By Jyoti Punwani,
Mumbai: It was the sound of breaking glass that woke Natasha Zarine. Having set off from Pune around 9.30 pm for Aurangabad on the night of May 31, she had dozed off. Around 10.10 pm, she woke to see her car, like many others around her, stalled at Lonikhand, 20 kms from Pune. Groups of men zipped around on bikes; a few alighted, and walked around between the stalled vehicles, chatting on mobiles.
The windshield of a truck was stoned; this was followed by the sound of breaking glass and laughter. Every now and then, the sound of glass being smashed would reach her. Like everyone else, Natasha sat tense and scared, windows rolled up, waiting for the police to arrive. A police van did, but it simply drove past. The attacks continued.
“There was no frenzy or shouting or running about,’’ recalls Natasha. “The men were calm, going about their work as if they knew exactly what had to be done.’’
Traffic began moving after an hour, and for the next 12 km till Shikrapur, says Natasha, they drove over broken glass. She saw trucks and buses parked on the side, some with cracked windshields, passengers standing around them, looking terrified. Some vehicles were entirely bereft of windshields or windows, indicating that the attackers had used more than just stones. At Shikrapur, on the road, were the still burning remains of a tyre. But police presence there made the traffic move faster.
This was the start of the protests against the offensive Facebook post that ended with the lynching of Mohsin Shaikh in Pune on the night of June 2. “Had the police acted on the night of May 31 itself, that young man may not have lost his life,’’ says Natasha.
Natasha reached home at 3 am; a journey that normally takes three hours had taken five-and-a-half. “We arrived home not with a sense of relief for having escaped unhurt, but with anger and distress at the vandalism and violence resulting in immense damage, that was happening openly on our roads without any fear of the law,’’ she says.
The next morning, came the news of similar vandalism in Aurangabad. Muslim establishments and hawkers were targeted. Natasha saw the window of a Muslim-owned KFC outlet broken; and hawkers related to her how their goods were flung away and they chased away. However, says Natasha, the police brought the situation under control very quickly.
Over the next two days, Natasha waited for media reports both about the violence and measures taken against the vandals, but none appeared. The few reports that did appear focused on the Facebook post, and “activists’ having protested against it by rasta rokos.
That was when Natasha and her colleagues in the newly set up `Civic Response Team’ in Aurangabad, decided to write to the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and their MP, demanding that they take responsibility for and condemn the vandalism, investigate who did it and who directed it, take action against them and compensate those who had suffered. Interestingly, while she received a one-line response from the CM saying: `Sir/Madam, we are forwarding this mail for necessary action’’, the mails to R R Patil and MP Chandrakant Khaire bounced back.
Natasha has now launched a petition on Facebook through change.org. To sign the petition click here.