Meena Menon

On July 11, divisions blurred in Naya Nagar

  • Several arrests were made from the locality in connection with the bomb blasts
  • "What is happening now is an attempt to tarnish the image of Naya Nagar"
  • Muslims were openly refused flats in certain areas

    MUMBAI: From Mira Road station as you walk to the central road that separates two rows of buildings, you are struck by the somewhat orderly nature of planning and the wide roads. Yet divisions run deep in this extended suburb of Mumbai. Pulak Chakraborty, secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the Mira Road-Bhayander area, says the wide road is a divider in many ways. Locals call it the border between India and Pakistan, referring to the housing colonies on either side.

    Naya Nagar has acquired notoriety after several arrests were made from here in connection with the July 11 bomb blasts. It is home to Faisal Sheikh and his brother Muzammil, Ehtesham Siddiqui and Danish Sheikh, all arrested in connection with the blasts.

    However, on the day of the blasts and immediately afterwards, Naya Nagar was in the news for a different reason. Many of its residents were helping victims and taking the injured and the dead to hospitals. Zahir Khan, a real estate agent, said that though there was a huge division between the two communities, on that day everyone worked together.

    On July 11, Zahir rushed to the end of Naya Nagar, which is near the track where the blast had occurred. "There is a ten-foot ditch between the tracks and we had to create a makeshift bridge to take the injured out. There were no police there and the fire brigade was on the other side of the ditch," he recalls. People used handcarts and women got bed sheets and other clothes from their houses to cover the bodies of the victims. Zikkarbhai Ghulam Mohammed, who runs a shop near the tracks, said they took the telephone numbers of the injured and called various homes all night. Not only residents but rickshawallas and others too ferried people to the hospitals.

    Harassment alleged

    Today, however, the place is in the news because of the arrests. Many residents fear that they too will be picked up. Faisal Sheikh's father, Ataur Rehman Sheikh, is a harassed man. He hesitantly opens the door of his second floor apartment at Tirupati Balaji building in Naya Nagar and is wary of speaking to the media. "The media has made mincemeat of us and is giving all wrong reports," he says.According to journalist Farhan Hanif, Naya Nagar is a mixed locality that expanded in the early 1990s, particularly after the1992-93 communal riots. Several film personalities, painters, and writers live here.

    Two-time Sahitya Akademi award winner, writer Salam Bin Razzak points out that about 10 to 12 well-known Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu writers, including Abid Surti, live in the locality. "What is happening now is an attempt to tarnish the image of Naya Nagar. We are deeply saddened by all the rumours that are being spread about us. If some people are arrested, then the police should make sure the investigations are conducted fairly. Innocent people should not be harassed," he said.

    After the blasts, the police questioned many people in the area. One of those was Mirza Anwar Beg who was picked up on Sunday (July 30) from the Nalla Sopara station. He was waiting to board a train home to Mira Road when policemen in plainclothes escorted him to a waiting jeep. He was questioned till 1 a.m. in Thane and then handcuffed and asked to sleep on a cold floor. Beg was a member of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) from 1988 to 1991. He said he had nothing to do with the organisation after that.

    Beg was not allowed to call his family till the next morning. He was handcuffed and taken to the Anti Terrorism Squad office in Mumbai on Monday and later handed over to his family that evening. While residents did not object to being questioned, they felt that some proper procedure must be followed.

    Since last year, a Democratic Citizens Committee formed by Mr. Chakraborty and other groups has been trying to promote communal harmony in Naya Nagar. But they face basic problems, such as finding housing for Muslims. Real estate agents like Zahir say it is difficult for Muslims to get flats outside Naya Nagar and the builders were quite categorical in their refusal. A representative of a leading builder said they preferred Muslims and Hindus living separately.