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Chhattisgarh deputy CM Vijay Sharma visits violence-hit Balodabaza

Balodabazar: Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Sharma along with two cabinet colleagues on Tuesday visited Chhattisgarh's Balodabazar city, a day after a mob set fire to a government office and scores of vehicles during a protest called by the Satnami community against the alleged vandalisation of a religious structure.

Sharma, who holds the Home portfolio, directed that stern action should be taken against those who indulged in the arson, an official said.

More than two dozen cars, around 70 two-wheelers and a government building were torched at the district office premises after the protest turned violent on Monday.

Several police personnel were also injured in stone-pelting.

Unidentified persons vandalized 'jaitkham' or `victory pillar', a sacred symbol worshipped by the Satnami community, near the holy Amar Gufa at Giroudpuri Dham in the district on the intervening night of May 15 and 16. Police subsequently arrested three persons in connection with the incident.

To protest against the incident, the community called for a demonstration at Dussehra Maidan here on Monday, and also a `gherao' at the collector's office.

As the protest led to arson and stone-pelting, the Balodabazar-Bhatapara district administration imposed section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting assembly of four or more people in Balodabazar city till June 16.

To take stock of the situation, Deputy CM Sharma, Revenue Minister Tank Ram Verma and Food Minister Dayaldas Baghel visited the district office in the wee hours of Tuesday.

Talking to reporters, Sharma expressed grief over the incident and instructed officials to take strict action against those who took part in the arson.

Many of the damaged vehicles belonged to poor people who had come for work at the government office. Government property was also damaged and documents in the record room were burnt, the deputy CM said.

He also noted that earlier, after leaders of the Satnami community demanded a high-level inquiry, being dissatisfied with the police probe into the damage to 'jaitkham', Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai ordered a judicial inquiry. People of the community expressed satisfaction over it and said they would submit a memorandum expressing gratitude to the CM, but some anti-social elements committed arson during Monday's protest, he claimed.

Visuals of the protest site showed some 50 motorcycles, two dozen cars and the building housing the offices of the Collector and Superintendent of Police damaged due to arson. A fire brigade vehicle was also torched by the mob which was seen clashing with police.

Several people have been taken into custody, police sources said.

The influential Satnami community, founded by medieval-era social reformer Baba Ghasidas, represents the largest Scheduled Castes group in Chhattisgarh.

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