TEN years have passed, but Jaleel Ansari can still remember the bloody and bloated faces of the bodies he picked up from Bhiwandi’s roads on July 5, 2006. Two Muslim youth had been killed in police firing, followed by the lynching of two policemen. Newspapers ran reports of a band of youth killing two policemen, mutilating and burning their corpses. It would become one of Maharashtra Police’s most embarrassing moments.
A decade later, Bhiwandi has moved on. But for people like Ansari, a single-storey structure that is now just a burnt shell — the site of a proposed police station — stands as an ugly reminder of the tragedy that visited the city in 2006.
In the crumbling Muslim-dominated town 50 km on the northern fringe of Mumbai, tragedy had struck amid protests over the choice of site for a new building for the Nizampura police station. “The condition of Nizampura police station has been abject. It is prone to flooding and is located on one of the city’s busiest stretches. The police found it difficult to manouevre around the locality and so they thought they would be able to serve better if they moved to a new structure in a more accessible part of town,” says Jaleel Ansari, a social activist.
Today, the identified site — a 2,000-sqm plot close to Quarter Gate Masjid which was being earlier used to house police officers — remains as it was abandoned then. The proposed police building that faced the wrath of rioters remains unchanged.
“The Nizampura police station still functions from its old decrepit surroundings. The destroyed structure, which has now fallen into ruin, seems to have been left standing…,” Ansari says.
Protests had begun against the selected location for the new police station building in March 2006, when a bhoomi pujan was conducted. Opposition to the project had gained momentum, a section of locals questioning the choice of a thickly populated Muslim locality for a police station. Some protesters wanted a school on the plot, another group claimed the land was part of a local cemetery. Some protesters approached court but most petitions were struck down.
Finally, a protest was held at Azad Maidan on July 4, 2006. And on July 5, 2006, a word-of-mouth campaign asked people to collect near the proposed police station. In spite of a heavy downpour that had caused half of Bhiwandi to be submerged, a mob of hundreds gathered near the plot.
“They claimed they had gathered to pray for an end to the downpour. But the police were justifiably jittery — the mob could have gathered at the mosque nearby but chose this controversial plot,” Imtiyaz Shaikh, a Bhiwandi resident, says.
No one is certain who cast the first stone, but things deteriorated rapidly. The mob tried to destroy the structure and attacked the policemen. Subsequently, the police opened fire, killing two. As news of the firing spread, mobs of young Muslims stepped out on to the streets. Two policemen, Ramesh Jagtap and Balasaheb Gangurde, spotted a mob gathering near the Baug-e-Firdous mosque. As they tried to disperse a mob of rioters threatening to burn state transport buses, the duo was pounced upon and lynched. Further trouble was thwarted after a police van appeared on the scene.
Soon after, the police machinery went into overdrive to provide justice to their slain co-workers. Hundreds of young men were picked up by the local police and detained. “During those few months, you could hardly find any young man in Bhiwandi. Most of them were asked to leave the town as the police were picking up all young Muslims,” resident Khalil Pathan remembers.
Charges would later be filed against close-to-a-dozen Muslim youngsters for the murder of the two policemen. The case is still on, though many of the accused are out on bail.
Meanwhile, Bhiwandi has transformed. Its warehouses now spread over seven-crore sqft, the largest in Asia. They pack and deliver everything, from white goods to lingerie that Indians order on e-commerce websites. A lone flyover in the city bypasses parts of the city where mayhem ruled 10 years back. The state government has created an additional police station, increasing the number of police stations in Bhiwandi from five to six. Nizampura police station, however, continues to function from its old, crumbling location.
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