Thursday, February 23, 2006


There is just so much written about the controversy about the Danish cartoons which depicted prophet Mohammad illciting angry reactions from all voer the world. Though this incident happened before that, it still is a bit similar to the Danish Cartoon Controversy. Wanted to share this experience with you guys. .

Three weeks back..

It was a regular Sunday for me. There I was cribbing about going to work on a Sunday. Little did I know, what was in store for me in due course of the day. On my way to work, my train stopped and well I learnt it was a rail roko. It was Mumbra station.

My train stopped and I wondered why. I got down and look around me. Everybody was confused. Nobody knew why trains were stopped and why were stones being pelted. I set out to investigate. Now, Mumbra enjoys a very stereotypical reputation amongst the general public. Suffice to say, I had never stepped into Mumbra before. Victim of stereotypical notions of Mumbra that I was, I stepped into the main road outside the station with a little bit of hesitance. I know it is downright stupid, but well, I am just being honest. For the uninitiated, Mumbra is, for a want of better word, a ghetto for Muslims. Majority of the population is Muslim and whilst walking in some lanes you almost sense a feel of time wrap. Sadaf Manzils, Noor beauty parlours dominate the setting. What I mean to emphasize here is the typical Muslim setting. However, it is also equally notorious for being a terrorist hangout. It is a generalisation; however, Mumbra has always been looked at with doubtful eyes.

Anyways, I stepped down there and bumped into few protestors. They told me that a popular English daily in Mumbai had published a picture of a woman with Koranic verses being printed on her back. They claimed that it was “Islam ki tauheen” i.e. an insult to Islam and that they are protesting against it.

I started scouring the place. I met a policeman who took me to a place wherein there was some kind of organised protest. I landed there and started talking to one person. Apparently he happened to be a self anointed leader of the motley group. Immediately I was surrounded by almost 150 ANGRY men with only one woman amidst them, that being me. I started talking to them. One thing was sure, they were very offended.

For the first time I saw raw anger in the eyes of the people. I was scared for a moment. I was surrounded by a huge mob of MEN. There I was alone representing the journo janta talking to them. It was intimidating being the lone representative of the ERRING fraternity. I could see many members in the crowd were getting agitated with simplest of my questions. Many a times the crowd raised slogans of Allah-O-Akbar right in the middle of the conversation. There were times I felt that I would be harmed by the crowd. However I think it pays to be a woman during times like these. No matter what, in a public domain, woman journalists are respected. I am sure had there been a male counterpart of mine, he seriously would have been thrashed. This is because when a MOB is angry, it doesn’t need logic to be provoked for silly things and a MOB always needs a scapegoat. Thankfully I did not become one.

It was a really funny sight. The very crowd which had brought about the rail roko were seen giving water to the passengers stuck in the train. I was speaking to some police officials when one of them retorted how the Muslim population have less tolerance level. What I saw that day was how the anger reflected a sense of assertion of their identity. Karl Marx has quoted it so rightly; Religion is the opium of masses. In India it is more so, it acts as identity for so many people. When your identity is threatened, you resort to extreme means coz then it means question of survival. The mob was spontaneous and was not held by any single organisation. The police themselves revealed that it would have been easier for them had it been promoted by any single organisation. This being a motley bunch of people from all over the place, makes matters more complicated. This is because, even if you have ended up pacifying a group of people, one can never be sure about having pacified the whole junta. A small spark can ignite a fire. I hope you guys are getting a drift.

One educated man who was seen hovering around told me how he did not approve of the rail roko. However he added, do other means achieve ends? No, unfortunately in our country, it doesn’t really help. Therefore we have to resort to unconstitutional methods to garner attention.

The publication had issued an apology. However the crowd wanted none of it. The same EDUCATED man the goes on to tell, “What is the point in apologising? This is like kissing a girl. If I kiss a girl in the middle of the road and then say sorry, it’s only the girl I have ended up harming. Nothing happens to me. There is no point in saying anything to the girl since you have already harmed her.”

I seriously felt like slapping him tight hard. Bloody rascal. I am sorry for the choice of the words. But I am abusing since I live in such patriarchal set up and that I can’t do much to change a common mind set. It’s really sad that people with such kind of mindset still exist. The notion of PURITY, IZZAT of a woman are a result of a fertile imagination of a man bred in an absolute patriarchal set up. There I go, I drift again. But I was just angry, some how controlled myself.

