Mira Road: Bulldozer culture comes to Maharashtra

Shops belonging to the poor, many of them Hindus, are razed as saffron goons target those refusing to fly the Ram flags

Screen grab from a purported video of agitators attacking a Muslim shop on Mira Road
Screen grab from a purported video of agitators attacking a Muslim shop on Mira Road

Sujata Anandan

The Mira Road clashes in suburban Mumbai, on the eve of the pran pratishtha ceremony of Lord Ram in Ayodhya on 22 January, are now changing colour from religious riots to a potential war between rich and poor.

As the bulldozer culture arrived in Maharashtra a day after the clashes and officials razed several shops they claimed  were illegally set up in Mira Road, the activity spread to other parts of Thane district, where mostly the poor, some of them Hindu shopkeepers, also lost their premises.

NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) firebrand Jitendra Awhad, who represents the Muslim-majority Mumbra constituency of Thane district in the Maharashtra Assembly, quickly jumped into the fray to declare that this was a war between rich and poor.

“The rich living in bungalows and hi-fi apartments instigate such clashes and bulldozing actions to gain more land for their bungalows and apartments. And the poor suffer every which way in the process,” he said, adding for good measure, “We call Ram maryada purushottam, but these Ram bhakts broke every maryada during the pran pratishtha.”

Reports now filtering out of Mira Road indicate that the suburb was specifically picked for attack owing to its secularist credentials. This is perhaps the only place in Mumbai, or even India, where one single ground houses a crematorium, a Muslim kabristan (graveyard) and a cemetery.

This ground came up in the 1990s following the Babri Masjid demolition riots, when this suburb remained reasonably peaceful owing to its then Congress mayor Muzaffar Hussain, who set up a trust to manage the three-in-one resting places of the poor, saying it was appropriate that  people living together in life should also live together in death.

There have been many occasions when people not finding adequate resting places for their relatives in other kabristans and cemeteries have appealed to Hussain, who has readily offered them a spot without further question. This added to the harmony in the area.

The first time this peaceful coexistence was disturbed was eight years ago, when a few members of the Jain community specifically targeted a few Muslim butcher shops, demanding they shut down during Jain festivals. Since then, the BJP, which now has a fair presence in Mira Road, has been trying very hard — using every measure at its disposal — to violate the peace and harmony in this suburb.

There was a time when the only crimes reported in the area had to do with gang wars, but none of these mixed gangs had any explicit communal affiliations.

Now, though, Mira Road seems to have become a specific target as, eye witnesses say, hooligans arrived with backpacks full of stones and targeted shops that were not flying the saffron Ram flags on the day of the pran pratishtha. Some of these shops were Hindu-owned, but they too suffered in the process.

Not surprisingly, next day, when  a procession was taken out by Ram bhakts, the stoning was returned by the victims, and the clashes escalated to a full-blown communal riot. Fortunately, nobody died, though 19 persons have been arrested and the saffron Maharashtra government has reacted by sending bulldozers even into areas adjoining Mira Road to raze so-called illegal shops owned by Muslims, some of which have been in existence for two decades or more. 

Now, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad Muslimeen (AIMIM) has jumped into the fray, with Imtiaz Jalil, its sole MP from Maharashtra saying the Mira Road clashes were an attempt by the BJP to divert attention from the Maratha reservation issue, for which the Eknath Shinde government has failed to find a satisfactory solution.

Mahesh Jarange Patil, the man leading the movement, is at the moment leading a morcha towards Mumbai, and Jalil alleged that the riots are being engineered by the BJP to try and keep the Marathas from entering Mumbai.

Hussain and others, however, have swiftly called peace meetings involving all communities to prevent further clashes. The Marathas are still on their march, and the problems of the government have just been compounded by the 'rich trying to displace the poor' narrative.

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Published: 25 Jan 2024, 10:30 PM