Mumbai Rewind: Kalbadevi and its pre-Independence connection with one of Bombay’s first terrorist attacks

In a precursor to the 26/11 attacks in 2008, two men wearing Army fatigues arrived in Mumbai on the morning of September 14, 1946, and opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd, killing seven persons and injuring over 20 others.

The area near Tanman Cap shop in the present time where the two gunmen opened fire and killed seven persons on September 14, 1946. (Express Photo)

Kalbadevi, with its cavernous bazaars, is a well-known and important business hub of Mumbai. But very few may know that the area had a connection with one of the first major terrorist attacks in Mumbai which took place even before India gained Independence.

In a precursor to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, two men wearing Army fatigues and armed with a rifle, two sten guns, two revolvers and a large quantity of ammunition arrived in Mumbai on the morning of September 14, 1946, and opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd, killing seven people and injuring over 20 others.

The intent of Mirza Abdul Majid and Gulam Ahmed alias Akhtar Hussein, soldiers in the Company No 2, Signallers, Eastern Command, was to seek revenge for the alleged atrocities committed against Muslims in the 1946 Mumbai riots in which, records suggest, over 300 people lost their lives.

On September 8, 1946, the two deserted an Indian Army camp and escaped from their unit in a military lorry. By September 14, the two found their way to Mumbai and hired a taxi near Byculla Station.

Records of their eventual trial in the Bombay High Court show that the taxi belonged to a Parsi named Nariman, who was driving it while his teenage son was sitting by his side.

Majid and Hussein asked Nariman to drive them to the Muslim-dominated Mohammed Ali Road. The taxi driver initially refused, claiming the area was dangerous due to the riots, but finally relented and the two men got off at a spot to enter a chawl from where they returned with a tin trunk.

The car then made its way towards Kalbadevi and the duo asked Nariman to stop before Tanman Cap Shop. The two then asked his son to deboard and get a cap for them.

A Bombay High Court record says, “One of the two passengers in the taxi then got out and immediately began firing with a weapon which, from the description given by witnesses, appeared to have been some sort of machine-gun, or it may be a sten gun.”

Later, the other passenger asked Nariman to get out, who rushed to find his son injured in the shooting. Majid and Hussein then escaped from the spot with one of the two driving the vehicle and firing at the crowd at the same time.

The taxi met with a minor accident with a vehicle but the two kept driving. The car was later recovered in the afternoon on the same day at a little distance from the incident.

The shootout, which lasted a few minutes, claimed seven lives and injured twenty persons along with horses, which were used to draw Victorias.

Majid and Hussein, who fled Mumbai after the attack, were subsequently arrested by Bombay Police within two months of the incident. Majid was arrested from Calcutta and Hussein was held in Ahmedabad.

The Bombay High Court records state that the incident of September 14 occurred only a fortnight after the outbreak of serious communal riots between “Hindus and Mussalmans in Bombay”.

Justice Weston, who was appointed as a special judge to hear the case, had noted, “The tragedy of the case lies in this that the accused had no private grudge impelling them to indulge in such a wild campaign of wholesale murder and massacre. It was clearly the result of communal hatred which, unfortunately at this season, influenced and inflamed wild, impulsive, and unbalanced men among both Hindus and Mussalmans. The ultimate responsibility for crimes of this character must lie on those who by their speeches and writings inflame communal feelings and sow the seeds of enmity and hatred between communities.”

The two were sentenced to death days before India’s independence, however, records do not show when the duo was finally hanged.

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