Behrampada & Its Neighbours: Arun Naik & Prakash Bhurte
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:20:29; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 18.690; Saturation: 0.217; Lightness: 0.249; Volume: 0.189; Cuts per Minute: 0.049; Words per Minute: 178.962
Summary: This 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.
Omar Qureshi was a kind of village elder in Behrampada. He was also an active Congress member. With the control of some co-operative bank and ration shop in his hand he was not beyond a fair share of controversy and name-calling. Throughout the riots he was very active in various peace initiatives and had been liaison with the civil society outside Behrampada. It was said that his opposite fraction within the Congress had won the previous municipality election in Behrampada and so he was trying to gain some clout by leading the community during this crisis. What was evident at that time was Omar Qureshi's excellent oratorical skill and high respect that he commanded from the residents of Behrampada.
Liyaqat Ali was a service man and a lieutenant to Omar Qureshi. At that time he appeared to have political aspiration. But later he shifted more towards community social work. He came across as a reasonable man of logic, evidences and non-rhetorical. In that charged time of sectarian politics and identity rhetoric, Liyaqat's calm demeanor was very reassuring.
Anant Kanekar Marg
Anant Kanekar Marg, an artery road along the border of Behrampada and leading to the local transport hub, Bandra station was in the centre of controversy during the '92-93 riots. The residents of the neighbouring Hindu colonies and employees of the government offices in the proximity, declared it as unsafe for the non-Muslims to walk on and whipped up a high-strung campaign to evict the slum to ensure safety for the commuters. This campaign had immediate effect and the fear psychosis spread like wild fear. In the backdrop of this fear all atrocities on Behrampada seemed fair to the larger citizens who were Hindus and of higher class. We also have documentary footage of busy Anant Kanekar Marg with pedestrian commuters during that time. Yet no documentary footage can compete with a well orchestrated hate campaign.
(M): I mean I want to know that how, how do you get involved in this Behrampada thing?
(AN): You see, We have been living here in this area for a very long time now. This is MIG Kala Nagar Patrakaran -the eastern side of the highway, the western side of the highway is Behrampada, new MIG (middle income group colony), Khernagar and some other localities. We have been facing this problem of communal disharmony and riots in this area for the last 2 months now. Before that everything was quite, well, safe… 'But then this road is not safe' - that was one impression that was created in the minds of the residents of this area. Plus additionally 'the Muslims would come and attack at night'.
M: Which road you're talking about?
AN: There is a road that leads to the Bandra station on the East side, its called Anant Kanekar Marg. Now that is the only road which is used by the residents of this area, to reach Bandra station and come back from Bandra station. So it's a very… a frequented road. So people were facing a problem, using that road. What happened in December was about 7-8 corpses were discovered in the creek adjoining the road. And everyone believed that this was the work of the people of Behrampada which upon investigations we realized, not necessarily so, you see it could be anyone else also who could have done this, though this is a matter for the police to investigate. With this knowledge we approached them, we formed ourselves into a group. This is Prakash Burte, he is also in MIG.
anant kanekar marg
babri masjid demolition
AN: We formed ourselves into a group, likeminded people who want peace in this area, who have no political affiliations as such, no political party is involved in this activity. So we said we come together and we approach the Behrampada people and tell them, this road which is adjoining your area is unsafe for our residents, so you should promise that you will not do anything. So we went there. It was basically Dr. Jamkhedkar…
PB: And Damu Kenkde, these two people initially went there and they talked to the people there. And they realized….
M: Can you clearly tell me those people's names.
PB: Mr. Damu Kenkde who is a theatre personality and Dr. Jamkhedkar, a resident of MIG colony, these two people first of all went there, they talked to the people there in Behrampada and then they realized that the picture which they had was totally untrue, it had no basis. The people welcomed them… Behrampada people welcomed them. They had nice chat and had chai-shai (tea) etc. They said that - there are faulty allegations against us and we would like to perhaps answer but more important than that is we would like to assure you that this road is safe, you need not get scared of us. Now that message, though only these two people had received, that was the beginning, but then we started frequenting. Now more people started going there, having contact with those people and talking to them and then one idea emerged that anyway 26th January was approaching so why not celebrate it together? So that also initially…
AN: Especially on the background of the Imam's fatwa and the Babari Masjid action committee, black flags and all that.
