Koparkhairane in Navi Mumbai, 23 km off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, was teeming with policemen on Thursday. The area had witnessed prolonged violence on July 25 — the last time the Maratha groups protested — with agitators and retaliating residents facing off in scuffles that had led to the death of a 19-year-old boy. That day, even after the bandh in Navi Mumbai was called off, policemen had to continue to monitor the lanes in Koparkhairane with hourly beat marches.
On Thursday, the local police were prepared to keep any such incident from happening.
“We are positioned here since 5 am, though nothing has happened,” said constable Lakshman Patil, who was one of the many policemen at the D Mart across a police chowky that was vandalised on July 25.
The shop, functioning on Thursday despite a broken facade, witnessed less than normal footfall. “I had asked my husband to take an off from his work. We were not sure what was going to happen… When nothing seemed to be happening, we decided to go out and shop for groceries,” said Sushila Nandvar, a shopper at D Mart, who had come there with her family of four.
Residents of Koparkhairane started their day with apprehension. “I had already applied for a leave. But as the situation seems normal, I am going to work for half a day,” said Suresh Nair, an employee at a data firm in Airoli.
Many schools had announced that they would remain closed. Those that had classes as usual saw parents accompanying students and some even waiting outside the schools for classes to end. “I am waiting for my son’s playschool to get over. The elder one has been told not to leave his school premises alone. I will go pick him up,” said Natasha Coutinho, a resident of Sector 23.
The residents of Gaothan, which faced vandalism on July 25, said Thursday was comparitively peaceful. The roads were empty or full of marching policemen. “As my husband didn’t open his shop, we intend to go watch a matinee show,” said Varsha Koli, a resident of Gaothan. Her husband Ashish Koli said: “The last time, it was a few people who did all the vandalism, who were taken by the police. The entire community is peace loving. That’s how we have lived for generations.”
Houses and shops in Sector 15, where Rohan Todkar, the 19-year-old boy who lived with his maternal uncle died in the violence on July 25, were all shut with several being locked from inside. “The police held several meetings with us. We have assured them that we will not let the youth go out. Why cause trouble when the strike is called off?” said Shilpa Patil, a resident. While Todkar’s maternal uncle has returned to Koparkhairane, the family refused to open the doors for visitors. “The police visited them multiple times. They don’t want any trouble,” said a neighbouring shopowner.
Constables outside chased away youths gathering on the road. “We had done a lot of trust building exercises in the run up to the morcha. After the leaders called it off, we ensured that no local groups have any wrong ideas. Our men went to each area counselled the people,” said an officer.