Mumbai: Mohalla committees celebrate 20 years of peacemaking

  • Swati Goel Sharma, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 18, 2014 22:20 IST

In September during Durga Puja celebrations, a cigarette butt in a Central Mumbai pandal caused a minor fire, leading to tension between two communities.

The local mohalla committee sprung into action and quelled the unrest, restoring peace in the area.

In a city where various communities live cheek by jowl in several congested areas, it often takes a trivial reason to trigger a tension.

For the past 20 years, mohalla committees spread across Mumbai have been credited with diffusing communal tension.

Formed in 1994 after the Babri Masjid demolition, the Mohalla Committee Movement Trust – the umbrella body of these committees – is celebrating its 20th year this week.

Initiated by social activist Sushobha Barve, the association took shape when senior police officers, including former police commissioners Julio Ribeiro and Satish Sahney, supported the move and guided the members.

The week-long celebrations which began on Monday are events to bind people of different communities. Music programmes, plays, panel discussions and health camps are being held in various parts of the city.

Janki Prashant, facilitator of the zone 12 committee that covers Borivli, Kandivli and Goregaon, said the association was trying to further its mission of spreading communal harmony.

Speaking ahead of a dance performance by school students at Terapanth Bhavan in Kandivli (East) on Tuesday, Prashant said: “Our Trust tries to bridge the gap between the police and residents. We do not make tall claims, but our efforts have prevented many riots.”

The celebrations will conclude on Sunday with a health check-up camp at Vikhroli’s Vikas College and a symposium at Satya Bhama Hall in Govandi.

Dr Arif Ali Syed, of the zone 10 (Andheri east to Powai) committee , has helped the committee reconcile two groups on many occasions.

“As soon as we encounter a volatile situation, we first disperse the mob or prevent people from gathering. We insist on solving the problem immediately rather than allow people to come to blows.”

Citing a recent incident when a book binder accidentally put a glass of wine on a holy book lying at the workshop, Syed said talking calmly to the two sides helped defuse the tension. “Nipping the trouble in the bud is the key to peace and harmony,” he said.

The Peacemakers

Mohalla committees were formed in 1994 by residents and senior police officers, including former police chiefs Julio Ribeiro and Satish Sahney

The committee members quell any unrest which looms on the wake of sensitive news such as the Ayodhya verdict in 2010, Bamiyan Buddhas’ destruction in 2011 and arrest of late Bal Thackeray

This is the third time that the Mohalla Committee Movement Trust is celebrating communal harmony week. The last time was in 2009 when it celebrated its 15th anniversary

The committees, set up in the city’s 13 zones with more than 2,000 members, work closely with the police

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