By Ashutosh Mishra 

Bhubaneswar: Tension continues to grip Sambalpur, western Odisha’s political and cultural nerve centre, as the town remained under curfew for the second day on Sunday (April 16) in the wake of violence during and on the eve of Hanuman Jayanti, a religious festival celebrated on April 14, coinciding with Mahavishubha Sankranti, popular known as Pana Sankranti.

With police patrolling every nook and corner of the town, curfew was relaxed for a few hours to facilitate conduct of National Defence Academy (NDA) and Assistant Section Officer (ASO) examinations. Internet services remain suspended in Sambalpur till Monday to prevent the spread of malicious rumours. However, it has added to the misery of people who can neither move out of their homes nor access the internet to communicate with others. “People are facing all kinds of problems,” said local journalist Subrat Mohanty.

Curfew was imposed in Sambalpur on Saturday following incidents of arson and a murder in the town during the Hanuman Jayanti procession. The deceased Chandra Mirdha was attacked while returning home after taking part in the procession. Though Sambalpur superintendent of police B. Gangadhar said the murder was not related to Hanuman Jayanti celebrations, curfew was clamped on areas falling within the jurisdiction of Town Police Station, Dhanupali Police Station, Khetrajpur Police Station, Ainthapali Police Station, Bareipali Police Station and Sadar Police Station which are considered most sensitive. “All possible measures to ensure peace are being taken,” said Gangadhar. Odisha director general of police Sunil Bansal also visited the town to assess the situation. He appealed to the people to cooperate with the police and the administration, and said normalcy would be restored in the town soon.

Sources said police have made as many as 85 arrests so far in connection with violence in the town which began on April 12, when a motorcycle rally was organised by the local Hanuman Jayanti Samanvaya Samiti. Some people allegedly pelted stones on the rally when it was passing through Motijharan Chhak. The rallyists retaliated and people on both sides sustained injuries. Several policemen including an officer were also hurt in the stone pelting when they intervened and tried to bring the situation under control.

In the wake of the violence, prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC were imposed in several areas and the district administration held talks with various stakeholders to ensure that the Hanuman Jayanti procession was held peacefully on April 14. Though heavy police arrangement along the route of the procession that day ensured that there were no untoward incidents in the areas through which it passed, incidents of arson were reported from other parts of the town and a murder also took place. “There have been stray incidents of violence,” said Sambalpur SP B. Gangadhar, but the seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the administration was forced to clamp a curfew on the town and internet services had to be suspended till Monday.

State BJP president Manmohan Samal was unrelenting in his attack on the state government which he held solely responsible for violence in the town. “Members of the minority community (Muslims) attacked a peaceful religious procession in the town but the police remained a mute spectator. State government has completely failed to maintain law and order. If the state government is not capable of tackling the situation with the help of its police they should call central forces,” said Samal, a former minister…

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