Friday, March 1, 2024

How did violence reach Mumbai’s Mira Road?

In the heart of Mumbai’s suburbs lies Mira Road—an area that holds immense sentimental value for me. It is more than just a locality; it’s a living landscape painted with laughter, childhood memories, and shared moments that are profoundly etched in my heart. This suburban haven, once known for its unity and diversity, now bears the weight of recent discord, disrupting the tranquillity that once defined Mira Road.

On January 21, individuals from the Hindu community entered Nayanagar, a Muslim-dominated area. Carrying saffron flags and chanting “Jai Shree Ram,” they attempted to enter every lane of Naya Nagar. The rift escalated as they harassed local women, chanted slogans near them, and attempted to place a flag on the mosque. The situation worsened, leading to harsh arguments when locals asked them to respect their sentiments.

A viral video featured my school building in a narrow lane known as Banegar Gali, it’s worth noting that it is the last building, inaccessible to vehicles without taking a U-turn. Since there is hardly any temple in the middle of Naya Nagar, it’s perplexing to understand what was the reason to enter the heart of Naya Nagar and disrupt the peace. The tension heightened when individuals affiliated with the same group later entered the next day, hoisting a flag on the mosque, pelting stones, chanting “JSR,” and igniting firecrackers. The motives behind these actions in a lane that has hardly any temples remain perplexing. The question naturally arises: Why the necessary to enter the area of Muslim dominated locality and chant provocative slogans and pelt stones on mosques?

The discomfiting experience of my cousin’s sister Khadija (name changed) on January 20th adds another layer to this narrative. Wearing a hijab during her visit to Bhayandar, she became the target of unwarranted attention. The peace and acceptance that should accompany personal choices were disrupted by shouts of “Jai Shri Ram,” highlighting the growing tensions in the region.

In an unfolding chapter of hostility, the roots of the current incident in Mira Road can be traced back to a date – March 12, 2023. On this Sunday, Kajal Hindustani, a controversial speaker from Gujarat, delivered a speech at an event organized by Sakal Hindu Samaj, known as the Hindu Janakrosh Morcha. Little did anyone anticipate the consequences of her words, as they set in motion a series of events that continue to resonate through Mira-Bhayandar.

Hindustani’s divisive rhetoric took centre stage as she advocated for an economic boycott of the Muslim community. Using derogatory language and fabricating baseless conspiracies, she targeted the residents of Nayanagar, branding them as “jihadis.” Within her narrative, Love Jihad and Land Jihad surfaced as divisive topics that damaged the peaceful harmony that had been the norm in the region. This poisonous dog whistle, full of prejudice, fostered the seeds of hatred and increased tension in the community since then. 

In the aftermath of Kajal Hindustani’s provocative speech on March 12, 2023, the discord found a disconcerting sequel with the onset of Ramzan later that year. The resonance of religious tensions sounded through the streets of Nayanagar as their community boys on bikes, fueled by divisive fervour, intruded upon the sacred atmosphere of the Mosque. The persistent provocations, marked by the unnecessary chanting of “Jai Shri Ram,” near mosques at the time of namaz. This alarming situation led the residents of Nayanagar to confront the instigators from the Hindu community, grabbing two of them and handing them over to the police. These boys for their disruptive actions, spent a few days in custody before being granted bail. The incident served as a painful reminder of the deepening divides within Mira-Bhayandar, where even religious observances became entangled in the web of communal hatred.

The residents of Mira Road were anticipating that MLA Geeta Jain would play a role in diffusing the escalating tensions, but her recent statements have left the community in shock. Instead of advocating for peace and understanding, Geeta Jain urged the police to remove the barricades in Naya Nagar, a Muslim-dominated area, urging them to conduct a rally in that vicinity. This stance is disheartening, as it overlooks the safety concerns and protection measures put in place to safeguard the residents of Naya Nagar.

Her insistence on entering the area without addressing the underlying issues and fostering dialogue between the communities adds to the precarious situation. Referring to the Muslim community, her comments about a time limit of five minutes for removal of police and entering the area only heighten the anxiety and hopelessness felt by residents. In times of communal tension, the expectation from a public representative is to promote unity and work towards resolving conflicts rather than aggravating them.

Surprisingly, prominent opposition politicians have remained silent in the face of the growing crisis. One such politician is Vijay Wadettiwar, the Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly for the INC (Indian National Congress). To strengthen his party’s position in Mumbai, where our votes are crucial, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of his party, has started the ‘Bharat Nyay Yatra,’ which is scheduled to conclude in Mumbai. Though Rahul Gandhi emphasised ‘nafrat ke bazar mein mohabbat ki dukaan,’ signifying the embrace of love amid hatred, it seems that he has been oblivious to the violent atmosphere in recent days.

The absence of any statements or actions from leaders, including Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MP Rajan Vichare, regarding the situation in Mira Road is disheartening. It raises concerns about their responsiveness, especially when they actively seek our votes and community support during elections. This perceived indifference from key political figures underlines a significant gap in their commitment to the welfare of Mira Road and the Muslim community as well, leaving residents disillusioned and questioning the genuine nature of political representation. These leaders must prioritize community concerns over political considerations, actively engage with the core issues, and contribute to restoring peace and unity in our community.

Shaikh Tabinda is an MBA student at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies.

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