Films, music and discussion in the month-long Bombay ki Kahani Mumbai ki Zubani programme will serve as a reminder of the sordid days of communal rioting in Mumbai
Patches of quilts stitched together by women in Mumbai set the stage in a packed hall for a meeting to remember the communal riots in December 1992 and January 1993. The colourful quilts spoke of unity, community life, temples and mosques, the city they loved and how it had changed. There was a sense of ownership and alienation at once.
On stage, there were songs, films and people read out from the report of the Srikrishna Commission. The stories of Naseem Banu who was shot by the police, the nine men killed in the Suleiman Usman Bakery and the events of the communal riots of 1992-93 flashed before the audience in vivid detail.
The evening was a prelude to a month long programme ‘Bombay ki Kahani Mumbai ki Zubani’ to commemorate the communal riots in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
A film clip on the Hari Masjid case showed Farooq Mapkar’s fight for close to 20 years to demand justice against the policemen who shot at him and killed six others. Other eye witnesses testified to police brutality that has gone unpunished. Justice seems remote for Tahir Wagle as he spoke of his son Shahnawaz who was shot in “cold blood” by the police, against whom even a first information report is not yet lodged.
Students and faculty of the Tata Institute for Sciences (TISS) have put together a series of six films on the city after two decades of communal riots and there are plans for public meetings and lectures in colleges as well.
Chayanika Shah of the campaign team comprising over 20 women’s groups, non governmental organisations, and individuals, said, “A lot had happened in the last 20 years that has impacted the city positively and negatively. We need to remind ourselves what was undone from 1992-93 and also how the violence changed the city in many ways.” “People ask why do you want to remember – it was important to know what has happened and it was historically essential to acknowledge the trauma and recognise the damage,” she said.
She pointed to the lack of justice for victims and that the perpetrators of violence are allowed to go scot free, which extends till today. She also said the city was polarised after the riots and the rise of the right wing which had asserted itself in many ways. The campaign team has also interacted with communities from the city and outside like Mumbra in Thane district where people fled after the riots and compiled oral histories.
At a press meet during the programme, Justice (retd) H. Suresh of the Bombay high court said it was important to let the present generation know the horrors of the past and no one who had indulged in mass crimes had been punished in the country right from the anti Sikh riots of 1984.
Pushpa Bhave, writer and activist, spoke of the culture of defining cruelty as valour and giving false evidence from history in support of this theory. The cult of terror aims at wiping out memories, she pointed out. “People had lost the values of compassion and instead mass media was bringing the values of vengeance into drawing rooms, which was dangerous,” she added.
Asghar Ali Engineer referred to the history of riots in Maharashtra and how the report of the Justice Madon commission which inquired into Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad communal riots in 1970 was never implemented.
He said communal riots in Bhiwandi and Jalgaon went unpunished and policemen colluded with rioters. It was difficult to forget the crimes of the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. Identity politics had intensified after the Bhiwandi riots again in 1984 and changed the city’s cosmopolitan ideals. “We must remember the riots not for revenge but to ensure that it does not happen again,” he added.
The month long series of events concludes on January 13 with a music programme by Shubha Mudgal.