An unassuming stretch of road in Madanpura bears witness to a local resident’s role in helping calm down tension during one of the worst Shia-Sunni riots in Bombay back in 1911. The eponymous Badlu Rangari lane is a tribute to that person, whose services were all the more invaluable just months before King George V and Queen Mary were to visit India in December that year.
More than a century later, few on the tiny 200-metre stretch located near Byculla station know about Badlu Rangari, whose real name was Badlu Ansari.
In the book, The Bombay City Police – A Historical Sketch 1672 to 1916, then Police Commissioner of Bombay SM
Edwardes quoted from a letter he had written to the secretary of the judicial department regarding disturbances in the city during Moharram that year.
Edwardes wrote, “The Moharram of 1911 commenced on 2nd January. As Government are aware, I had with their approval issued a notification, dated 8th December 1910, closing Pakmodia Street, Dhabu Street, Doctor Street, Chimna Butcher Street and Mutton Street to all processionists throughout the Moharram.”
The notification was not favourably received and several colonies did not apply for licences for processions as was the norm.
“They were sulking,” Edwardes wrote. One of those who advocated the proper observance of the police rules on Doctor Street was Badlu, who lived in Madanpura and controlled a tabut (cenotaph carried during Moharram processions) that was supported by the Julhai weaver community.
Later, when the commissioner decided not to permit a change of route to the Julhais or Muslim hand weavers, fearing that the new route could lead to law and order problems, the police took Badlu’s help. Edwardes wrote, “I decided to send for Badlu myself and explain to him that it was impossible for me to grant them a pass, much as I regretted my inability to do so, Badlu after 20 minutes’ talk with me was quite reasonable and undertook not to worry any more about a pass and to keep his following cool.”
The letter went on to note that Badlu kept his promise to the commissioner of police. The Julhais immersed their tabut in the usual way.”
‘Credit is due to Badlu and the Madanpura Julhais for accepting the position, keeping their promise to me, and performing their Moharram and tabut immersion in the regular way without giving the smallest trouble to the police.”
Maharashtra Director General of Police D Padsalgikar said, “Ensuring that the riots were in control was vital then, as King George V and Queen Mary were to visit India in December. It was one of the worst Sunni-Shia riots the city had seen. Even after several attempts, the police did not succeed. It was the arrangement with Badlu that finally helped calm tempers.”
That was also the year when, even as tension simmered between the two sects, the British began to draw plans for the Gateway of India, to be erected to commemorate the Royal visit.
Now, more than a century later, the nondescript lane is home to some old residential buildings, meat shops and tea stalls, hardly betraying its sensitive history. A few old timers remember Ansari as Badlu Seth.
Iliyas Khan, who has resided in the lane for decades, said, “Badlu Seth owned a couple of buildings on the road. He had a very good standing in the community.” Another local resident, Nadeem Ansari, said Moharram and Urs are observed with a lot of vigour by people there.
But not many know their street was named after Badlu Rangari, who played a stellar role in ensuring one of Mumbai’s worst riots did not go out of control.