Field Notes: The Slow Road To Amity, The Fast Track To Hatred 


Old-timers remember a very different Malvani, a low-income neighbourhood in northwest Mumbai, a 1,200-acre sprawl of Hindu and Muslim homes, four times larger than Dharavi, long known as Asia’s largest slum.

Of course, they remember the 1993 riots that engulfed Malvani like the rest of Mumbai. But those memories of violence and bloodshed had receded over the years. Instead, Malvani residents had started to bond over issues that touched their lives and plagued them all, with caste and faith no bar. 

Issues like the wanton demolitions of local slum communities, the developmental abyss that it found itself in, where children were growing up malnourished, and the crushing poverty and debilitating health most of its residents found themselves in.

In fighting these, the communities bonded, said Anwar Shaikh. 

As the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a socio-cultural Islamic organisation, in Malvani, Shaikh has seen some of Malvani’s most turbulent times.

 “But people here stayed united. We celebrated each other’s festivals, we celebrated every occasion there was, but always in unison with each other,” he said.

 Old-timers recall the Ganpati celebrations, where Muslims would join Hindus in the 10-day-long festivities. Or the Muharram and Urs processions, where Hindus would welcome the processionists with water and refreshments. 

 Shahdaan, a man in his early 30s, operating a digital marketing business in Malvani, remembers the COVID-19 waves when people of both communities came together. “Muslim organisations were helping and feeding Hindus; Hindus were doing the same,” he recalled.

In the last two years, though, all this is slowly evaporating. The progress the people of Malvani had made since the dark nights of 1993 is slowly coming undone. 

Over the last two years, especially, Hindu right-wing groups, as well as the BJP, have shown a focus on Malvani that many are unable to understand. 

From launching intense agitations for seeming non-issues—protests over a local park, known popularly as Tipu Sultan Park being revamped, led to protests about changing its name—to insisting that Hindus were fleeing the region, the area is coming under the increasing glare of Hindu right-wing organisations. 

On right-wing internet sites, Malvani is part of “a pattern” like in Kashmir and Kairana, they add, where Hindus get targeted through “land jihad” and even “love jihad”.

All this is also causing a strain among locals here.

Ganpati festivities, for instance, were always a communal affair, with people of different religions coming together. Muslims making offerings or their businesses donating to Ganpati mandals was not uncommon. 

“But over the last two years, Ganpati mandals here have started asking meat shops, mostly run by Muslims, to shut down for these 10 days,” said Shaikh. “This would never happen before.”

Locals said the area would never see processions on an occasion like Ram Navami, the birth of Hindu God Ram. But now, these processions feel like a show of strength. 

Showing strength to whom, ask Malvani residents.

Two such processions, over the last two years, have resulted in heightened tensions and clashes. Communalism is slowly re-entering homes in Malvani. Muslims talk of how their Hindu friends now casually make communally-charged remarks. 

 These changes, locals say, are unlikely to go away with the BJP’s electoral losses or wins. 

 “Jo nafrat dil mein ghus chuki hai, usko nikaalna mushkil hai,” said Shaikh.  (The hate that has seeped into hearts here isn’t going to go away so easily.)

Read Kunal Purohit’s full story here

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