Four funerals and one tense townJuly 7, 2006
Huge potholes, dusty roads, fetid garbage dumps and narrow lanes greet you as you approach Bhiwandi, 60 km from Mumbai. Then comes a 2 km long traffic snarl.
Even to a Mumbaikar accustomed to unending queues of vehicles, it seems that Bhiwandi residents deserve an award for braving this kind of traffic every day.
Most of Bhiwandi's 1 million people are Muslim. Most of them are labourers in this textile town. Most of them live on less than Rs 3,000 per month. When it rained for five days non-stop Bhiwandi was flooded — as was much of the financial capital of India — and in the cheek by jowl chawls and huts that most of Bhiwandi lives in, the filth, the muck and the dirty water made life seem even more of a hell-hole. Some local maulvis decided to call for azaan at 3 pm on July 5, to pray to the almighty to stop the rains and save them.
When about six maulvis gathered around the Panch Peer Kabristan — a Muslim graveyard — near Quarter Gate Mosque to call for prayers, the men in uniform sitting in the under-construction police outpost nearby felt alarmed.
The Muslim religious leaders are dead against the outpost. The community feels the outpost has already usurped 30 foot of land that belongs to the graveyard. They feel the construction is illegal — that the police land was meant for the residence of senior officers, not for an outpost.
They also feel the outpost is unnecessary. There is another police outpost 300 meters from the graveyard.
The police say the old outpost is in a low-lying area, which gets water-logged during the monsoons. Hence the need for a new construction near the graveyard, which is on higher ground. And, they add, since the land belongs to the police, they can carry out any construction they want.
About 24 policemen were guarding the construction, the first floor of which has been built.
There was an altercation between the police and the maulvis, the details of which are different, depending on who you talk to.
The locals say one of the policemen slapped a maulvi. The police vehemently deny any such thing happened.
What followed the argument was that about 3,000 people gathered and started throwing stones at the policemen. The police fired at the mob. Two people — Mohammed Ramzan and Abdul Malik — were killed and more than 12 injured.
The same night, two policemen on patrol — Ramesh Jagtap and Bala Gangurde — were stabbed to death and their bodies set on fire.
Since then, the maulvis have disappeared and fear has gripped the locality.
Bullets and Allegation
"In Islam, when some great crisis strikes us, we pray to god by calling azaan. The maulvis and the rest of us were doing only that, but the police attacked us for no reason," says Mohammad Nazim, who lives next to the graveyard.
"They could have fired tear gas shells or even resorted to a lathi-charge but they straightaway fired at us without any reason," Nazim adds.
Afzal Karim, a tea vendor, shows a bullet mark on the wall of his shop.
"Look at this. The bullet mark is above 5 feet on this wall. Don't you think it is wrong for the police to shoot above the waist at innocent people? And they did it without any provocation," says Karim.
Thane Joint Commissioner of Police Dr R T Rathod says the police did fire tear gas shells, but the mob refused to disburse.
"Only then we had to fire on them for our safety. Twenty policemen were injured and so were two senior police officers," says Rathod. "The police took action in self defence."
Bhiwandi Deputy Commissioner of Police R D Shinde is recuperating at Bombay Hospital.
The man on the street, however, is convinced the police slapped a maulvi, and cites it as the root cause