TIBETANS, WHOSE woollen shops were gutted in Thursday night’s fire in front of the Lily Talkies, had feared such mischief from locals who were threatening visiting traders. They had duly lodged a complaint about persistent threats to their life and properties with the Jehangirabad police on November 9 last.
“We had told police that few local vendors illegally took possession of our stalls. Subsequently, Bhopal Municipal Corporation evicted them and handed over the space to us. Since then few locals threatened us that they would destroy our goods and business,” Tibetan Sweater Sellers’ Association (TSSA) president Wangdakgonpo told Hindustan Times.
The copy of the complaint filed with the police also bears the stamp and signature of the police station confirming it was received on November 9.
However, Jehangirabad police pleaded ignorance about the complaint. TI, SM Zaidi said every year the Tibetans give an application to the police for security. He added as per eyewitnesses, the fire broke out at a shop and then spread.
Superintendent of Police, Anant Kumar Singh told Hindustan Times that it is yet to be established whether it was just an accident or sabotage.
“We’re waiting for a forensic test report and action will be initiated,” he said, admitting there had been some kind of dispute over shop allocation.
The fire gutted nine shops and left 70 Tibetan families in a state of shock. While the fire caused an estimated damage of about Rs 17 lakh, goods worth Rs 8 lakh (woollen goods & shop materials), were looted by miscreants amid pandemonium on the site after fire.
Now the traders are uncertain whether they will continue business peacefully in the face of threats from locals. As a mark of protest, Tibetan vendors closed trading and staged a silent demonstration at the spot demanding justice from the administration. “We’re Buddhist and peace-loving people. We’re keeping shops closed till the issue is settled with the administration,” said one of the Tibetan vendors Sonam.
Tibetan winter garment sellers, who have been visiting the City for the last 25 years to sell woollen clothes for three to four months, received threats for the first time this season from few local ‘goons’.
Tibetan shopkeepers as well as few locals (requesting anonymity) alleged there had been tug-of-war regarding allocation of temporary shops by the BMC. “There’re few local persons, who’ve recently started selling cotton clothes from Tripura and wanted to sell woollen clothes by ousting the Tibetans,” said a local resident and sympathiser of the Tibetans.
According to local sources, immediately after Diwali, few fireworks dealers wanted to set up shops of garments at the spot, which usually is given on rent to Tibetans at Rs 3,000 to 4,000.
Commerce & Industry Minister Babulal Gaur and Mayor Sunil Sood visited the spot during the day and met the victims. “Both assured us of some kind of financial assistance,” mentioned Wangdakgonpo, who received prestigious ‘Shourya Chakra’ on behalf of his late brother Gajam in Indian Army. His brother laid down his life during a combat at Siachin glacier in 1986.
All the Tibetan families, most of whom are refugees, face a lot of hardship in procuring goods from Ludhiana to bring them to Bhopal and other areas. Today many families were devastated. “We’re basically refugees and don’t have any insurance. We take loans from banks to buy these goods,” lamented the TSSA president.