There is always at least one flower on Ishrat Jahan’s grave, located in Kawsha Kabristan, about half a kilometer from his home in Rashid Compound, Mumbra. Gujarat police shot Jahan along with three men, calling her a “terrorist” on a mission to kill then-Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jahan’s case aside, Mumbai police arrested Mumbra residents Yasin Kapadia and Dr. Mateen on terrorism charges after the Ghatkopar train bomb explosions in 2002. Similarly, after the series of train bomb explosions in 2006, Mumbai police arrested Abdul Wahid Shaikh. , a school teacher from Mumbra, who was later acquitted. But the flowers are also a testimony. In Mumbra, the place that came up after the riots. Mumbai is also a city of ghettos.
Mumbra, located near the Thane Creek some 60km from Mumbai, is littered with derelict structures and modern aspirations of its largely subaltern masses. Dreams and nightmares coexist in this working-class Muslim ghetto. The Kausa Road Fork, Mumbra’s main road, bridges this disparity. A path leads to abandoned slums that have become the focus of developers and land sharks. The other leads to congested alleys where once-filthy slums are slowly giving way to redevelopment projects that have eaten up the open space/play areas for children.
Much of the area around Mumbra was formerly agricultural land. Between 1968 and 1975, Mumbai experienced significant growth in population and area density, and the Mumbra landscape became urbanized. This was the first expansion of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region of which Mumbra is a part. Until 1991, the population of Mumbra was under 50,000. After the 1992-93 Mumbai riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, many Muslims from Bhandup, Vikhroli, Ghatkopar and Walkeshwar in Mumbai fled to Mumbra. The state government at the time allocated about 26 square kilometers that were under the State Waqf Board for the resettlement of displaced Muslims, for whom Mumbra had become the promised land. Mumbra’s population, according to the 2011 census, increased to over 90,000; 20 times what it was before the 1992 riots. While 85% of the population is Muslim, 8.6% are Buddhist, 3% Hindu, 1.4% Christian, 1.7% Jains and 0.3% from other communities. Development has seen the rise of English medium schools by missionaries and NGOs, followed by Hindi and Marathi medium schools. not many madrassas or Urdu middle schools. Training classes have erected flexible banners, displaying the names of their students who topped the Class 10 results. Firdaus, an employee at a training class, tells panorama that the aspirations of the Muslim community have grown after education seems the gateway to fulfilled dreams.
When the call of azaan reverberates throughout Mumbra, devotees converge here at the mosques. Unlike in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, where Raj Thackeray demanded that mosque loudspeakers be silenced, here prayers from the many mosques are played five times a day. Previously, banks refused to establish branches in Mumbra. Now several nationalized and private banks have branches and ATMs here. Hindu and Muslim restaurants do business side by side. Interestingly, the jewelry stores, except for a few, are owned by Hindus.
All the women panorama spoke to say that they move freely. Most of them are dressed in burkas. “When she lived in Mumbai, a woman always asked me why she wore a burqa. One day I asked her why she used mangalsutra. She created such a ruckus that within a week, my family and I fled to Mumbra because we received death threats,” recalls Alynussa Khan. “There is peace here,” he smiles, adding that his health improved after moving to Mumbra. Several ‘women-only’ gyms sprang up after the local MLA went on a development spree, says Amjad Khan, a fitness trainer. There was a pre-Covid women’s soccer team that played tournaments outside of Mumbra. “The older girls are busy with their higher studies and a new team hasn’t been formed yet,” reports a source. Yasmin Shaikh, a data analyst for a multinational company, says her family of five can afford a house in Mumbai, but she chose to move to a more luxurious apartment inside Mumbra. “My parents came here with nothing and built their lives from scratch. We have become emotionally attached to the place,” says Shaikh. Mustaq Rizvi, a hairstylist at a Mumbra salon, had contemplated relocating a few years ago, after feeling isolated from the refurbishment process. “After Jeetendra Awhad sir became an MLA, life changed for the better,” says Rizvi. Two gigantic water tanks stand in front of Parsik Hill. As a testament to the growing population of Mumbra and the potentially prosperous times ahead.
Haima Deshpande in Mumbra
(This appeared in print as ‘Songs Of Suburbia’)