPF was never given any orders to shoot and that it was the state police who fired at the mob with rubber bullets. Along with several stalls and coaches, the protesters also ransacked offices located on Platforms 1 and 10. Computers, electronics, CCTV cameras, lights and fans on all the 10 platforms were destroyed. The food stalls were allegedly looted, ransacked and set on fire. Power supply to the whole station was disconnected as the protesters attempted to enter electric locomotive engines.
Director General of Rail and Road Safety, Sandeep Shandiliya, along with additional commissioner of crimes, A.R. Srinivas, reached Platform No. 1 around noon, where the crowd had gathered, held a round of talks with the protesters and assured that he would take their demands to the higher-ups and left.
In videos that went viral on social media platforms, protesters can be seen wielding long sticks, rods and breaking the signboards and electronic display boards, apart from the windows of the parked coaches, shops and establishments at the platforms. Around afternoon, protesters sat on the railway tracks blocking trains, while police vacated the railway station and blocked the roads leading to it. Protesters continued shouting slogans against the Union government as police prevented them from coming onto the platforms.