Bandra migrant workers' gathering: Politicians, media channels lend communal spin to protesters desperate to return home
The presence of the Sunni Jama Masjid amid the now closed market outside the Bandra station, which witnessed the gathering of thousands of migrant workers, found a mention in many news reports and also in the commentary by politicians and social media users
A 2,000-strong crowd of migrant workers gathered at Mumbai’s Bandra railway station on Tuesday, demanding passage back home, as the coronavirus lockdown had rendered them jobless. The presence of the Sunni Jama Masjid amid the now closed market outside the station, which witnessed the gathering, found a mention in many news reports and also in the commentary by politicians and social media users.
India TV chief editor Rajat Sharma, in a tweet, asked why people had gathered outside the station to go home without any luggage in their hands. He mentioned the location of the protest to be Jama Masjid.
बांद्रा में जामा मस्जिद के बाहर इतनी बड़ी संख्या में लोगों का इकट्ठा चिंता की बात है. इन्हें किसने बुलाया? अगर ये लोग घर वापस जाने के लिए ट्रेन पकड़ने के लिए आए थे तो उनके हाथों में सामान क्यों नहीं था?
— Rajat Sharma (@RajatSharmaLive) April 14, 2020
While NewsNation asked why the venue of the gathering had to be a mosque, Republic TV too referred to the location in the same manner. ABP News also questioned the organisers of the crowd at the mosque.
BJP leader Kapil Mishra also asked three questions about the incident, including why it was outside a mosque.
तीन बड़े कड़वे सवाल -
1. अगर घर जाने वाले मजदूरों की भीड़ तो इनमें से किसी के भी पास बड़े बैग, थैले, समान क्यूं नहीं?
2. भीड़ जामा मस्जिद के सामने क्यूँ?
3. महाराष्ट्र में 30 अप्रैल तक का लॉकडाउन पहले से ही घोषित था तो आज हंगामा क्यूं?
ये साजिश हैं pic.twitter.com/vDSfWXHNKM
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishra_IND) April 14, 2020
On the same day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus would be extended till 3 May, the gathering was witnessed in Bandra, among the sensitive spots in Mumbai, a city which has reported 1,753 confirmed cases as on Wednesday. "The migrant labourers had gathered in Bandra demanding permission to return to their native states. However, they were later dispersed after police and local leaders intervened and asked them to vacate," news agency ANI quoted a police official as saying.
The communal angle found further mention in a widely shared video that showed a Muslim man addressing the crowd. In the video, the local was seen telling the crowd that the he understands the hardship they are facing and that it from “Allah’s side”, to which, a person responds, "Allah ki taraf se nai, Modi ke taraf se hai". The man responded saying that the whole world is facing this pandemic and that mosques, churches and religious places have been shut in its wake.
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) April 14, 2020
In response, Twitter users posed questions about speakers invoking Allah’s name and asked if “all Bihari-Bengali migrant workers in Mumbai are Muslims”. Another Twitter user blamed the Shiv Sena-led government for hiding a story of “Muslim defiance” due to its “secularism bug”.
The same crowd was addressed by a Muslim gentleman who was appealing to them in the name of Allah. Are all Bihari- Bengali migrant workers in Mumbai, Muslims? Secondly if they had to go to Bihar and Bengal they would gather either at VT, Dadar or Kurla not Bandra. https://t.co/UcqiO9eGMM
— Vikas Saraswat (@VikasSaraswat) April 14, 2020
Why is the appeal in the name of Allah? Migrant Labourers are from pan India and pan religious background.... Pls note yesterday #KavitaKrishnan yesterday tried to peddle a fake story of a hungry woman.... Today this concerted effort to sabotage lockdown. What is happening?
— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) April 14, 2020
Is it true that people whom @AUThackeray was referring as Migrant Labours were basically Muslims from Bandra?
Their secularism bug caused them to hide another story of Muslim defiance for laws and in the process he blamed it on Migrant Labour?
— Piyush Kulshreshtha (@ThinkersPad) April 15, 2020
Three FIRs have been registered in relation to the incident. One of the FIRs is against at least 1,000 migrant workers for assembling near the Bandra railway station. The other two are against a television journalist and self-proclaimed labour leader.
An FIR was filed against around 1,000 unidentified persons under Sections 143 (Punishment), 147 (punishment for rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 186 (obstructing public servant), 188 (disobedience to public order) of the Indian Penal Code as well as Section 3 (Penalty) of the Epidemic Act.
Earlier, the Mumbai Police also detained a man who may have set off rumours that led to hundreds of migrants flooding Bandra. The arrested person was identified as Vinay Dubey, who allegedly ran an online campaign 'Chalo Ghar Ki Ore' (Head towards home) for migrant labourers in Mumbai, India Today reported. He has been accused of inciting migrants by posting calls for action on Facebook and Twitter.
In a Facebook video, Dubey can be heard saying that if the government doesn't provide migrants with adequate transport, he will set off on a rally on foot to take the migrants back to North India. He can also be heard saying that his team was present at Bandra to lead the 'movement' and calling for a nationwide protest of special relief trains are not arranged by 18 April.
However, according to a Free Press Journal report, the gathering at Bandra had its root in a news report by Marathi channel ABP Majha’s scribe Rahul Kulkarni. It claimed that train services will be resumed to ferry migrants back home on 14 April. He was arrested on Wednesday.
Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik also tweeted the ABP Majha story and said it can’t be ruled out that the news reports might have triggered the massive crowd at Bandra railway station.
Later, Kulkarni tweeted a letter from the South Central Railway with the caption, “A lot of people have been trolling me. Among them I don't know how many saw the 9 o'clock news I gave. Did we say anytime that trains are going to start? Read this railway letter now.”
It is important to note that the 'letter' is a proposal and not a circular or order. However, the letter said that in a video conference held on 13 April, it was “decided to run Jansadharan Specials for clearing stranded passengers/migrant labour of unreserved segment”. The circular does not mention when the trains will run but has directed officials to “critically analyse the number of stranded passengers and migrants” and submit a proposal with destinations.
The Railways later clarified that no passenger special relief trains were being run till 3 May.
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