Popular Front of India (PFI) activists were beaten in Kerala's Kannur on Friday when they tried to forcefully shut shops during their state-wide strike.
Following the National Investigation Agency (NIA)-led multi-agency operation against PFI on Thursday in which over 100 activists and leaders werea arrested in 11 states and Union territories, the PFI on Friday held a strike in Kerala which turned violent.
Kerala on Friday witnessed widespread stone pelting at public transport buses, damaging of shops and vehicles, and sporadic incidents of violence in many places during the statewide dawn-to-dusk hartal called by PFI.
In Kannur, a group of PFI activists were beaten up by local people when they tried to forcefully down the shutters of shops. Angry local people reacted strongly when the protesters asked them to close the shops, beat them up and handed one of them to the police at the Central Bazar in Payyannur in the politically-volatile northern district.
In the visuals aired by local television channels, it could be seen that one of the hartal supporters was beaten up by a group of local people, who chased him when he tried to run away and handed him over to the police later. A policeman could be seen taking him in an autorickshaw in the visuals.
According to local people, the incident happened when a group of PFI workers rushed to the bazaar area knowing that some of the shops were open. Besides the shoppers and local people, those belonging to other political parties also said to have joined in the bid to check the PFI workers' attempt to close the shops.
At least four people were reportedly under the custody of Payyannur police in connection with the incident.
The nationwide NIA-led crackdown on PFI
The Islamic outfit PFI has been under the scanner of security and investigative agencies for years.
In what's being said as the largest-ever operations, the NIA, Enforcement Directorate (ED), and state police forces on Thursday carried out near-simultaneous raids on PFI establishments in 11 states and Union territories. A total of 106 activists and leaders were arrested.
Those arrested have been charged with a host of offences, ranging from terror funding and radicalising people to holding terror camps and waging war against the nation.
PFI's attacks on commuters, vehicles across Kerala
PFI 'hartal' supporters took out protest marches, blocked the vehicles and forcefully downed the shutters of shops in various places, where the outfit has a strong presence.
Besides police personnel, some bus and lorry drivers and commuters suffered injuries in stone pelting and other related incidents.
Hundreds of PFI activists were reportedly detained in local police stations as a precautionary measure, sources said.
More police personnel were deployed in and around the town as tension continued to prevail in the area.
A hartal supporter allegedly hit two police personnel, who were on patrolling duty, with his bike when they tried to stop him from abusing commuters at Pallimukku in Kollam.
Though he managed to escape from the spot, a manhunt was on to nab him, police said.
A lottery shop, kept open at Sankranthi Kavala in Kottayam, was destroyed by the hartal supporters while some freight lorries, which were on on its way from Mangaluru, were stopped and its keys were snatched away by them on a national highway in Kannur which caused blocked traffic in the area.
Local media reported that a petrol bomb was hurled at a vehicle which was carrying newspapers for distribution at Narayanpara in Kannur in the morning.
Stones were pelted at Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses (KSRTC) in almost all districts including Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kozhikode, Wayanad, and Alappuzha.
Sevaral buses were largely destroyed as its glasses were broken and seats were damaged.
However, Transport Minister Antony Raju said there was no move to stop the services in the wake of widespread attacks against the KSRTC buses.
"Our intention is to provide maximum service to the commuters who are facing difficulty to travel during the hartal day. Police will surely take action against those who resort to violence and destruction," he said.
A 15-year-old girl and an auto-rickshaw driver suffered minor injuries in the stone pelting allegedly by PFI activists in Kozhikode and Kannur respectively.
A lorry driver, who was on his way to Erode in Tamil Nadu, suffered severe injuries on his nose and eyes after the hartal supporters hurled stones and broke the glass of his vehicle in Kozhikode.
"They attacked us deliberately with an intention to destroy the lorry. The vehicle was parked on the roadside when they came and attacked it. I went to a private hospital for first aid and now I am going to the government hospital for a detailed check-up," he said.
Kerala government, High Court get stern over PFI strike
As soon as the PFI called for a hartal on Thursday, the state police chief had given directions to beef up security across Kerala and to take stern action against those who violate the law.
But, there were complaints that police did not act swiftly in many places when hartal supporters tried to block vehicles and forcefully shut down the shops on Friday.
Though a large number of hartal supporters, who indulged in violence and criminal activities, were taken into custody across the state, no exact figure was available at the moment, sources said.
The Kerala High Court took a case on its own over PFI's hartal and subsequent sporadic incidents of violence in the state on Friday.
The court said holding hartals were banned by it earlier and the destruction of public property cannot be accepted. It also directed the state administration to take stern action against those who violate the court order banning hartals.
(With PTI inputs)