Behrampada: Public Prayers
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:16:45; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 27.183; Saturation: 0.108; Lightness: 0.459; Volume: 0.171; Cuts per Minute: 27.741
Summary: This is a collection of shots from the rushes of '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 persecution of the Muslims of Bombay, more specifically of Behrampada, started from 7th December, 1992, the day after the infamous Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya by the cadres of Hindu fundamentalist outfits. The Babri Masjid was a 16th century structure, a fine example of Jaunpuri architecture. The Hindu fundamentalist outfits claimed that it was the birthplace of the mythical Hindu god and the prime character of epic Ramayana, Ram. By using the majoritarian forces and the right wing govt. in the state of Uttar Pradesh, they demolished the Masjid and established a Ram temple in its place. The issue of erecting a large fancy temple at the site of the erstwhile Masjid is still one of the main points on which the elections of the country are fought, even in 2008, after 16 years of the demolition.
During the height of this controversy we shot a few images of the Namaaz and the Maha Arti in the vicinity of Behrampada.
The communal riots against the Muslims, which unleashed in Bombay after the demolition, were constructed around the issue of public prayer. The Muslims in this country are mostly poor and lower class. There are many local Masjids that do not have adequate space to accommodate the public prayer on Friday afternoon (Jumma). Hence often the devotees spill over to the adjoining streets. There has never been an instance of traffic jam or public inconvenience due to the assembly for Friday namaaz. Moreover the prayer took only 20 minutes at 1pm every Friday. Taking advantage of the social tension, Shivsena, the regional fundamentalist party, started a campaign portraying the Friday Namaaz at public place as an exercise on part of the Muslim to assert their control over the city. The partisan police tried to dissuade the Muslim devotees to pray on the street.
(22ng Jan, 1993) (15th Jan after the Friday namaazthey were attacked, ttack came from bandra station and high rise buildings. There had been casualties and injuries. This shot was taken next week)
anant kanekar marg
Anant Kanekar Marg
In these shots, our cameras captured such a Friday namaaz in Behrampada. Here we see an orderly conduct of the prayer, the men of Behrampada in a neat line inside the settlement of Behrampada.
Those who did not fit inside are again in a systematic line praying on the side of the street, the famed Anant Kanekar Marg (for more information please see other events in Behrampada section), without causing any disruption to the traffic or the neighbourhood.
After all, the ritual of Friday namaaz is only a prayer, not a demonstration.
As a sign of muscle power Shivsena started organizing Maha Aarti (grand worshipping) at many roadside shrines and blocking traffics for hours during rush hours at artery roads. In Hinduism there has been no ritual of any daily or weekly mass worshipping at public places. Shivsena invented the ritual only to spite the Muslims and invoke tension in the city. Feeling threatened and wronged more and more Muslims, even those who usually did not join the Friday Namaaz, started assembling for the Friday prayers. The city, in those days, revolved only around the issue of public prayers and the related violence. To make things worse religious leaders, such as Mother Teresa, came for disaster visits and advised the citizens 'to pray more'.
In these shots we see the Shivsena Maha Aarti demonstration. Not only has the "prayer" spilled onto the road, it has gone across both sides of the street, blocking all traffic. More over, the same police that tried to deter the Friday namaaz are "protecting" this event. The Maha Aart is being held symbolically at the Ganesh temple (which can be read about more in the following event) near Behrampada and opposite the Bandra Court and MSEB buildings. The saffron coloured Shivsena flag is hoisted up high, for all the residents of the area to see. And just in case they can't see the flag, the chants of "Ganpati Moriya" into the mic are sure to be heard by the entire neighbourhood. This decision probably taken to counter the Muslim ritual of singing the Azaan (prayer) into the mic.
Anant Kanekar Marg
The Ganesh temple at the outskirt of Behrampada, on Anant Kanekar Marg is situated opposite the Bandra Court and MSEB buildings. This Ganapati temple adds another interesting twist to the tale. It was an insignificant shrine of Saibaba (a secular saint and not a religious god). A few months before the riots some people put in a Ganapati idol in the shrine. Ganapati is known as the god of achievement and thus revered by the Hindu business people. On the night of Babri Masjid demolition, 6th December 1992, the head of the tiny idol was desecrated. This created a huge hue and cry the next morning and the Muslims of Behrampada were immediately blamed on grounds that this must have been their reaction to the demolition of the Babari Masjid. The riots against the Muslims started, which lasted for two months. In these two months, based on public sympathy the temple acquired large amount of surrounding space and installed an expensive idol of Ganapati. Today it is a major religious establishment with very high revenues. As the temple is situated in front of the Bandra court, it ensures clientele from large number of litigants who would need a bit of blessing from the divinity.
In this sequence we see the Ganesh temple on a seemingly peaceful morning. A few people sit around, a young girl ritualistically walks around the Ganesh statue to earn some blessings. The idol of Ganesh is in white, Right next to the temple stands a "puja vivah karyalaya" which means Prayer Wedding Center.
anant kanekar marg
The Shivsena office is situated in Kherwadi Market area, near Behrampada. The saffron Shivsena flag stands tall with the Shivsena tiger emblem. Against it reads the Shivsena motto in Marathi - Always fighting to protect Hindutva. The tiny Shivsena office stands next to it. The Statue of Shivaji, the Warrior, the motif og Maharashtra's pride is inside the office. Outside, on a table, are lined up boxes of "daan peti" or donation boxes to help Shivsena carry on its work of 'protection'. On the other side of the Shivsena emblem reads - Garv se Kaho Hum Hindu hain - Say it with pride that I am Hindu.
Kherwadi Market, Bandra East, Mumbai
Police patrol at the boundary line between Behrampada and the middle class colonies with mostly Hindu residents. It is not clear who is being protected from whom. As the behaviour of theMumbai police in those days demonstrated clear allegiance to Hindu communal forces, the secular residents voiced their lack of confidence in the local police force. Finally the govt. called the army to usher law and order back in the city in January '93, after a month of rioting. The Srikrishna Commission Reports (on the communal riots of 1992-93) too has confirmed and severely criticised the role of Mumbai police in the riots of 1992-93. (for more detail see Shrikrishna commission Report – www.hvk.org/specialrepo/skc/skcch1.html
Srikrishna Commission Reports