Prem Nagar, a small locality in Jogeshwari East was witness to some of the worst instances of barbarity including burning of Hindus at Radhabai Chawl during the 92-93 Mumbai riots.
Young residents of this lower middle class locality have chosen a unique way to bridge the communal schism. They have been celebrating an annual peace week to bring members of the Hindu and Muslim community together. The weeklong initiative to foster communal amity and gender equality kicked off with youngsters from both communities painting a peace wall on a school and a community toilet.
The initiative has been launched by Society for Awareness of Harmony and Equal Rights (Saher). The group works towards bringing youth from both communities together. It also works with the local community to ensure that girls of both communities recognize their abilities and identify their right to be in a position to realize their mutual relationship with each other and the environment.
The group was initially created by Shaikh Masood Akhtar, a social activist, and Dr Rama Shyam, a PhD from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The group traces its genesis to the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. Akhtar formed a group with friends in the locality to promote co-existence. Akhtar himself was a victim of the riots.
“The principle idea is to promote communal harmony. However, this year we thought we need to create awareness that people are equal irrespective of their religion and sex. This year, we decided to promote equality of sexes as well. One such way was to ask girls to come up and reclaim space in the community,” Dr Rama Shyam, Governing Body Member of Saher said.
As part of the initiative, boys and girls of both communities came together to not only paint a school but also a community toilet in the area.
Youngsters who took part in the event claimed that the event helped them in bonding with youngsters from their locality with whom they would generally not interact because of their religious orientation.
“In today’s world, communities tend to stay insulated in their own world. This initiative, however, helped in breaking barriers. I interacted with girls from the Muslim community. Generally, we get very few instances to interact in our locality,” Archana Reddy, a college student from Prem Nagar said.
Saher has planned weeklong initiatives to foster inter-community relationships. They include cooking and cultural events and a concert on the works of the mystic, Kabir.
“The idea is to provide space and opportunities for young people from both communities to interact and prepare them to begin their journey as agents of social change,” Shahnawaz Shaikh, an activist from Prem Nagar said.