MUMBAI: Society has changed compared to 26 years ago when Mumbai was engulfed in the fire of communal rage and those mistakes are unlikely to be repeated, feel survivors who recalled memories of the riots and serial blasts in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition.
Farooq Mapkar, then a young man in his twenties, was at Wadala mosque when police fired at him. He was jailed after the incident in January 1993. He also faced several charges including that of murder until 2009 when he was cleared. Now in his fifties, he is married and has four children. He still fights for the rights of the victims and survivors of the riots like him and talks bitterly of the times.
“Those were times full of bitterness and hatred against Muslims. But, now the situation is different. Though I feel our community can’t hope for justice, at least I’m happy that a Hindu is pleading the case for the Muslim party before the SC,” he said.
He also questioned the timing of the verdict. “It coincides with several of our brethren being in Pakistan,” he said, referring to the inaugural ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor. “We can’t trust Pakistan and I pray for the safety of those who have gone to Pakistan today. The Court could have waited for a couple of days,” he said.
Dr Vivek Nalgirkar teaches at a medical college in Navi Mumbai. As a devout RSS worker, he was at the disputed site in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 to perform ‘Kar Seva’. He was part of the team of 200-odd dedicated RSS workers who were deputed to “protect” the site when the HC verdict on Kar Seva didn’t come in by December 4.
“The symbolic Kar Seva went on peacefully for some time in the morning. But, later people lost control. A few individuals sneaked in and climbed up the domes. We tried hard to prevent others but, we were just 200 and over 2 lakh had gathered there. As a Swayamsevak, I was in two minds. I was happy as a ‘blot’ was being wiped out. But, I also knew that it was not the plan. Kar Seva didn’t go as per the plan. That was a shock for me,” said Dr Nalgirkar.
“When we were back in Mumbai, we saw the real flip side. For over two months some or the other part of the city was burning. That was the first time many people like me witnessed the real fear very closely,” he said. “It was an emotionally charged atmosphere. I feel society has grown more practical since then and advances on economic as well as technological fronts have moderated it,” he said, adding that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated.
Quaid Najmi, Mumbai Bureau Chief of IANS, was part of the news team of the Indian Express back in 1992-93. While covering the riots, he realized that his locality was a potential victim of communal tension. Confused as to what can be done, he rang up his boss DK Raikar who in turn spoke to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
“Thackeray immediately directed Shiv Sena ‘shakhas’ in our area and around 150 men were protecting our residential complex of five buildings for the next three weeks and saved the lives of half a dozen Muslim families,” Najmi said.
“As the riots continued in the city, we realized that the shops remained closed and we had hardly anything to eat. All the residents came together that time and shared whatever they had,” he added.
“Those were the only days when I’ve seen deserted railway stations at 6 pm. There used to be hardly anyone even at Churchgate railway station, which is one of the busiest. It was like a nightmare. Serial blasts took place just when everything started normalizing. Though the blasts pushed the city back to a spell of fear, it was momentary. The city bounced back the next day. That is the real spirit of this city. People now know that riots are used by criminals on both sides for their benefit and hence I don’t think the situation will ever arise again in Mumbai,” Najmi added.
Tushar Deshmukh was a 13-year-old living in Dadar when the serial blasts shook the city on March 12, 1993. “That day changed my life forever. I lost my mother in one of the blasts at Worli,” Deshmukh said with palpable pain in his voice. He feels that the victims of the aftermath of Ayodhya haven’t got justice.
Deshmukh had collected signatures of over 2,200 Dadar residents in favour of Yakub Memon’s death sentence while it was still being debated by civil society in 2015. He had also filed a petition against Sanjay Dutt and feels that those responsible for the riots and blasts, like Dawood and Tiger Memon should be hanged.
Yet, the staunch Shiv Sena supporter who works as an estate agent now, says that the frenzy prevalent in those days won’t be there ever again. “Life and society have changed so much. I don’t think anyone would repeat the past mistakes again,” Deshmukh said.
The effect of the Babri demolition also created a vertical split in Mumbai’s underworld. Till the blasts, Rajendra Nikalje aka Chota Rajan was in Dubai with don Dawood Ibrahim. However, he was kept completely out of the loop while planning the blasts. It created a rift and at the first instance after that, Nikalje left Dubai forever.
Since then the Mumbai underworld too was split on religious lines till most of the gangs were cleared about a decade back, said a senior police inspector who doesn’t want to be named. Nikalje is currently serving his sentence at the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.