Behrampada & Its Residents: Pyari Apa
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:07:43; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 356.934; Saturation: 0.144; Lightness: 0.376; Volume: 0.130; Cuts per Minute: 0.129; Words per Minute: 196.271
Summary: s is an interview from the rushes of the 'I live in Behrampada', a documentary on a Mulim 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. What is apparent in the interviews is the different perspectives on each event, accusation of the 'other' community and the feeling of being wronged and rejected. 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.
Sabira, fondly known as 'Pyari Apa' is a resident of Behrampada. At the time of the riot she used to run a tiny miscellaneous shop in Behrampada. She was known for her story telling skill. Her fame for her oratorical skills took us to her for an interview.
Interviewee: Sabira aka Pyari Apa (PA); Interviewer: Madhusree Dutta (M); Shot by: Moloy Roy.
M: Please tell us your name.
PA: My name is Sabira. However, in Behram my mother used to call me "pyari" with love and so everyone in Behram calls me Pyari Apa. They know me by the name of Pyari Apa in Behram, not much by the name of Sabira.
M: So if we went out and asked for you by the name of Sabira?
PA: (laughs) They wouldn't recognize…very rarely.
M: How many years have you been in Behram for?
PA: It's been over 25-26 years in Behram.
M: Did you come here after marriage or?
PA: After marriage, I had two kids also.
M: Ok, you came here then…
M: Where were you born?
PA: In Bangalore. I am from Bangalore.
Sabira, popular known by the name of 'Pyari Apa' has been a resident of Behrampada for over 25 years. She migrated from Bangalore to a discarded marsh land in the middle of wilderness – which would later become a thriving settlement called Berampada. The residents of Beharampada never call it by the full name. Behram is what they call their neighbourhood with affection. Actually Behram is a first name and 'Pada' simply means neighbourhood. It feels far more cozy if the place is called by a first name.
this is actually here....
M: So when you came here how did Behram look?
PA: Behram looked worse than even Garibnagar! (literary means Poors' colony – actually a small slum next to Behrampada) Behram was in such bad condition, there were only huts. They wouldn't even let us make anything, and if we did the police would come and break it. We didn'built anything, we just lived like that…there were so many mosquitoes. There was only one road in Behram, you know that big road that you come by of the station, not the one behind, the one in the front, that was the only road. Water on all four sides, there was water everywhere, The highway road that has been made now, even that was filled with water, trees, jungle. There were so many mosquitoes that I can't even explain. We had to fight mosquitoes even during the day, there were that many mosquitoes! We would line the "thali" plate with sweet oil and mosquitoes would get stuck on the entire plate! And at night we had to sit out with the children, there were no lights, no electricity or anything. We would lay a sheet on the road and sit with a hand- fan all night. This is how we would spend our nights during the summer. Now you see there is road on all four sides. We brought sand and mud on lorries, all poor people did it with their own money, not the Government. We filled everything with sand with our own money. The highway road which has been made right, what do you call it, Highway Road right?
M: Yes, yes.
PA: The one that's behind, The airplane… airport, the gardens…everything was made in front of our eyes. They would fill the land with so much sand, we would fill our own packets with some of that and carry it back here. How many lorries could we use, where would we get so much money from? So we would fill our packets, put it under our burqa and then fill it up here. Make a parapet in front of the house, or something else…we would have to face such difficulties for that.
Pyari Apa lives up to her reputation. She gives us a peek into those early days. She can talk about sufferings with great articulation and imaginative use of languages and metaphors. She narrates their innovate techniques for killing mosquitoes with a lot of jest and a hint of nostalgia. While describing the ways of stealing sand from Govt. construction sites to fill up the marsh land in Behram she makes it sound like a fun filled adventure trip. No self pitying victim hood for this proud woman. Her pride is of a person who has lived a constructive life and not depended on Govts. Or any other agencies. After all how many human beings can claim to have created a land in order to live on it. The subversive use of burqa in this story also should be noted.
M: Now it is being said again that Behram is illegal and they are asking you to go elsewhere. What have you thought of that?
PA: How? What will we think of and where will we go? We have been here for so many years, put our entire life-earnings into Behram, filling the land with sand. After which our kids… the buildings were being constructed… right, so when our kids were around, while the workers were filling up the land with sand from the lorries, behind….on the other side of Behram, when he was using the toilet, our son, my son, ten year old died, ten year old. When he sat down, all the kids got into the vehicle, the driver didn't look here or there, he started driving and drove over his neck, you know! My ten year old son died. It has been about 15-18 years since he died, he would have been 27-26 years old now. He died! Then they said they would give money… this… that, what money will they give. How will 5-6 more children eat if we spend all our money on the court and police?
M: All this violence that is happening now behind this place and all these problems… the Government is saying that they will send you elsewhere and you will have a Pucca (ownership) place there. So what objections do you have to that?
PA: The thing is that we have lived here for so many years comfortably. How would a new place be, where would it be, where will they keep us…we feel scared. For so many years we have faced so many difficulties here even though we made this place … so when we go somewhere else what will happen there? Think about it. Now it is such that they have made 4-5 storey buildings, gardens, such comfortable housing arrangements - so now we look bad. But first came our Behram and then their buildings. And their kids used to come and play here and our kids would go play on their side. You know those tanks were made for the buildings, so many kids died in those tanks, they fell while playing. Behram has sacrificed so much, they have always had their eyes on Behram. So what do we do tell me, our hearts don't agree that we should go and live somewhere else, how will we?
