It was a march that matched those of other cities. Last week when the call for Notinmyname resounded in Pune, the city reacted with characteristic unanimity. Students, celebs, artists, thinkers- poured out into the streets wearing their angst around their necks, displaying their abhorrence to the culture of lynching that was sweeping across the country.
It was a gesture much needed in the city that deep down needs to start doing some soul searching too.
Pune, the Mecca for students and techies, has embraced and absorbed people from all cultures and castes long enough to well deserve its title of a cosmopolitan city. Still relatively safe, still relatively open to outsiders, still relatively comfortable with its rapid changes in terms of population explosion and a subsequently overburdened infrastructure.
Relatively. Because scratch beneath the surface and the barely concealed scars show up all too easily. Some historic, some recently hashtagged.
In the latter category lies the 2014 incident that changed the perception of Pune forever. In June that year Mohin Shaikh a 28-year-old techie from Solapur, was attacked and killed by Hindu right-wing activists. Shaikh was targeted by a mob protesting some derogatory remarks on the social media and he was killed because of the skullcap he wore and the beard he sported.
(Coincidentally Shaikh was also in news a couple of weeks ago as the special public prosecutor appointed to fight for justice for him, Ujwal Nikam, exited from the case. The move has compounded the trials of Shaikh’s family that for the last three years are running from pillar to post for justice even as of the 21 accused of the murder, only three are behind bars, with the rest having being granted bail.)
Shaikh’s brutal murder, in a manner close to lynching (he was attacked by a large mob who beat him with hockey sticks and smashed his head on a cement block), caused deep cracks in the hitherto secular-cosmopolitan-tolerant reputation of the city.
It was like a wake-up call for those who believed that Pune may have had to absorb stray streams of extremism and intolerance in the past and a fairly dominant right wing in the present, but its was capable of containing the differences and dealing with situations fairly sensitively. It was time to look at the journey Pune seemed to have undertaken — from progressiveness to polarisation.
Shaikh’s murder was an aberration. But the city cannot deny or defend itself when it comes to one very visible manifestation of divisive behavior. It’s a fissure that slowly emerged as late as in the 1990s but which rapidly deepened over the next two decades to make for such a strong realty that today it is an unspoken rule in the city.
This is the all too familiar ghettoisation of the Muslim community.
While earlier the community was fairly evenly spread out in various parts of the city like Yerwawada, Deccan and Bhavani Peth, after the Mumbai riots of 1993, the Muslim families began to move out of the Hindu dominated areas to the peripheries. Today the community is more or less restrained to the sprawling suburb of Kondhwa.
Officially titled as one of the “most sensitive” areas of the city by the authorities, its where the forces are first deployed if there is a fear of communal violence flaring up anywhere in the city.
I remember a story I did a few years ago when Madhavi Kapur, principal of one of the city’s prominent schools known for its inclusiveness, took up the cudgels on behalf of people who wanted to buy her apartment, after her Sindhi-dominated society in the upmarket Bund Garden area started pressurizing her not to sell the place to a Muslim family.
Stories such as these are all too common in every area of the city. A truth everyone knows but which rarely makes it to the headlines.
So even as the city joins the outcry resonating in every corner of the country, isn’t it time to go beyond marches and start where one can? To take actions that speak louder than words- or placards? For inclusiveness also begins at home — quite literally.
It may not be possible to take on right wing activists or weed out the seeds of divisiveness planted by bigots over the decades, but surely at an individual level a small beginning can be made? It’s time to end this ghettoisation that is the biggest symbol of polarisation in the city today, in any city for that matter.
The next time anyone is turned away from your society by the management or discouraged by the affable real estate broker on instructions from the residents because of his or her religion, put your foot down. Stop divisiveness from where it begins. Only then can anyone in this city lay a genuine claim to the cry-not in my name.