Devotees get roughed up at Lalbaugcha Raja's feet

Lakhs of devotees turn up to seek the blessings of Lalbaughcha Raja, arguably the most famous Ganesh mandal in the city.

Pic/Rane Ashish

But the quest for the beloved god’s blessings have turned into nightmares, as several people have had bad experiences at the mandal this year. From having phones stolen to being manhandled and pushed around by the organisers and volunteers, devotees have seen it all this year.

Time up: Volunteers (in blue kurtas) pull devotees away from the idol. Pic/Rane Ashish

Phone thieves
Rajiv Singhal, a businessman from Kalbadevi, had gone to the mandal on Wednesday with 10 friends. “We were in the VIP queue and I was about to reach the stage and was crossing the barrier. As soon as I climbed up to the stage for the darshan, I felt some movement in my pocket. I had lost my phone,” said Singhal. He had bought the phone just 2 months ago.

Singh immediately informed the policemen standing nearby. “They tried searching for the phone, but the volunteers were rude and didn’t help at all. They were busy in accompanying celebrities. They should be trained in the art of controlling crowds. It seems they’re only interested in earning money,” added Singhal. He immediately went to Kalachowkie police station and registered a complaint, but hasn’t got any updates on the case yet.

Every day, mobile thefts are being reported both officially and unofficially. Singhal is not the only one. Darshana Mehta, from Borivli, also lost her phone on Tuesday during her visit to the pandal. “I was in the queue and it was very crowded.

Even devotees who are regular visitors, say that they are having a bad experience during this season at the mandal. Apart from the thefts, the volunteers are very rude and they are not even allowing them to stand for seconds after standing in queue for hours. I bought a toy for my kid, and was paying the shopkeeper. I opened my purse, and within seconds, my mobile was stolen,” said Mehta. She immediately informed volunteers and police, but to no avail.

“I told the police at the pandal to register a complaint, but they said that even if I did so, I wouldn’t get my phone back,” added Mehta, who has been a regular visitor of Lalbaugcha Raja for the past five years.

Ramesh Pomar from Kalachowkie police station said, “Yes, we have received complaints of thefts from the devotees, but we will give the details later. As of now, we don’t know the exact number of complaints.”

The quality of management at the pandal this year has also soured the experience for many devotees. After standing in the queue for several hours, people are literally allowed in front of the idol only for seconds. Thereafter, volunteers drag and push them aside, shouting at them to move ahead.

There is also a video doing the rounds on the Internet, where a mandal volunteer is seen misbehaving with devotees, dragging and pulling them away from the idol, seconds after they reach.

The Home Ministry is likely to send a notice to the Lalbaug Sarvajanik Mandal.

TV channels have shown visuals of mandal volunteers pulling women while they had come for the darshan.

A female police constable also was pulled in front of the idol.

R R Patil, home minister for the state, said, “The volunteers of the mandal will be warned. We will send notices to them that no male should touch a female in any of the Ganesh Mandals and we are sending a notice to Lalbaug.”

When MiD DAY tried contacting the officials at the Lalbaugcha Raja mandal, their phones were switched off.

PSI at Lalbaug abused by mandal worker
A police sub-inspector was allegedly assaulted at Lalbaugcha Raja mandal by a worker. The Kalachowkie police registered a case against the unknown mandal worker under Section 353 (assault on government servant) under the IPC and will check the CCTV footage to identify the mandal worker. According to sources, PSI Ashok Sarmale and the worker had an argument when the latter wanted a few of his relatives to enter without standing in queue. The PSI then stopped him and the worker abused the cop.
-- Vinay Dalvi

What the people are saying
Arrangements are not up to the mark. Volunteers are only keen on getting their own people inside. It seems like the gates of God are open to you, provided you know the gatekeepers. We wait in the line for hours, and these people (friends of the volunteers) just come in. Are we fools to stand in the queue?
-- Sharmila Rao, Kandivli resident

Not only the crowd, even the volunteers push everyone. We stood in line for hours, and had to walk within seconds, as we were pushed. I lost my daughter in the crowd. She was left behind as I was being pushed ahead.
-- Rajshri Pawar, a resident of Saat Rasta

I came for darshan with my son. But when we reached, we were just pushed out and couldn't see bappa's face for even a second. Why are they doing such a huge publicity when they are not able to control the crowd?"
-- Neelam Parmar, from Ahmedabad    

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