Five women, including a freelance journalist, were detained by the Bandra-Kurla police for allegedly protesting against the demolition of a slum and an encroached area near Grand Hyatt hotel in Vakola by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Tuesday afternoon.
A case of obstructing a government action and unlawful assembly was filed against them.
Anjali Rathore (21), a student and local resident, was detained after she bit the arm of a female constable to allegedly protect herself. “The BMC officials and police broke into my house and started demolishing it. I could not let my house be brought down to dust, so I sat in front of the JCB with 15 other women. The female police officers started pulling all of us out. When five women came near me, I decided to protect myself and instinctively bit the constable’s hand,” Ms. Rathore said.
Neelam Gaikwad (44), who works as domestic help, said the BMC issued a notice regarding demolition in 2009, but since then there has been no word about it. “I have nowhere to go. I have three children; I can’t take them and sleep on the street,” Ms. Gaikwad said.
Residents, reporter hurt
Amidst the action, a one-and-a-half-year-old girl was injured on the face and leg after her mother, Bharti Waghela, tried to fight the officials. “I have a 12-member family who lives in this two-room house. We weren’t fortunate enough to get our names in the lucky draw to get a MHADA house, to which others are being moved. If I don’t fight for this, what else do I do?” asked Ms. Waghela.
Freelance journalist Priyanka Borpujari, one of the five women picked up from the scene, said, “A policewomen told me to stop recording; I stood my ground and said that I’m a journalist, only observing and documenting what was going on. When a slum dweller sat down crying by an earthmover and the policewomen began to drag her, I got closer to them. That’s when they began to drag me back, and tried to snatch my phone. I wanted to record this, like any journalist would. By then, a policewoman had dragged me by my hand, and another by my hair plait. I saw the same thing happening to the women and children. The policewoman kept asking me to give my phone. I kept refusing. I was finally dragged by my hair and thrown into the police vehicle, and was taken away. Throughout the ride, the policewoman held my wrist tight, insisting that I give her the phone.” Ms. Borpujari says that at the police station, her phone was taken away and she wasn’t allowed to make any more calls.
DCP Anil Kumbhare, Divisional Commissioner for Zone VIII said that they detained the freelance journalist for encouraging slum dwellers and instigating them to protest against the action taken by the BMC, as per the complaint. “She has been charged with being an activist and not a reporter. Many of our officials confirmed that she was raising slogans and encouraging other women,” DCP Kumbhare said.
Ms. Borpujari, who has been released after charges were filed against her and her statement recorded, denies instigating the residents of the slum. The other four women were also released.
In a later email to The Hindu , Ms. Borpujari wrote, “When I was about to be released, one of the policemen who was in plain clothes on Hans Bhugra Marg when I was taking videos, told me: ‘Only if you had had a press card, we wouldn’t have bothered you.’ But as a freelance journalist, I do not have a press card. Since he had been witness to everything, and had recording the events on his phone — including the assault on me — I asked him if he really thought that I was shouting slogans and instigating the people. He replied that instigating need not only be through slogans but that my mere presence was enough to mobilise the slum dwellers to protest vociferously.”
The BKC police said a complaint was filed by the BMC officials against the five women around 1.30 p.m. for obstructing official action. “One of the women was seen rushing towards us with a brick with the intention to hit us. The situation had gotten out of control. We had to take necessary steps,” said sub-inspector Sachin Patil.
Mr. Patil said an FIR has been lodged against all five women for obstructing a government-approved action by unlawful ways, under Sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 333 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 114 (abettor being present when offence is committed), 141 (show of criminal force), 143 (unlawful assembly) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.