Her fractured arm in a sling, 40-year-old Helen Fernandes, a housewife, spends most of her time standing vigil at the entrance of her chawl. After she and her neighbours were attacked by 25 men some days ago, the chawl residents have been taking turns standing guard.
At the heart of the problem is a 1,774-square-metre plot of prime real estate in Bandra (W).
Originally belonging to St Peter’s Church, the land was recently sold to a private developer. Ronnie D’Souza, 48, a resident, said, “We received a notice in July from the developers saying we had to vacate our houses in eight days or else action would be taken against us. We were shocked.”
After a series of correspondence between the residents and builders, things finally came to a head last week. “The developer called us illegal occupants, despite the fact that our families have been living here for more than 60 years,” said Albert Bhandari, 38, born and brought up in the chawl.
On August 19, the thugs came with choppers and iron rods, and attacked residents.
Mary Fernandes (60), a heart patient, was pushed to the ground, warranting hospitalisation.
Prakash George, senior police inspector, Bandra police, said, “We arrested two people.” George said prima facie, the attack seems to have been over a dispute between the developer and the residents.
Father Francis Juan, assistant parish priest, St Peter’s Church, said, “The residents have been illegally living on church land for years now without paying any rent. Also, they have been very uncooperative with the developers, too.”
Local corporator, Asif Zakaria, supported the locals and said, “They have been living here since years now. It’s wrong to just push them out.”