Parag Chavan, 31, a former Shiv Sena corporator now with the Congress, wanted a flat four years ago at Shatrunjay Towers, Parel. Although he grew up on its lanes and bylanes, Chavan says he never got a flat in the plush building because he is a Maharashtrian, and not a Jain.
It didn’t help that the tower was built on the road named after his father Vithal Chavan, also a ex-Shiv Sena legislator.
Nor did it help that Parel has been one of the strongest bastions of Maharashtrians and their self-proclaimed custodians, the Shiv Sena, in Mumbai. All local elected representatives — corporators, legislators and the parliamentarian — belong to Sena.
Many tales like Chavan’s seem to underline the irony Sena chief Bal Thackeray statement on Tuesday in party mouthpiece Saamna: his men would not let the construction of residential towers begin if the builders did not give houses to Maharashtrians.
Local residents, traders, builders and public representatives in this former mill district — where chawls and old buildings are being redeveloped as ‘pure vegetarian’ towers — say Maharashtrians are being eased out while the Sena chooses to look away.
The Sena only acknowledges the ‘easing out’ bit. “I am helpless as the state government allows such segregation,” said Sena strongman and local legislator Dagdu Sakpal. “Since Balasaheb has given the order, I will devise a way to ensure reservation for the Marathi people.”
However, in central Mumbai’s Maharashtrian-dominated Parel-Lalbaug belt, a Sena bastion for four decades, the party leaders allegedly looked the other way when local Maharahstrians sought to buy flats in new skyscrapers, even at market rates.
“Despite being ready to pay market rates, we were denied flats because we are Maharashtrians,” said Amar Khamkar (34), owner of Ashok Khamkar Spices. “Such insult of local people would never have been tolerated in an other part of the country.”
The Khamkar brothers were denied flats in six buildings as they were non-vegetarians. Khamkar collected a few residents and made a noise but they say local leaders did not react.
There are 20 such buildings in this area exclusively for vegetarians, and a dozen more are coming up. By and large, these are occupied by Gujaratis and Jains who are strictly vegetarians.
Even Chavan accuses the local Shiv Sena leadership of inaction and being hand-in-glove with builders. “Today, they do not have the political will to tackle the problem,” he said.
According to market sources, in recent times, four to five investors from the community book an entire building and sell the flats to chosen buyers at a premium.
Many Jains and builders supported the segregation. “It is not possible to live with people who take non-vegetarian food,” said Hardik Hundiya, working president, Jain Samata Vahini.