The Government now wants to take over the land that was literally made with their (residents of Behram) own hands and their hard earned money. Pyari Apa lost her own son on Behram's soil, ironically, because buildings were being made around Behrampada - the same buildings that are now inhabited by the middle-class Hindus who are now adamant on displacing Pyari Apa from her home. Pyari Apa and her contemporaries never thought the land that they were creating could one day become prime real estate property. In this real estate driven urban policy the claim of putting one's years of labour or meager resources into making a place does not merit to the right of residence or even an legal identity. But the illiterate Pyari Apa refuses to accept that.
game. water tank
right of residence
M: So you don't want to go somewhere else?
PA: No we don't like it. Our kids were born and brought up here, we have our comforts here. Now if we go somewhere else then…when we have to face so many difficulties in our own land of 25-30 years then you tell me what will happen to us in a new place? The bank had been opened in front of us. There was water accumulation there, our kids would swim there and then catch fish and bring it home, which is now the Bank and School. Now they say Behram is bad! And there are so many Kamathis (caste of masons), Hindu people, Muslims don't go to work there. But there are so many Hindu Kamathis here who go and work in those buildings for Rs. 1 or Rs. 1.50, Kamathis, Hindu people. They all go and work.
M: From Behram?
PA: Yea all residents of Behram. There are so many, thousands of Hindus living here. We have never thought of it like that, we have lived like brothers, if they were hungry, we fed them. We never thought of it that way, when their Id came, Diwali, they would give us "puris" and all. During our Id, we would make Biriyani, sheer kurma and sevaiya, we would give them, we lived nicely. Now, everyone has started saying "you-me" and fighting.
M: You were saying something about the police…
PA: See now, if the police are here means parents are here, they have to take care of everyone equally. Hindu- Muslim doesn't come into question here. Police is here to help us right? To help both sides. Now when they (Hindu side) fire towards us, they (police) stand behind them in support. Why doesn't the police say anything, they can at least move them from there. So they come and stand right there like this and the police doesn't say a word. Police should move them and move us, it's their duty to move us both right? You're here to help, so help us all.
Pyari Apa points out that thousands of Hindus also live in Behrampada. Lower-class Hindu Kamathis (caste of Masons) who go and work in the middle-class Hindu buildings for a meager amount. Behrampada may have been targeted by calling them a Muslim terrorist settlement but the Hindu dwellers suffered as much, proving this to be class victimization.
Pyari Apa also points out the undemocratic nature of the Police, yet again proving that riots can only arise if the authority permits it. The deputy police commissioner R. D. Tyagi himself had been implicated later for rioting and killing twelve Muslim workers in the Suleiman Bakery. (for more detail see Shrikrishna commission Report - www.hvk.org/specialrepo/skc/skcch1.html
) Later the chief minister of the state was changed and some top officers in the police too were transferred as a face saving exercise.
deputy police commissioner
r d tyagi
M: Now that the Government is offering you another place to stay, there is so much violence happening in Behram now, what is your problem with that? Why aren't you agreeing to go?
PA: But think about this, when we came into Behram because of poverty. After living in Behram, what we have made of this place, Faced so many hardships, we didn't save any money, put it all into Behram, filling up this area with sand, otherwise everything would get filled with water. Water would get into the homes, water would get filled up till here (showing with her hand), the bed, take two chairs, up till that height, I cant calculate in foot. We would make do even in that much water! We would sit on the bed and cook and eat. After doing so much, trying so hard, now that Behram has become nice and comfortable, now we have made it, built multiple floors, double-storied homes and started living here and after facing so many hardships it has become nice here finally – now go away from here. How many hardships will there be, who can say, who has seen and whats the need to go there anyway? After finally having so much comforts you will say go away then whats the point of us having faced so many hardships. .We faced so many hardships for something good would come out of it. So then if we leave Behram there would be double hardships to be faced, right? How would we understand a new place! And when our place starts getting old, they kick us out… so they will kick us out from there too, they will keep kicking us out , where shall we go and settle down then? What will be our address?
The Behrampda was targeted primarily because of its temerity to occupy such a prime land in the city. In the early '90s Bandra Kurla complex (BKC), the second business district of Bombay was being constructed in the close proximity of Behrampada. Those were the days when India was just waking up to the wave of globalization. It was anticipated that the multi-national corporations would need lot of extra land. So the pressure on Behrampada mounted and the pretext of communal violence came handy for the builders' lobby. But later in the decade the land occupied by the closed textile industry was released for real estate development. Thus the pressure on the Behrampada land decreased temporarily. That is one of the reasons why the slum still exists.
An urban poor is an essential migrant. As the city expands they are pushed again and again beyond the new boundary. Pyari Apa had built her home at the outskirt of the city 25 years back. Now she wants to continue living in her home, Behram. That is a crime. Pyari Apa talks about double hardships – but actually it is a case of double crime. To be poor is a crime. To be a poor Muslim is double crime. But yet the adamant Pyari Apa continues to argue. Why should she face the uncertainty of a new place, and that too a place being provided by the same people who are taking over her own home. How can she trust them? When life is so uncertain in her own soil…then what would it be elsewhere? True to the name of the film this interview features in, Pyari Apa says – Mera Ghar Behram – I Live in Behrampada.
bandra kurla complex
closed textile industry