Meena Menon

It is a story of deep despair with a party that is supposed to epitomise Hindutva.

It is not only the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) factor that has led to the downfall of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and Thane in the recent Lok Sabha elections. Its voter base was largely from the migrants from the coastal Konkan who made their home in the city. Over the years that base has been eroded somewhat and in many ways there is a sense of alienation.

While there are many reasons for this, some of it goes back to the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. While the Sena whipped up communal sentiments during the riots after the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, and rode to power in the next Assembly elections, the people who formed part of its rioting gangs were ignored by the party later.

Many of the Sainiks were held culpable for the riots but the Sena did not come to their legal aid. Even the victims are forgotten. The Bane family was often dubbed the face of the riots. Their story best exemplifies what has happened to the party’s promises. It was the torching of the Bane’s home in Gandhi chawl (mistakenly called Radhabai chawl) in Jogeshwari east along with other tenements on January 7, 1993, that became the flashpoint of the second phase of the riots that broke out in the city. The Sena whipped up passions and screamed for revenge in Bane’s name.

Rajaram Bane and his wife and four others were killed when their home was attacked allegedly by a Muslim mob and set on fire in the night.

Though convicted for the crime, the accused were set free by the Supreme Court. Now Sudarshan, 37, Rajaram’s son lives in the bylanes of Gorai, a far flung suburb and ekes out a living making idols of Ganesh and Durga. There is a look of dejection about him. He has been through several temporary jobs since the riots.

“The government had promised me and my family so much. I met so many Sena and Congress leaders at that time,” he says. Once, Ravindra Waikar, Sena corporator and head of the municipal corporation’s standing committee, had taken him to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “I thought now at least something will happen. I wasted two days running around and lost my earnings as a rickshaw driver. We had become a showpiece for the party. They used to show us around to everyone but did nothing,” says Sudarshan with anger and bitterness.

“We were so helpless at that time and so many big leaders assured us and promised so many things but nothing happened. Even a simple job would have kept me afloat all these years,“ he says. At the time of the riots, Sudarshan used to work for a company making tubes for Colgate. “Now I do all kinds of private jobs. I have two children. I keep moving as I stay on rent. An NGO, YUVA bought the chawl from us and we were paid Rs. 40,000 for the rooms.”

His sister Sujata Chavan says, “it was all to do with that Babri Masjid. We hear that the accused were released later. And no one appealed against it. Why should we appeal,” she asks. “Who has the time to go court and waste time and money. We don’t want to take revenge, their “karma karta” will take care of it,” she says. Both Sujata and Sudarshan are tired of the long wait for justice or social support. “I have given up all hope now,” says Sudarshan.

Even after so many years, his sister Naina, starts trembling when she sees an accident or something untoward. She had to leave the flaming room through the roof during the riots. She has not forgotten that horrible event and her subsequent hospitalisation. “She had 50 per cent burns,” says Sujata. Now 40, Naina speaks with a distant look in her eyes. “I got married in 1996 and am now living in an extended suburb,” she says by way of introduction. “My husband worked for a mill which closed down. Anyway he was a badli (temporary worker) and he lost his job. Now he works as a watchman.”

Her right hand is still swollen and bears the marks of her injuries.

“Even now it hurts,” she says. “My whole right side was burnt but we managed to do corrective surgery and set it right. For two three months after I came out of hospital, I could not do any work, even now it is difficult to lift heavy things.

“My family is jobless and insecure. Do something for them — I want nothing for myself,” she pleads. “I still suffer a lot of mental trauma and the sight of blood unsettles me. How many times we were paraded here and there with no results,” she sighs. The youngest brother, Mangesh, has a temporary job as a telephone operator. Sujata submitted an application for a low-cost house in the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) in 1995. Her husband Kamlakar says since then she has been on the waiting list.

“Don’t we deserve a house at least? We are not asking for anything special. So many people got homes but my wife’s house was burnt in the riots, she lost her parents, why can’t she be given this flat?” he asks.

It’s a story of broken promises and deep despair with a party that is supposed to epitomise Hindutva. There are others unwilling to speak up. In their untold stories lie the reasons for the diminishing Sena clout.