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'Police Didn't Stop the Mob': Shopkeepers, Injured Recount Hindutva Violence at Mumbai's Mira Road

Coinciding with the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, around 300 young men descended on the Mumbai neighbourhood and attacked shops that had a seemingly Muslim name, and also others that did not hoist a saffron flag outside their establishments.
Spot outside Banegar Galli in Naya Nagar where violence broke out on January 21. Photo: Sukanya Shantha.

Mumbai: On Tuesday, January 23, when a mob of over 200-300 men descended on Sector 5 of Shanti Nagar in Mira Road, Mumbai, they already knew their target quite well. Shops sporting saffron flags with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ printed on them had to be spared, the rest were all to be attacked. Saba Boutique was one such establishment owned by Muslims among the otherwise Hindu-dominated shopping neighbourhood.

“It was a passing commotion,” Shamsher Alam, owner of the 13-year-old boutique, told The Wire. The men, most of them in their teens and 20s, barged into the boutique and pelted stones. Almost all of them had backpacks and appeared to have stored big stones in them. They hurled stones at the shop, destroyed glass panes and mannequins placed outside the boutique and moved ahead. “It was all over within 30 seconds,” Alam added. His son and brother-in-law were injured in the attack.

Saba Boutique, one of the many shops owned by Muslims that was destroyed in the attack. Photo: Sukanya Shantha.

The crowd had then moved to other shop establishments belonging to Muslims in the neighbouring lane. Even as the attack continued, the local police from the Naya Nagar police station were seen standing on the street, just 20 metres away. “But they didn’t stop the mob. It was almost as if the police were there for the mob’s safety,” he claimed.

Today, January 24, Alam and other shop owners who incurred massive losses in the attack had visited the police station. The police, they claimed, refused to file a first information report (FIR) despite producing damning evidence. In many other shops that The Wire visited, shop owners had identical stories to narrate.

Shaikh Faiyyaz Ahmed, the owner of Chote Nawab shoe shop showed CCTV footage of the time when his shop was attacked. Young boys, most likely in their teens, could be seen pelting stones at the shop. They too had heavy backpacks, filled with stones. Some had their faces covered, many didn’t care to cover their faces.

In sector 3, a tempo driver was attacked by the mob. His tempo had “Rashid Tempo Service” painted on the back. 21-year-old Mohammad Tariq and two others were injured in this attack. At a mobile shop close by another 49-year-old man was injured in the attack. Mohammad Umar, originally from Gujarat, works at a local optician. The shop, although had a neutral-sounding name ‘Blue Eye’, was still attacked. That Umar says happened for two reasons. One, they didn’t have a saffron flag outside the shop and two, the men with their beards “looked Muslim”. The apprehension of being attacked for not sporting a saffron flag makes sense as another optical shop Gangar Eyenation was attacked too. The shop, owned by a Hindu person, didn’t have a saffron flag hoisted outside the shop.

Advocate Sachin Salvi appearing for the victims of the attack told The Wire after persuing the police for a long time, they finally filed FIR in four cases. One of them was against a mob that attacked a 16-year-old boy who was attacked on the road. “The boy had to be hospitalised after the attack. The police were reluctant to file FIRs but when we refused to budge, they finally took the FIR,” Salvi said.

January 23 was day 3 of the violence that broke out in Mira Road, a fast- developing neighbourhood in Thane district. According to the 2011 census data, Mira Road has over 16% Muslim population. In the past decade, as the population of Mumbai began to burst at the seams, people had to move to faraway suburban areas like Mira Road and Bhayander.

The region still has a sizeable free land parcel and many real estate developers have been eyeing the region. Many Muslim locals who The Wire spoke to drew a connection between the attack and the booming real estate business in the area. “It is always easier to attract buyers if you don’t have as many Muslims in the area. That way the property sounds more cosmopolitan and real estate prices shoot up too,” said Mohammad Khalid Siddiqui, a local social activist.

January 22 incident was not out of some sudden provocation. Locals say it was well-planned. The police were in fact patrolling major roads of the city. But they failed to stop attacks. Just an hour before the attack, the Mira Bhayander municipal corporation decided to raze several “illegal structures” to the ground. At Haidary Chowk in the Naya Nagar area of Mir Road, seven kutcha structures were flattened by the corporation bull dozers. These structures have existed in the area for more than two decades. But not once have the people running them received a notice or prior warning, they said.

Shamim Ahmed, who ran a workshop of two-wheeler vehicles from one of the tin-structures for over 10 years said at around 5 pm some officials of the local corporation—backed by a large team of local police and Rapid Action Force (RAF)—landed at their shops. “They physically pulled us out and began demolition of the structures,” Ahmed said. Those who lost their shops had nothing to do with the attacks that occurred in other parts of Mira Road. “But we became easy targets,” he said.

The first incident occurred on January 21. It was around 10:30 pm, when several young men entered Banegar galli in Naya Nagar. Almost all houses in this area belongs to the Muslim community. The men, locals claim, were blaring loud music and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. They finally stopped outside Sanghvi Empire housing society and played loud music. “The building is at the dead end of the road. The men knew there was no other route to get out from there. They were not passing by but had come with an intention to provoke,” said Zuleikha, a resident of Singhvi Empire.

The Muslim locals entered into a heated argument with the Hindutva men and the argument soon got violent. Videos have gone viral on social media platform and local BJP leaders have used it to flare-up communal sentiments in the state. Soon after the incident, Maharashtra deputy minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced that “strict action” would be taken against anybody trying to disturb law and order in the state. 13 men were arrested soon after. Of them, two are Zuleikha’s sons. “The police took away our children. But did not question the men who had entered the area and were shouting Jai Shri Ram slogans late at night”, she complained.

Among those arrested, two are minors and have been sent to a children’s home in Bhiwandi. A few more arrests were made on January 23.

The police filed another FIR against a man named Abu Shama who allegedly recorded a video of himself lamenting the state of affairs in the country and blaming the local politicians for fanning communal hatred in the country. Shama was arrested today (January 24).

The police said that action is being taken against anybody posting provocative messages and videos on social media. However, no action has been taken against BJP MLA Geeta Jain or BJP leader Nitish Rane, who have openly made provocative statements and threatened the Muslim community with dire consequences.

The Wire went to Naya Nagar police station to find out the police’s version and the exact number of cases filed in this three-day incident. Senior police inspector Vilas Supe refused to meet this reporter.

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