Pressuring the authorities to follow a legal process seems to have been Mohammad Shaukat Shaikh’s biggest mistake. The slum-dweller’s relentless pursuit of justice had shaken the nexus of authorities and builders and angered them so much that his 15-year-old son was allegedly kidnapped by the henchmen of the builders.
Six months later, his son is nowhere to be found, and the authorities haven’t moved an inch towards bringing the guilty to book.
Mr. Shaikh is a member of the Shastri Colony Ghar Nirman Co-operative Housing Society at Santacruz (E), part of the larger Golibar slum that has 45 more such societies.
The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has floated a redevelopment scheme for the entire Golibar slum, which is spread over 28 acres and which has a population of more than 26,000 people, in Mumbai’s upmarket western suburb, where land prices are soaring. The approximate rate per square foot of built-up area is Rs. 30,000. The SRA’s scheme has sparked controversies, with officials and developer Shivalik Ventures accused of malpractices.
Led by social activist Medha Patkar, the Golibar residents have been fighting a battle against the developer and the government for more than five years now.
On August 1, 2012, Mr. Shaikh’s second son, Master Mohammed Sajid, 15, a Standard X student of Cardinal Gracious High School, Bandra (East), did not return home after coaching classes. Mr. Shaikh and his wife repeatedly visited the Nirmal Nagar station and told the police officers that they suspected the hand of the chief promoter of the SRA redevelopment project and his henchmen.
Through a series of applications under the Right to Information Act, Mr. Shaikh exposed the corruption and wrongdoings of these people. He had proved that the promoters, in connivance with officials, had added fictitious and ineligible names to the list of beneficiaries, while eligible people were kept out. On the basis of his repeated complaints, the Vigilance Committee of the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority found discrepancies in the list and ordered its re-evaluation.
And goons threatened Mr. Shaikh to drop the matter. He was offered money to stay silent, a number of false cases were filed against him, his house was attacked with stones, an attempt was made to frame him in a drug trafficking case, and even his water connection was broken.
“I never wanted to become an RTI activist in my life. But the illegal acts of the promoters… forced me to become one. And my persistence in getting justice has put the life of my son in danger,” Mr. Shaikh told The Hindu .
For the next 56 days, the police did not register a case of kidnapping against the suspects, but only a missing-person complaint. On September 25, Mr. Shaikh shot off a letter to Home Minister R.R. Patil, the Director-General of Police, the Mumbai Commissioner of Police and human rights organisations. In it, he warned of fast and self-immolation. This forced the police to file an FIR under Sections 363 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code against five persons; but they excluded the chief promoter. Even then, the police showed no urgency in tracing his son. “I gave them three phone numbers which I found on my son’s notebook. They still could not trace the owner of those numbers. The cyber cell seems to be sleeping when it comes to my son’s case,” he said.
On January 30, Justices A.S. Oka and A.P. Bhangale, sitting on a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court and hearing a writ petition, asked the police to consider giving Mr. Shaikh protection. However, in their reply, the police said it was a case of ‘missing person’ and not of kidnapping.
He and his wife Gulzar Jabin are now worried about the safety of their other children: an elder daughter and a younger son.
“I am being punished for being a law-abiding citizen. Neither the government nor the police, who are supposed to protect law, have come to my rescue. My only wish is to see my son, nothing else,” he said.