Their Bombay Our Bombay

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: January 1, 1994

Thousands of Muslims and Hindus have moved out of old areas of residence over the past 12 months in search of the security of numbers. The silent ghettoisation taking place in Bombay bodes ill for the future health of the urbs prima of India.
 
Hafeez Shiekh, a senior executive of a music recording company, residing at Takshila Housing Society on the Mahakali Caves road in Andheri (east), was traumatised by the events of January, 1993.
 
In an interview for the film, “Bombay – A myth Shattered”, last February, he had said: “My wife and other members of the family have been after me to shave off my beard..if the time comes I may even have to do that.” Before January 1993, Sheikh was living in a rented flat and was planning to buy one soon to make Takshila his permanent home. But shaken by the daily threats to Muslim residents from some hoodlums in the neighbourhood, he decided on a safer option. He and his family have now shifted to Dubai.
 
  • The Christian wife of Sajid Khan, a finance formerly employed with a foreign bank branch in the metropolis, told Combat some months ago: “All the young and well-qualified Muslims whom I know are anxiously seeking opportunities abroad. Who would risk the lives of their families after what went on in Bombay last January? If it can happen in Bombay it can happen anywhere.” The bankman and his family have already moved to Saudi Arabia.
 
  • Muslim residents of Pratikshanagar, a transit camp located close to the Shanmukhananda hall in central Bombay experienced a harrowing time last January. Hindus who had been neighbours for over a decade held starving men, women and children to ransom on the street for three days and nights.
 
A young sub-editor with an Urdu newspaper is only one of the victims of 455 families who were rescued by the army, never to return. “We are all scattered now, some in the Bandra (West) reclamation camp, others in Oshiwara, Jogeshwari. After being betrayed by our own neighbours, how can we ever think of going back?”
 
  • The plight of many Hindu families from the Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari, a western suburb where a family of seven was roasted alive last year, is no better. They still camp at the Gumfa municipal school thanks to the authorities. Four of them initially agreed to return to homes re-built for their rehabilitation by YUVA, a voluntary group.
 
“But,” said Navtej, the action co-ordinator of YUVA, “These families finally baulked at returning to take up residence. We have since converted the rooms into a space for community activities.
 
  • In the Hindu-dominated Chachanagar basti nearby, only five of the 28 Muslim families which had fled have returned on a temporary basis. With the first hint of fresh tension, they immediately move out of the area.
 
  • Though Ameena has a home of her own in the Housing Board colony in Nirmal Nagar, Bandra (east), she has been living with her parents in a nearby building for the last year. Last January, everything that her family ever owned was looted or torched. Her husband, a journalist who has to work odd hours, feels scared returning home.
 
  • There is just one more Muslim family living in the block where Ameena’s parents stay. “Rahna hai to dab ke raho (If you want to stay here, live under our thumb),” is the oft-repeated dictat for the few Muslim families in the housing board colony, from neighbours, in an area which has been the fiefdom of Shiv Sena MLA, Madhukar Sarpotdar, for the last few years.
 
Ameena’s husband, and most other Muslims living in the Shiv Sena dominated Nirmalnagar and the Kherwadi municipal BMC colony nearby, have applied to the Housing Board for transfer, with no success.
 
The couple have been constrained to hang on to their flatlet since no one is “allowed” to offer more than Rs. 1.75 lakh for property bought at Rs. 2 lakh a few years ago. “We have better amenities, more open space here in Bandra. But now we will have to shift to Madanpura (south- central Bombay)?”
 
A Hindu who had been residing in the area for decades, was killed last January