Sunday, March 02, 2008

Facade of cosmopolitanism

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, March 2, 2008

Kalpana Sharma

Amina presides over Dharavi’s Muslim Nagar like a monarch. She is the local ‘Dadi’, the woman to whom all kinds of people turn to for help. She is also the protector of her settlement, off Dharavi’s 90ft road. So when Raj Thackeray raised his call against so-called “outsiders”, the Biharis and people from Uttar Pradesh living in Mumbai, Amina was not bothered. Across her house — consisting of two rooms separated by several other similar rooms — are a bunch of “Bihari” tailors. They have worked there for at least a decade. The steady buzz of the machines rarely stops. “When the police come and ask me about them, I tell them in Marathi, ‘Don’t worry, brother, they are our people’,” she says. Ironically, the same woman had to defend another group of “our people” during the 1992-93 communal riots when the police came hunting for young Muslim men. Then too she intervened with the local police and protected the youth, many of them children of her friends.

Calm in Dharavi

So have the recent events triggered by Raj Thackeray disturbed relations in a place like Dharavi? Not at all, Amina asserts. Dharavi has a sizeable population of people from North India. They have lived and worked in this sprawling settlement for decades. Amina laughs as she recounts how the Shiv Sena in Dharavi has now come out in support of the North Indians living there, the majority being Muslims. These were the very people who the Sainiks targeted during the 1992-93 riots, forcing many of them to lock their rooms and run away to their villages. Most eventually returned.

Raj Thackeray’s men cannot enter such settled places as Dharavi. They would find it impossible to target the individuals who are part of the fabric of Mumbai. So they pick on the easy targets, the visible targets — taxi drivers, bhel puri vendors. And in other cities in Maharashtra, the temporary migrants, the construction workers, the casual labourers in the smaller industries who cluster together in temporary settlements. You can threaten them, scare them, demand they speak Marathi and force them to pack up and leave.

There are many ironies, contradictions, myths that lie exposed after the shameful events of last month, when ordinary, hard-working people were beaten up in full view of television cameras just because they happened to have been born in another part of this country.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)Facade of cosmopolitanism

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