“Learn Marathi within 40 days or leave,” warned MNS leader Chintu Shaikh (33), addressing a group of 20-30 north Indian taxi drivers at a taxi stand at Kurla.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on Monday stepped up its Marathi language campaign by issuing an ultimatum asking drivers to learn the language within this deadline.
They also distributed books that teach the language, and pasted posters on the taxis, on their commitment to the language.
“We will not tolerate any taxi driver who does not know Marathi,” said Shaikh.
“They have to learn the language and converse in it if they wish to live in Maharashtra,” he added.
The MNS, which has stayed out of the news for the last few months, has stepped up its aggression after the state government backtracked on its move to make Marathi mandatory for those applying for new taxi permits. MNS chief Raj Thackeray last week threatened not to allow a single taxi to ply on the road if the new permits are not issued to local Maharashtrians.
The taxi trade in the city has historically had an emotional connect for north Indians, who have migrated into — and lived peacefully in — the city for decades, primarily from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, sending regular incomes back to the families they left behind there.
“It is wrong to threaten anyone who is making an honest living. Forcing anyone to learn any language is simply not done,” said Mangleshwar Tripathi, president, Uttar Bhartiya Vikas Parishad, an organisation representing north Indians.
The Parishad will meet the Mumbai Police commissioner and ask him to book those responsible.
“Our silence is being taken for weakness, but this time we will not keep quiet,” he added.
A worried Congress has asked the state to act on this. “Everyone has the right to live there,’’ Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said in Delhi.
“We expect the state government to take this seriously,” he added.