However later, the mob was pacified and they stopped the rail roko. One local marathi paper spoke about why didn’t they protest when M F Hussain painted godess Saraswati in nude? I am against all those actions which hurt the religious sentiments of people which ever religion they belong to. Such newspapers only bring about hated in the society. One wrong cannot be undone by another wrong. Che.

I personally feel Freedom of expression comes with some responsibility. However, even if there has been a mistake, I think every offended community has a right to protest. But, there is no point in getting violent. The whole point of protest is lost.

I again went to Mumbra few days later for another story. I met a man who thanked me profusely for coming there. He told me, “People have such a bad impression about Mumbra. Thanks for coming. I have been living here for the past 35 years and I love it.” This comment was from a Hindu person. I really felt bad that day. Felt bad because of how the mainstream media have more of less ignored them as a whole.


Third Eye said...

Hmm..a journalist student..oops journalist from somewhere around the corner. I stay in Ambarnath and I commute past Mumbra everyday and somehow I've always felt a sort of tension grip the air as the train comes to standstill here. Bearded men with cup shaped caps enter and so do ladies with hijabs. Often trek to the Mumbradevi temple myself. But honestly, the locales in this ghetto township garner loads of cinematic potential. M a journalism student myself and I guess it was last Sunday that in the Sunday Review, in TOI, I happened to read a feature on Mumbra. Opened new insights to this township for me. Cheers!
And yes, women journalist do attract lots of respect!

kartik said...

Hey,that was some good stuff that u wrote there. Keep posting such interesting articles.

Shobha said...

Third Eye: It's a very interesting place. Sexy place for a documentary....

Kartik: glad you liked it :D :D

imran said...

i am imran in brought up in mumbra here for 22 years ..yes on that day i was in mumbra sunday it was, as in morning no papers were available , heard of some trouble, not common in mainly youngsters gather on the street almost none of them was middle aged with shops began to closed .i try to analyze the sitution.
there has been danish cartoon controversy running around that time with t.v chnnels filling the fury of hatred against that tabloid . none of them known that name here..and then the voilent demonstrations arount the world has been the talk of the cafes here..the ever agitated youths have hatred and they need some thing to fire at no demonstration has been organised here then came the ...sunday times .... with all the fire fired at a tabloid( here lies the main cache )a tabloid ...that,s were everything happned. it was just against any tabloid ..most of the youths protesting came to know that the protest was not for insulting danish cartoons but some thing about lady ( displaying words of sacred book) in sunday times. the demonstration was not organised but just youths came down on roads ...and you know then.
by the way mumbrs is a small town. but the pathetic way it has been projected is not right. its true taht mumbra looks like a medeval era to some but that thanks to thane municipality. where millions of rupees in taxes in earnings is diverted to keep and maintain other towns and mumbra neglected by putting the tag of a troubled place
but i still prefer to live in mumbra where i spend my good years ........

Sami said...

Hey shobha,

i happened to read the article u wrote on mumbra, its good to see ppl showing interest in my birthplace. wud like to show u some thing. when u browse my blogs and photo gallery u will get a better idea,

Umar said...

Hey Shobha,
I have spent 35 years in Mumbra and i can bet you ... this is the most peaceful place in the suburbs. Outsiders feeling the tensed air there is bcoz of what they read about this place. People from Mumbra have gone much beyond their capacities to help people in crisis (remember the July 26 deluge).. i wish these are more highlighted in the media rather than its negative image.

Aslam Ansari said...

Hey Shobha,
Im By Professsion Computer Engineeer, Media makes A Mumbra wrong, im staying from last 22 yrs , where in the earth u find that u find two communities never fight, but u find in Mumbra Muslims and hindus stay together. Mumbra is most Beautiful place in Thane. said...

Hey, Shoba...
Fortunately, to prove you wrong, the same Sunday I was there @ Mumbra station when the train was halted by some some people (Nonsense), even i disagree their act. But let me correct you, that there was not a single stone pelting incidnet as mentioned by you. I boarded the first class compartment of the same train. Train was halted for 25-30 min, which they should not have.

indscribe said...

Sad that a 'young journalist' went with biases and saw 'anger'.

Mob is angry everywhere. Either Gujjars who sat on tracks, uprooting tracks or the Raj Thackeray's men beating to death North Indians.

Just that they were wearing cap and had beards, you saw 'anger'. Lady this is what happens when society and particularly media creates such a picture of a community.

Still, I must laud you that you laid bare your true feelings in sincere manner.

I wish you some day cover how MNS rascals or Shiv Sena goons treat Indian citizens including women.

You may then realise what hate-filled anger and real criminals are like.