Innumerable flies buzzed over
garbage heaps in the narrow lanes. Powerlooms clanged in regular
rhythm. Small dwellings lined the slush-filled lane we were in. We
covered our noses and mouths with our duppattas. The stench was
unbearable. To our left, pigs wallowed in a pool of stagnant black
water. A skinny little boy stood before us. Vacant eyes, inert
body, he made no move to ward off the flies circling his head. His
faded black t-shirt caught our eye. Three simple words were
embossed on the worn-out shirt which hung on his bony body.
Today, we can see the words as
clearly as we did on that sultry Friday evening. It was October
Early that morning, we had got off the Nashik railway station and
got into the waiting Maharashtra government car. Out destination
was Malegaon – a town located 280 km north-east of Mumbai and 110
km from Nashik.…
What is your
A look of fear flitted across the face
that had thus far been expressionless. We drew him near and smiled
at him. By now, a few children, possibly the boy’s playmates, had
gathered around us. Gradually, he relaxed. Then in a shy voice he
A month earlier, on 8 September
2006, three blasts had taken place around this mosque.
Thirty-seven people died, and 125 were seriously injured. As soon
as we entered the mosque, we were surrounded by people of all
ages, including many teenagers.
Their nervousness was palpable. We
noticed that they were looking at us with suspicion as if saying,
For many months, even years, the youth of Malegaon had been
closely watched; their every action scrutinized. They were branded
‘anti-social,’ ‘bomb experts’, even ‘killers’, and associated with
groups like SIMI, LeT and words like RDX2.
Their town was branded ‘terror
town’. Their loyalties were suspected, their patriotism challenged
at every step.
Even when their own town was
attacked, instead of receiving sympathy, they were looked upon
with scepticism. This attitude, along with the recent blast
investigations, has left them shaken and disillusioned. …
Voices came from all directions.
‘We were attacked, and look what the government did. They picked
up and tortured our children.’
‘Two Unani doctors from Malegaon have been arrested.’
‘Have you heard of anyone who will bomb his own house?’
‘This is saazish, a conspiracy.’
[Almost two years later, the anti-terrorism squad of Maharashtra
arrested five people affiliated to the Hindu Jagran Manch,
including Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, under suspicion for their role in
the Malegaon and Modasa blasts. This case is under trial.]
By the time we left the mosque, it
was close to iftaar (meal that breaks the Ramzan fast); the
streets were bustling with people and vendors were selling food.
Next door was one of Malegaon’s many slums – the
Compound. It was here that we saw the skinny twelve-year-old boy.
His black t-shirt was emblazoned with the words ‘The Lost Boys’
across the chest. Three words which summed up the vulnerability of
the youth of this town. Three words which could become the epithet
for an entire generation. Three words which filled our hearts with
a sense of foreboding.
‘What is your name?’
A look of fear flitted across the face that had thus far been
expressionless. We drew him near and smiled at him. By now, a few
children, possibly the boy’s playmates, had gathered around us.
Gradually, he relaxed. Then in a shy
voice he answered: ‘Saddam.’
‘Do you go to school?’
The head went down and we heard a barely perceptible, ‘No.’
‘I am learning to work the looms.’
‘What about your friends?’ we asked, pointing to the other
‘They also work.’ …
The deprivation we had seen everywhere throughout the day, and the
enormity of the task ahead us was too daunting.
We desperately wanted to spot a good
practice, a glimmer of hope in this small town. It appeared
unexpectedly at a police station in front of which our car
‘Why are we here?’ we asked Aleem Faizee, a young reporter, who had
taken us there. ‘This is one ray of hope,’ he said, pointing to a
small board just outside the police station.
It read ‘Mahila Shikayat Samadhan
Kendra’ or ‘Women’s Complaint Bureau’.
We stepped inside the small,
one-room building. Four women were sitting around a wooden table
with a prominently placed telephone. One of them was Irfana
Hamdani,a young advocate who was a volunteer at this centre.
‘This centre,’ she explained, ‘is a
women’s initiative to combat all forms of violence.’
that, after the Malegaon riots of 2001, women from both
communities had come together to issue a call for peace which
begins with fighting violence inside the homes.
They had become
partners with the Maharashtra police, and the Shikayat Kendra was
established inside the Malegaon police station.
At the time of our visit, it had
been operational for three years.
‘Some of us are housewives;
others are lawyers, teachers and doctors. We all give our time on
a weekly basis. On an average, we get five to six hundred cases
every year, 90 percent from the lower income-groups. We have
already solved some 700 cases of violence,’ explained Irfana
The subdivisional magistrate (SDM) Rajesh Pradhan agreed that this
community effort had reduced the cases of violence under section
498A of the criminal procedure code.
Dr Rekha Rao, a cheerful
woman in her mid-forties, was a college teacher. She said that
polygamy and triple talaaq (signalling divorce) were among the
principal causes behind domestic violence in Muslim bastis.
whenever we go there and discuss triple talaaq, polygamy and
sterilization, the men accuse us of being anti-Islam.’ Asma Shaikh,
her colleague, agreed. 'I wish we could have some police
protection on these occasions.’
We left the kendra after posing for
photographs with the women who counselled people on family
planning, illiteracy, polygamy, hygiene and livelihood, sometimes
at the risk of social boycott.
Malegaon like other medium size
towns has its share of good and bad.…
Beautiful Country – Stories From Another India
By Dr Syeda Hameed and Gunjan
Published by Harper
Price: Rs 399