Mumbai: Even as the imminent demolition of their homes hangs like Damocles’ sword over their heads, the Kolis or fisherfolk of Sion-Koliwada area have vowed to demonstrate their courage this Dahi Handi festival by forming an eight-storey human pyramid.
Though they have never attempted to go this high before nor have others attempted in their area, “this is a do or die challenge to show that no developer or builder can raze our homes and demolish our spirits,” Suryakant Koli, 42, chief trainer and organiser of the Dahi Handi group, Shree Motya Devi Mitra Mandal, told Gulf News.
Since May 29, this residential area of Kolis, the original Marathi inhabitants of Mumbai, has seen some heart-rending scenes of some of their homes being knocked down by bull dozers, many of the residents beaten, including women, and arrested on charges of rioting. “I have been taken to the police station twice for filming the police’s aggressive action against us,” says 21-year-old Prathamesh Shivkar, a videographer with a local paper. He, like the others, accuses the police and municipal officers of being influenced by the builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Group.
This 14,000 square area, which contains 18 chawls or rows of tenements, has been eyed by builders and promoters for obvious reasons — redeveloping it into lucrative high rise apartments and offices. Residents have resisted this move and say that the mandatory 70 per cent requirement for rehabilitation under the Slum Rehabilitation scheme is flawed as consents of residents have been forged.
“Until a month and a half back, we were all depressed and our neighbourhood looked like a ‘smashan ghat’ (cemetery),” says Koli. “But we realised we had no option but to fight and show these builders that we were not afraid of them.” He was able enthuse nearly 150 young men to get trained to form a eight-storey human pyramid on August 10 when Mumbai gets into a festive frenzy as groups of youngsters move around to break the ‘handi’ or pot tied at a high level. “All of a sudden, there is a sense of optimism amongst us. As my boys go into a rigorous preparation from 9am to 1 am, the womenfolk constantly provide us with snacks and tea whilst the rest join in to give us encouragement,” he says.
United in spirit and strength, the Sion-Koliwada community is now waiting for the festive day when over 250 of them will hop into buses and move around Dadar, Parel, and the outskirts in Airoli, Nerul and Belapur. “Our boys will form this wonderful human pyramid and also spread the message of how the Marathis of this city are all set to fight for their rightful place in this city.”
Koli is, however, sorry that none of the political parties that boast of fighting for the ‘Marathi Manoos (man)’ could care little about their plight.
Caption: Young men in Sion-Koliwada practice forming an eight-storey human pyramid for the Dahi Handi festival of Hindus. Picture: Prathamesh Shivkar