Even as hundreds took to protests on the road and some blocked local train services in the city on Tuesday, Ambedkar Nagar, tucked in South Mumbai’s dense slums, remained calm, its one-sixth Dalit population choosing to go about their typical day rather than participate in a loud protest.
Most were unaware until afternoon about the death of one person in Pune’s Bhima Koregaon village where a scuffle had broken out on Monday during commemoration of 200 years of the 1818 battle when a battalion of British East India company, consisting of Mahar soldiers defeated the Peshwa, symbolising the defeat of upper caste Brahmins.
Home to a population of 24,000 people, the Ambedkar Nagar in Cuffe Parade has over 2,000 tiny hutments. About 4,000 Dalits are estimated to be residing in the colonies. Even as several claimed they will not participate in the protest, they added they will observe the bandh announced by Prakash Ambedkar on Wednesday, only if the situation worsens.
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of teenage boys huddled around vegetable vendor Sunita Yadav. She showed them a WhatsApp message asking people to join the protest in Chembur. “But how can I trust whether this message is true or not? People nowadays believe everything on Whatsapp,” she said. Her maternal family lives in Chembur and informed her about lathicharge on protesters. “None of my family members will step out on the road to protest,” she says.
Fisherman Ramesh Chauhan, who got to know about the protest from messages on Yadav’s phone, agreed.
“We have to go to our daily jobs and earn for our family. What is the sense in going for a protest when we don’t understand why it started.”
In the slum’s narrow lanes, running along open drainage lines, it was business as usual on Tuesday. At its entry point, grocery shop owner Anil Dogpure said there were murmurs of a protest in the morning in Chembur, Thane and Navi Mumbai but none of his neighbours showed any inclination to travel to those areas or join the protest. “Nobody understands why it has spread in Mumbai. I can’t keep my shop shut out of fear of protest,” he says.
A few blocks ahead, Bablu Hashmi, a paan-vendor, says residents of Ambedkar Nagar maintained peace even during the 1992 riots. “Most of us are daily labourers and have no time to think about anything else.”
Amidst the smoothly functioning grocery shops, vegetable sellers, tea stalls, tiny salons, and mechanics, children played on pavements and teenagers took to carrom boards. Shyam Gaikwad, who trains teenage boys to play carrom, said, “In this slum, Muslims, Dalits and Maharashtrians live together. It is unlikely there will be tensions here.”
A Cuffe Parade police official said they have been asked to stay on alert due to ongoing tension. “But since morning, not a single protestor has asked people to join the agitation. The situation has been under control,” he said.
As evening turned to dusk, men returning home from work dropped by to check if the carrom boards were free.
Local resident and trainer Gaikwad said five of his friends from Colaba had gone to Chembur to protest and got injured in stone pelting. “I had asked them not to go,” he told others at the carrom table. Fadnavis’ biggest challenge to unite Bhim Shakti-Sangha Shakti Dalit backlash provided a new weapon to in-house Maratha-OBC leaders, who failed to unsettle the CM during the Maratha agitation.