Arun Naik, Prakash Bhurte, Dr. Jamkhedkar, Damu Kenkde and others were some of the pioneers who initiated to break this stalemate. They were all Marathi Hindu and eminent citizens of the area. They lived in the neighbourhood but not at the border of Behrampada. This distance helped them to understand the whole scenario beyond the nitty gritties of daily happenings.
anant kanekar marg
babri masjid celebration
During the riots the fundamentalist leaders of both Hindu and Muslim communities were aggravating the situation. To incite the situation further the Imam of the Jamma Masjid had declared that the Muslim would boycott the 26th January, Republic day celebration, in protest of the atrocities against them. This could have been a viable way to protest in some other context. But in those days it provided more fuel to the Hindu fundamentalist campaign that the Muslims were anti-nationalist to India. ( Ironically, a Republic Day celebration is not something that most Indians partake in anyway. But the issue of patriotism is always a convenient stick to beat the minority anywhere). So the residents of Behrampada, being predominantly lower class Muslims had to demonstrate their patriotism to India with more fervor than is usual. However, on the hind-sight, during a time like this, a democratic Republic Day celebration was the best way to set an example, as opposed to the aggressive Maha Aarti (grand worshipping by blocking the roads was part of the war call by Shivsena) demonstrations by the Shivsainiks (literary means army of Shiv) that were taking place all over the city? Infact in 1993 all over the country including in Bombay, 26th January republic day, was observed as statement against communal politics and as a call for secular democracy by large number of citizens from all walks of life and all religions. The spontaneous mobilization for this was overwhelming.
M: How did Behrampada react to that fatwa?
AN: You see they said that we have nothing to do with this (call for boycotting republic day celebration). We don't believe in all these kinds of activities, anti-national activity. We are Indians, very much so and we would like to celebrate Republic day. They had never done that before, nobody, even we haven't been doing it for a long time now, so many schools and government organizations and all came together. So they said this is a very good idea of demonstrating to the other residents of this area that we are Indians first, we don't believe in what the Imam says, in the sense, we don't agree to what he directs us to do. So we will have this flag hoisting and then the flag hoisting was arranged. 500 students from that area, girls and boys, small girls and boys, they sang songs, bands, there were speeches and Baba Amte came and it was a very good program.
M: were you people also there?
AN: Yeah, we were there.
PB: Some 50-60 people from this area, minimum, had been there from MIG and Kala Nagar, some from Government colony also and very few from Kher Nagar, so in all you can say about 100-150 from outside Behrampada joined that. And that had been boosting the morale and so as to establish the peace. That was the first achievement.
Arun Naik on the semantics of the violence and the blame-game between Behrampada and the surrounding buildings very simply – it was easier to throw bombs and burn low rise huts in Behrampada from the higher level of multi-storied buildings. The "whodunit" game had a very obvious answer which the Hindu residents of that area tried to twist to the extent of saying that the residents of Behram attack the buildings – which when probed reduced to one small hole on a glass pane. Behrampada, like all ghettos are walled and surrounded by gentrified neighbourhood. Very few mainstream people bother to ever enter such places. So it was very easy to spread rumours about such settlements by citing imaginary attacks. The citizens' delegation understood that clearly as soon as they ventured into the area.
M: There is a myth among the outside people, who are not very familiar with the Bandra scene that the main antagonism is between MIG, new MIG people and the Behrampada people. I mean I know that they are not very familiar with the geography of Bandra east also so they don't know how far Kala Nagar is from Behrampada, but how do you see to it and how has it been made? This kind of a thing?
