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Striking Indian low-caste workers bring chaos to Mumbai

MUMBAI, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Many businesses in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai closed on Wednesday as protesters from a low-caste community blocked traffic and shopping malls and staged sit-ins on railway lines after clashes with right-wing Hindus.

The call for a general strike across the western state of Maharashtra led to largely peaceful protests, but life in many parts of Mumbai was disrupted with Dalits pelting buses with stones and deflating tyres in some areas. Railway lines and some major roads leading into the city were blocked.

The Dalits, who rank at the bottom in India's ancient caste hierarchy, called the strike in protest against attacks from right-wing groups in the city of Pune on Monday. The strike shut businesses and schools in Mumbai and other cities across the state.

"The government didn't arrest the perpetrators of violence in Pune. Hindu group members were beating Dalits and the police were just watching from afar," said protester Sandeep Kamble. "We are demanding the arrest of the culprits."

The protest came a day after thousands of Dalits hurled stones and caused traffic disruption across Mumbai. Dalits have been ostracized by upper-caste Hindus for centuries for jobs they deemed as impure, such as garbage pickers and tannery workers.

Those protests followed celebrations by Dalits in Pune, 150 km (95 miles) from Mumbai, on the 200th anniversary of a battle they won, fighting alongside British colonial forces, against an upper-caste ruler. Those celebrations were disrupted by right wing Hindu groups and a 28-year-old man was killed in the clashes, according to the state government.

In parts of the Mumbai suburb of Thane, officials banned the assembly of crowds, small or large, to control protesters, who disrupted road and rail services during the morning rush hour.

Schools were closed in some cities and internet service was down in places to restrict social media access and the spread of rumours.

Fleet taxis, along with cab hailing services like Uber and Ola, were also largely off the roads in Mumbai on Wednesday. Several offices asked employees to work from home. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Swati Bhat; Editing by Nick Macfie)