December 20, 2019 3:17:51 am
The annual Mahim Fair, famous for its beachside giant wheels, its limitless food stalls and celebration of the 14th century saint Makhdum Ali Mahimi, ends on Friday. But this year, the festivities have not been the same. Beyond the revelry, the mood in the offices of the Mahim Dargah could not be more tense.
“On Wednesday evening more than 150 people representing Muslim organisations across Maharashtra gathered here to discuss how to go about protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). People were so worried that I contacted Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve and requested a meeting,” said Sohail Khandwani, trustee, Mahim Dargah.
Khandwani joined several prominent Muslim religious leaders from Mumbai in speaking to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray inside Barve’s office. The leaders had sought assurances from the Mumbai Police and state government before Thursday’s planned protest at August Kranti Maidan. “Both the Act and NRC are assaults on the Constitution of India. The CM assured us that he would not implement either the CAA or NRC in Maharashtra, while the Commissioner told us that our protest could go ahead as long as it stayed within the framework of the law,” said Khandwani.
As a prominent representative of one of Mumbai’s most revered religious institutions, Khandwani has had to maintain a delicate balance between lending a ear to angry visitors while also liasing with the police. It is a function that the Dargah has been carrying out for centuries.
The Mumbai Police consider Makhdumi Baba as its unofficial guide and patron saint and reserve the privilege to make the first offering of shawls and flowers at his tomb in the Dargah on the first day of the ten-day fair held in his honour.
It is preceded by a procession from the police station to the Dargah in which thousands join marching police personnel.
According to legend, Makhdumi Baba met and advised locals at the site where Mahim police station is presently located. Khandwani said the first members of the Bhandari Militia formed by the British East India Company, which would later become the Bombay Police, are also believed to have sought his guidance while investigating crimes. “The police has a strong belief in Makhdumi Baba. There is a room in the Mahim senior police inspector’s cabin which is dedicated to him and is opened once a year so that the police can pay its respects,” said Khandwani.
The police department has also incorporated a registered society, the Makhdum Shah Baba Mumbai Police Sandal, to collect contributions to buy offerings for the fair. “The Dargah is a bridge between the police and the people because of the police’s belief in Baba,” Khandwani explained.
With the police cracking down on protesters in Assam, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, Khandwani admitted the department is currently viewed as a villain by citizens across the country. “But it is not so in Mumbai,” he said. Given that Mahim is one of Mumbai’s most communally sensitive localities, Khandwani explains that the Dargah maintains a vital role in maintaining peace. “Mahim has a cosmopolitan population but it is so sensitive that if anything were to happen here, it will spread across the city. This is why it is important to spread the message of peace,” he said.
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