AN: You see, Behrampada is a closed locality, its something like a walled locality. At least on two sides there is a wall, you cant come out except through the gate. On the other side, of the station side, you have the gate number 18, which is infact a road which opens out there. From this side there is a road which goes in between Behrampada and the new MIG colony. New MIG colony is 14 buildings starting from the Behrampada gate side, that is the southern tip… is number 14, it goes up to 6 or 7 and then there is a row which is perpendicular to that which again takes, you know, adjoining the curb in the wall, that is building numbers 1,2, and 3. Now these buildings have a strategic advantage. They are high buildings, Behrampada is naturally, slums, is a very low area and it is impossible to do anything from Behrampada into MIG, except for… you see at a lower level, you can't reach the terrace. Whereas from the terrace this is an excellent strategic point where anything could be done. The people of Behrampada naturally say that we are attacked from this side, the people of MIG, new MIG say we are attacked from Behrampada. We have visited both areas, we have talked to both people. I have a feeling that the Behrampada people, because they haven't met the new MIG people, don't really know the new MIG people. The new MIG people may not themselves be doing it. And I have discussed this with them, I had a long meeting with them. Dr. Jamkhedkar was there and we had some sort of a confrontation also where I asked them very pointedly. They said no this is not the case. Then I told them, someone else might be coming. Now I know, you have also visited both the areas, everybody goes there. This is, you know, a question of belief. You may believe one person, you may not believe one person but the counter allegations are there. Then there is, behind the first 3 buildings, is building no. 30 and opposite that is building no. 19, they are not…
AN: Khernagar! They are not new MIG. Now those buildings are definitely involved, that is the feeling that you get, after visiting all these areas. Whether new MIG is also involved directly is not known. I have seen bullet marks on the window of a flat in MIG but they were very small, maybe, an air gun shots or something like that, where there was no damage in that sense, there were holes pierced into the wall, …into the glass, but the glass was not shattered. I asked some people, they said it might be (Behrampada)… which is possible, which, we are not denying that. There is a new building which is coming up there (in Behrampada) under construction, which is not occupied. Anybody could, from the upper storeys, shoot (at MIG colony). But there is no casualty on this side. No signs of any petrol bombs or some such things on this side. Whereas on that side, he has(turning towards Mr. Burte)...we were there together. He will tell you some definite instances.
high rise building
law of gravity
low rise settlement
PB: What had happened is after this 26th January, we realized one thing that many kids were not able to go to the school, so we tried to mobilise, then contact school Principals etc etc. And that work was going on. What I want to tell in this connection is that on Monday we had planned to send these kids to the school, that is 1st of February, but on Saturday night there was one bomb in one of the jhopadpatti (shanty). Now as usual allegations from both sides were there so on Sunday morning we went there to see actually what has happened and what we saw, it's a ground plus one jhopadpatti. The roof of the top is either the cowl. What do you call it (in Marathi).
AN: Mangalore tiles.
PB: Mangalore tiles and partly it was plastic… this thing. There was a hole and on the floor of the first floor there was a hole which was made up of the wooden planks, it was burnt in the center and then the bomb had gone down to the ground floor. Now what I felt is, from common sense, no evidences etc… but that, it has come vertically down, the bomb, and there was burning etc. Now such thing is possible only if the bombs are thrown from the quite high place. And only high place around that is some of the MIG buildings, new MIG buildings, so most probably it is from that side. Now, so that scare and these allegations, counter allegations, these cannot be proved as the evidence which will be required in the court, but the common sense tells that these people (Behrampada residents) may not be throwing the things to the extent that they have been alleged. So that is one thing. Perhaps some stray incidents might be there but because of that the whole slum getting bad name. That is totally wrong, it is unjustified. So that is one episode. Now coming back to the school, why don't you tell them (to Arun Naik), to the school program.
