Beef ban robs Id of joy in Mumbai’s Muslim ghetto

The beef ban has hampered livelihood of people living in the Mumbra locality of Mumbai.— Photo: Special Arrangement

The beef ban has hampered livelihood of people living in the Mumbra locality of Mumbai.— Photo: Special Arrangement  

Mirza Alam Baig did not offer any sacrifice on Bakrid this year. Not that his religious vigour wavered; he just couldn’t afford a goat.

Last year, he had spent Rs. 3,700 to purchase a seventh portion of a bullock. But after the beef ban in Maharashtra, the retired driver really had little choice this time. Even though it is legal to slaughter buffaloes, the animal is not favoured for sacrifice, owing to superstitions about its colour.

The goats are too expensive. Anger wells up in him at the mention of the BJP government. “The government is not fair to Muslims. I have never seen an Id like this. There is no raunak [frolic],” says Mr. Baig.

The beef ban has dampened celebration of the festival in Maharashtra, the impact most visible in Mumbai’s poorest pockets. Mr. Baig’s gloom largely sums up the mood in Devripara Kausa, a nondescript locality nestled in Mumbra — possibly India’s largest Muslim ghetto.

Located on the margins of India’s financial capital, Devripara’s association with communal politics goes back to the 1993 riots, after which many of its present residents relocated there. In popular parlance, it is known as ‘Sri Lanka.’ According to a resident, the name probably stuck after a few Sri Lankan migrant families lived there and the auto drivers popularised the name. Even today when one gets down at Mumbra station, auto drivers guide you to ‘Sri Lanka’ rather than Devripara.

Corporator Raju Ansari says the area was initially a dense jungle and so cut off from mainland Mumbra that people considered it an “island.” “There was an old tribal village, Jagi para, there. The area almost seemed like the end of international borders so that people started calling it Sri Lanka. It was like the end of Indian civilisation,” says Mr. Ansari. The disconnect somewhat narrowed when the construction lobby took over in the late 1980s, he adds.

A dirty, slimy lane cutting through a crowded market, under the Mumbai-Pune Highway, running past open sewers and large potholes, brings you to Sri Lanka. Livelihood is a struggle for its 15,000 residents, most of whom engage in daily-wage jobs, labour, or run small shops on the footpath.

Like most slums in Mumbai, Sri Lanka is dogged by unhygienic conditions, poor power and water amenities, and bad roads. Its worst problems are perhaps three-fold: crime, drugs and illegal constructions, for which entire Mumbra is notorious. A curious resident asks this reporter if he had come there looking for drugs. “People from the city usually come here asking for careful who you interact with, keep your belongings safe...druggies walk around with knives...,” he cautions.

The elderly man is not off the mark. Mumbra is notorious for its crime graph — daylight thefts, drug trade and abuse, crimes against women, chain snatching, and even murders. For Sri Lanka’s Muslim population living on the margins, Id offered a temporary escape from the dismal conditions. However, the beef ban has changed all that, not just ruining the festive mood but also affecting livelihoods.

“With each beef outlet closed, four people have lost their jobs. This is the quietest Id I have seen here. Does it look like a festival for a poor man?” asks Shaifiddin Qureshi, a meat-seller.

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