Behrampada & Its Residents: Quran Chachi
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:05:17; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 17.610; Saturation: 0.109; Lightness: 0.249; Volume: 0.169; Cuts per Minute: 0.757; Words per Minute: 129.020
Summary: This is an interview from the rushes of the 'I live in Behrampada', a documentary on a Muslim ghetto in the context of the Bombay riots, an aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition. I was 8 years old during the Bombay '92-93 riots. My only memory of the time was an unscheduled two-month holiday from school, though the adult talk about stray dead bodies and destruction remains stored in some corner. Later various other incidents of violent identity politics and representations of the Bombay riots in films etc. made a constant a reference point. Going through the rushes after 15 years has also been a process of coming to terms with my own city and its black holes.
The riots of '92-93 divided the famed cosmopolitan city of Bombay on communal lines and the neighbourhood of Behrampada bore the brunt of this division. The film explored social biases, which under emergency can create mayhem. In this search, the film interviewed people from different classes and religions – namely, Hindu building residences, and Muslim slum dwellers; authorized buildings and unauthorized or under-dispute settlements. However, reading/seeing the whole rushes makes it clear that it was a manifestation of old politics of majoritarianism. It is recommended to visit the other interviews under the same category in this site in order to understand the whole picture.
Quran Chachi, whose name is not known to us, was a resident of Behrampada. During the Bombay riots, Chachi helped her neighbours of Behrampada by doing her bit – reciting the Quran and hence calling out to Allah for help. The crew chanced upon her while hanging around in the settlement and recorded her testimony. She provided some graphic detail of taming of the wild land that they reside on now. Yet, making a land does not make anyone a legitimate resident of that place! A class and community identity plays a much more vital role in right to citizenship / residents. "I Live in Behrampada" is a depiction of that.
Interviewee: Chachi (C); Interviewer: Madhusree Dutta (M); Shot by: Moloy Roy
A small verandah in front of a shanty inside the narrow bylanes of Behrampada. An old woman in traditional attire reciting holy Quran with ritualistic concentration. Reading loudly from religious scriptures during crisis is a common practice among all religions. This is somewhat meant to be part of invoking the God's protection.
Reading the Quran.
During the nation wide persecution of Muslims after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, all Muslim citizens felt insecure and abandoned and betrayed by the state. Even in places (like in Bombay) where the state power was not in the hand of the right wing Hindu parties, the state failed to protect the Muslim citizens. It is no wonder then the people like this old woman, turned to religion as the only solace. An extension of this sentiment could have easily become an excuse for religious fundamentalism (Islamic) to grow within the community. That phenomena in turn would have become an excuse for the majoritarian system to oppress the minority Muslims even further. It was 1993. We have witnessed many such instances in the national and international politics through the next decade. Fortunately, in Behrampada no such extreme chain of reactions unfolded, for whatever reason.
M: Chachi, these riots that are going on… when will they stop? What do you think? These firings, bombings…you are senior, what do you think, how will all this stop? When will it stop?
C: This? (pointing to the Quran)
M: No no…the riots, riots.
C: riots! The riots are Allah Miya that is happening…I have even finished reading half of the Quran…I started reading it for the riots to stop. Now, it's all up to Allah. There are a lot more with me, who are reading the Quran. However, everyone reads it differently, each person has a different reason/way of reading it. Someone reads it as an obligation…
M: Chachi, everyone is human…no matter what religion, then why do we fight? You are older, you tell us.
C: They fight because…for every good man there is a bad one. Did you understand? If there is a decent man, then a violent person will come and pick a fight with him. So how much must he sustain? You take it for sometime, if it stops then good…and if it doesn't…if he beats us then must we let him go? Why should we let them go? But they go into hiding! They are all chors (thieves)! They say something and do something else! You used the masjid as an excuse to kill us. If you wanted to kill us, then you should have said so (proudly)! A (kafir) nonbeliever is a nonbeliever and a Muslim is a Muslim, understand? Let them do what they want, Allah will decide their fate. One day he will surely punish them. If we had hurt someone, Allah would have punished us also. We haven't hurt anyone, people have hurt us, and Allah will do the same with them. And that he (Allah) will surely do! They are destroying the name of Behram; doing it themselves, but putting the blame on us! Where were these people when Behram was all marsh? Ask us.
C: We were in Parel, understand? In Adam Mistri's Chawl. Yes! In Adam Mistri's Chawl! Babu Khan was a…what do you call it, he would get so much respect in a company, he would do the cleaning job, we would earn! After that we came to Bandra, Bandra was a barren land, everything got made much later! Ask me, I'll tell you. We came here and saw that there was nothing in Behram, only water up till here (demonstrates up till her neck)…we kept living here. There was a poor Hindu here who made a living carting dead bodies.
M: Chachi, after so many years, why are they asking you to leave?
M: The people who are after you to leave Behram, why are they asking you to leave in spite of you having lived here for so many years?
C: Because the place has been made now! The water was removed, the place became nice, roads came up, doctors came here, the place became alright, understand? It was the same with Navpada, people were scared to even walk into Navpada, no one would even use that road. People from leather factories would come here. They would take things (material like leather) on the carts used to carry dead bodies. There was a bone factory here, understand? They would put the buffaloes' heads in water here, to get all the insects out and then dry them off right here and he would take them from here. His name was Lauji. The Seth would take them from here in his lorry.
M: The place got made, that's a very good thing. Then why are they after Behram?
C: Now that the place became nice, their gaze fell on it - You get out of here and we'll make buildings and live here, why do you live here on this land, in your huts? They want to break our huts, Allah will punish them. We don't say these things, but only our heart knows what we really feel. You may look at our faces and say things, but has anyone ever come to see whats happening in our hearts? No!
Cleaning, which most probably meant scavenging, is the most lowly jobs in Indian society. It is the lowest caste and can be found in all communities – Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Chirstian. Animal tanneris a kind of extension to that caste vocation. A formal conversion to the monolithic religion never could break the caste hierarchy of the land. Obviously, the lowest caste is also the lowest class. This old woman belonged to that class. Her story is that of a migrant community who manually made the barren/marsh land that they live in. Even this tale that the people who make a wild land livable eventually get displaced from there, is oft-repeated in history. This is part of modern civilization and contemporary nation-state structure. Citizenship is determined by some paper documents and by the actual contribution to the land. But in the case of Behrampada, the situation got even denser as the residents of Behrampada were mostly Muslims. Though even the old woman knew that the real issue was not communal/racial conflict, but of urban development. The helpless yet shrill anger of the old woman mirrored the hollowness of the state policy when she could only hope for the wrath of Allah to settle things.
adam mistri's chawl