When a people is geared to mob psyche simple evidence following even the 'law of gravity' is also not accepted. In those days for every attack on Behrampada, a fictitious account of vandalism from the Behrampada would be published in mainstream newspapers. Even voices of secular citizens such as the group of Bhurte and Naik or the crew of this film, who were eyewitnesses, would not be considered, either by the media or police or the administration.
law of gravity
M: School we'll talk later, but I want to ask you one thing, to both of you, where do you go…I mean where is your place of work? Do you go to the station everyday?
AN: No, I don't, both of us don't go to the station. He goes by the BARC bus because he is in BARC . I go by, I have my own car, so I drive on the other side. I don't have to pass through there.
M: But the thing is that, the general feeling is that it is unsafe for the MIG, new MIG people to go to the station. So would you like to say something about it?
AN: You see it's not really unsafe. Any slum area, anywhere, it will be as unsafe as that is. If you pass through some area here, Shastri Nagar, it is equally unsafe. There are minor incidents of someone snatching a chain or someone pulling someone's bicycle, a girl's bicycle pulled by some boys which happens anywhere. That is the basic fear which is there of the settled people, the property people and the slums. But during the last 2 months, the scare of the 8 dead bodies which have been found here has given a feeling that if 'you pass along this road, especially in the lonely hours, you are pulled inside, killed and then thrown out again', 'If you go into Behrampada you don't come out alive'. Now you see, we have been going almost everyday. We spend hours there. We have had absolutely no problem, you have also visited. But, you see the fear is that because of that there are some minor instances like some one from the ONGC was attacked, his name is given Parab or something. We have not been able to verify whether a man named Parab really exists, whether he has really been attacked. There was a photograph in the Independent (newspaper). That was on the other side of the, not on the railway line but on the other side, not Behrampada at all, it was some other photograph. Now that has been projected as Behrampada. You see, it's basically this. I'll tell you the psychology of these people here. They don't want Behrampada. They say that Behrampada should not exist here. And they will go to any extent to see that Behrampada is removed. And all this maligning which is done, giving it a bad name is a planned program, in which you cannot rule out that the violence which is attributed to them may have been, might have been planned by certain people in order to malign them further. 'Behrampada is one big hell, one big'; 'you go into it and you don't come out' - kind of thing. It's nothing like that. There are 250 Hindu families there. The temple, when a Muslim boy was trying to save it, he was shot by a police bullet or some other bullet, he died. So that kind of thing happens. None of the shops in Behrampada, none of the Indian aaa... Hindu shops in Behrampada or the temple has been touched, whereas in our area, all the Muslim shops have been burnt down. So you can imagine, what is more unsafe.
Notion of safety is a perception depending on class, gender and race status. For middle class any poor area appears unsafe, for white people black settlements look unsafe, women feel unsafe in a all male sports stadium, for average Hindu people a Muslim settlement seem unsafe. So Behrampada was rendered unsafe on two accounts – poor and Muslim. It is a notion which got fuelled due to the communal atmosphere in the country. The Hindu families, the miniscule minority within Behrampada, lived safely during the two months period of the riot. It was an instance of tolerance and bonhomie. But it also points to another fact. The Muslims, the minority, have no right to be angry or to avenge openly. Only the majority can form a mob and get away with it under the name of spontaneous anger. Like any other minority community person, Behrampada people knew that if any harm was caused to any Hindu inside their slum that would have used to wipe them out completely. Infact the Behrampada residents must have taken immense care to avoid any even small untowardly thing to happen to their Hindu neighbours. So this is not only a matter of tolerance, but a matter of fear too. This kind of forced suppression of anger and resentment could eventually grow into covered violence which are termed as terrorism.
As is the classical format of race violence - a fear was planted in the minds of Hindus, so much so that even Prakash Bhurte, an educated progressive scientist, fell victim to it. The fever of class or race hostility is always whipped through this social fear which stems from lack of exposure about the 'other'. If only all mainstream people started recognizing and exorcising their fears, the way Prakash Bhurte had done!
