“Why are you giving us bheekh (alms)?”
That was the angry question posed by chemist Shafique Ahmed Mohammad Salim (39) to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as they tried to distribute cheques of Rs 50,000 to families of seven of the 37 dead in the bomb-hit town of Malegaon.
“If we had proper hospitals, so many would not have died. Arrest those who caused these blasts, and we will present you with Rs 10 lakh,” said Shafique. His dead son Sajid (18) scored 84 per cent in his higher secondary examination and was looking forward to joining a medical course at Jiujiang Medical University in China’s Jiangxi province on September 19.
Sonia Gandhi, eye-witnesses said, embarrassed by the outburst, replied: “Shanti se boliye (Talk softly).” Patil and Deshmukh hastily stepped in, thanking citizens for avoiding a communal flare-up and promised “necessary aid”.
But spurred by Shafique’s outburst, his brother Shakeel, who also lost his son Shahbad (17), joined in. “The government just levies taxes on us while we get nothing on return,” said Shakeel. “Four decades ago, Malegaon was even more prosperous than Nashik. But today it is in a state of decay. Who is responsible for this?” Representatives of three other families, too, refused aid.
Shafique and the others told HT that they were protesting the “government’s apathy” that had transformed a town once known as the “Manchester of Maharashtra” into a “laawaris sheher (abandoned town)”, devoid of proper drains, roads and other civic infrastructure.
They may as well have been speaking on behalf of the 6 lakh people of Malegaon — at least 70 per cent Muslim — known more for a violent history of communal clashes than its struggling powerloom industry.
“All that we get are promises,” said powerloom worker Javed Sheikh.