As the city nervously awaits the Allahabad high court’s verdict on the fiercely contested status of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site, mohalla committees, formed in the aftermath of the 1992-93 riots, are being revived to ensure the city stays riot-free after the September 24 judgment.
On Monday, members of the Andheri (East) mohalla committee, which covers areas like Meghwadi and Jogeshwari that witnessed the worst of the riots, met the local deputy commissioner of police to work out a plan for maintaining peace in the area in the wake of the judgment.
“When the date of the verdict was announced, memories of the riots came rushing back to us. If there is a violent fallout, these areas could be severely affected,” said Maria Ishwaran, facilitator of the zone X mohalla committee that is spread over six police stations in Andheri and Jogeshwari.
The committee has also contacted youth groups from both Hindu and Muslim communities in Meghwadi, besides drawing up a directory of names and contact details of community leaders so that their help can be sought in quashing rumours. “We are also thinking of putting up boards in localities asking people not to hold celebrations or protests regardless of the nature of the verdict,” said Ishwaran.
Between Bandra and Andheri, members of the zone IX committee have been meeting Hindu and Muslim groups. “We are explaining to people that they have to honour the court’s verdict and maintain peace,” said Ajay Kaul of zone IX unit of Mohalla Committee Movement Trust. Dr Arif Ali Sayed of zone X mohalla committee said they have asked other groups in the city to arrange similar meetings with the police and local communities.
On September 19, similar meetings were organised in Pydhonie and Dongri by mohalla committees of zone I and II. On Tuesday, the groups will host discussions between caretakers of masjids, dargahs and temples in the Dongri and Sir JJ Road police station areas. “We want to draw up a plan for maintaining peace and communal harmony in the area,” said Muttam A Khalid, a businessman and a mohalla committee member.
Mohalla committees were created in 1994 following the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots, with former city commissioners of police Julio Ribeiro and Satish Sawhney guiding the groups in every police zone. The organisations have been given credit for diffusing riot-like situations by maintaining a communication link between the police and local communities.
However, in the relatively riot-free last decade, the groups have been looking at other community projects like women’s rights. “We have maintained a low profile, but have been continuously working on our primary objective, which is maintaining peace,” said Ishwaran.