PB: And this feeling of safety or unsafety comes from general scare. Say to start with, even I was scared. In the month of December I was scared to go to the station. Now slowly, out of some compulsions we had to go. Then I realized that nothing had happened to me, I could proceed, come twice or thrice. It doesn't mean that nothing would happen, that fear was still there. Unless I went consciously by telling – 'yes I am going there'. Earlier I used to go like a thief without telling myself whether I am really going there or not. Forget about telling to others. So that fear was there. Now out of this fear also, apart from the planned things, this fear perpetuates fear more and more, that also happens. For example, suppose I had gone there and with all scare in my mind and when I come back safe I would like to project myself, as if I am a brave man, I have gone to the den, so I will imagine so many things. So such stories are also quite rampant and that has also increased the fear which supports all these planned activities. So all the things need not be planned but few planned things and other things go on its own, it has its own dynamics. Such things also happen.
Children's education all over Bombay suffered due to the Bombay riots. Most middle-class kids thought of it as a surprise vacation. Though the perception of this forced vacation must have been different for the Behrampada kids. In contemporary society one of the best ways to destroy a community is to block their paths to education. The remedy of the Hindu right wing for the Behrampada was the same. The secular citizens' group recognized this factor and tried hard to amend it. Also they hoped that this activity would garner more support from the mainstream than some other controversial ones.
M:Acha so now lets talk about the children's education program.
AN: You see the Governor visited this area, the day after the big happening recently and he asked me what is required to be done. So I said what is basically required to be done is that the children should be able to go to school and for that it is... You see they have to pass through a particular area which is the other side of Behrampada. So they are absolutely unsafe, 2-3000 children and their mothers or fathers accompanying them. So we said if the police cannot give them adequate protection then the army has to give them protection, but the children have got to go to school. That is what we will follow up. But we said we would stop for a week now because…You see we did this on Monday. On Monday night all these happened (56 huts in Behrampada was burnt in the night of 1st February, Monday)… so Tuesday naturally we couldn't do anything, Wednesday we couldn't do anything. Then we said we will wait for a week, now we have waited for a week, I don't know. We will be approaching them again. You see we have to instill this confidence in them which is not easily possible. Its not just taking the kids to school, not just accompanying them, you have to…every mother has to feel confident that if her child goes to school he will reach school and come back safe. That feeling they still don't have, that will take some time.
PB: Twice they have got their fingers burnt. One is on 1st February, kids… who had planned to take them earlier Saturday… could not… as I had told you earlier episode. So that time also once again scare was spread and we were planning to take at least thousand students on first day but because of the Saturday instance hardly 250 to 300 boys and girls could go to the school. So that was first set back.
hindu right wing
M: What was the Saturday incident?
PB: That one house, one bomb. So that single bomb was there so that also created fear psychosis and only, though we had planned 1000 kids, hardly 200-250 boys and girls together were gone to the schools. Now on Monday, kids had gone and come back, we're feeling that ok if not on Monday, at least Tuesday more numbers will go but on Monday night itself there was a big fire and firing and fire brigade couldn't reach and all that dhamaka (commotion). So because of that, so this is the second experience that they had, they picked up courage and it is wiped out. So twice they have got their fingers burnt. It will take perhaps, I don't know, a week or two weeks to build up their confidence but that job has to be done sometime or the other and we're in that process.
M: Ok and this latest development in terms of politics. How do you envision, this is going to reduce the tension or increase the tension?
AN: Which development?
M: I mean this arrest of Sarpotdar, how do you feel as resident of this place..
AN: You see if Sarpotdar (the Shivsena MLA – member of legislative assembly, who was arrested around that time for carrying fire arms) is involved in the activity then his arrest might stop the violence just because he is not there. Or it is also possible that because he has been arrested, some new violence might start so you can't definitely say. But the police bandobast (survilence) and the army bandobast which is there, which we realized the other day, we went to the new MIG, we came out late so we were stopped, we were searched, our cars were searched and then we were allowed to pass. But we were on a peace mission so we didn't really have a problem. With that kind of security arrangements here I don't think anything will happen. But the enmity, the minds of people has to go away. Its not just a question of arresting one person. It is you know, the people have to get together, they have to know each other and they have to realize that if you want to remove an unauthorized hutment, violence is not the way to do it, you have recourse to law, you can go to the Supreme court and ten other things. Sunil Dutt, they say has been protecting this (the slum). Well, these are all political things but then people have to come together. And the enmity will, you see the enmity of the Muslims and the Hindus if that stops, wont stop here also.
On the night of 1st of February, 56 days after the Babri masjid demolition Behrampada got burned and 56 huts were burnt to ashes. The Shivsena cadres blocked the way of the fire brigade to enter Behrampada. This single incident made it obvious that the issues in Behrampada could be something more than the simple communal unrest. By that time the violence in rest of the city had completely abated. But Behrampada was incited again. It could be electoral politics (for more detail see the event 'Behrampada and its residents: Omar Qureshi and Liyaqat' in this site) as it was a big vote bank for the Congress and Shivsena wanted to break that. Or it could be real estate issue- in those days Bandra Kurla complex (BKC), the second business district of Bombay was just being constructed in the close proximity of Behrampada. So the prime land that the slum occupied became a contested zone. Later in that decade industrial lands occupied by close textile mills were released for commercial purpose and for service sectors. Which provided some temporary relief for settlements like Behrampada and thus the slum still stands. Yet the cover of communal unrest is a must for any of these causes to work. And the unaware residents of the middle class buildings fell prey to this strategy as much as the Behrampada people.
Bandra Kurla complex
bandra kurla complex
As Arun Naik predicted after much efforts from the citizens' groups, of publicizing testimonies of Behrampada residents and efforts like this film slowly the wind changed later in the year. The media started publishing positive stories about the slum, this film was widely viewed and received Filmfare award. The govt. tried to salvage their image – made radical changes in the police department, the inspector-in-charge of the area (Nirmal Nagar police station) Madhukar Zende was transferred and demoted. Peace committees in the neighbourhoods were constituted. The film 'I live in Behrampada' was used for sensitizing programme for police officers and administrative cadres. Today Behrampada is a prime subject of many a Phd thesis and NGO programme. Yet this remains an important case study of urban violence and identity politics.
M: But, do you feel that in Behrampada particularly…the Hindu Muslim tension which is all around the country or it is little different here.
AN: In Behrampada itself there is no Hindu-Muslim tension at all. The people on the othe rside of Behrampada are the Hindus and this side are predominantly the Muslims. The Muslims are an unauthorized settlement which the Hindus of this side, who are not an unauthorized settlement, want to go away. It happens so that they happen to be Muslims and these people happen to be Hindus. The basic problem is that the hutment should not be here, that is what these people feel and the communal violence which has started after the Ayodhya problem has given them an excellent opportunity to use, you know to sort of create some impression here that these are the Muslims who are killing you, so they should go away. Basically, it is removing unauthorized people, illegally!
M: Prakashji, you want to add something?
PB: See, because of the riots what has happened is the priorities have changed, means which jhopadpatti (shaties) is to be removed. That many people don't like to have jhopadpattis nearby. Even the jhopadpatti people won't like to stay in jhopadpatti, if they are given bungalows in Malabar hill they will happily go. Now the thing is, because of these riots the Behrampada feel victims in first priority and apart from that there might be some builders' interest etc. Of course, there are some blocking factors - that the land is of railway and collector's land etc. They get it through, builders can't really lay their claim on it. But nonetheless, it can be a very… a long term vision of these builders can be playing a role. But it is difficult to say for sure. But such things are possible.
AN: the press now has… the initial reaction of the press was that they were believing everything that was being said against Behrampada but now people have started visiting Behrampada, press people have started going there. And the press reporting has started changing and I feel that after sometime it is possible that the truth might ultimately emerge from the press reports themselves.
babri masjid demolition
i live in behrampada