As Khar gaothan houses were bulldozed by a developer a few days ago, fear has spread among other East Indians in the city.

Children from Khar gaothan hold banners asking what will happen to them now
Children from Khar gaothan hold banners asking what will happen to them now

Alphi D’souza, Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP) Sarpanch said, “This is a back door entry by those seeking to take our lands. Ours are heritage structures and not slums. The Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) needs to understand the difference. We do not want the extra Floor Space Index (FSI), we want our culture to be saved. We are very worried; the Worli gaothan fight is still on, just when we thought there was respite this happened.”

The East Indian community is planning a big agitation soon to save their lands from the authorities and builders. Walter Murzello, spokesperson and trustee of MGP said, “Gaothans were villages of salt pan workers, farmers and toddy tappers who had no form of entertainment in the original Bombay or Mobai. The settlements were close to each other as they were more like one family – the community feeling today comes from that. “Ours are not slums, they are bungalows. This is not Dharavi, we are not migrants but the original inhabitants of this place. We pay taxes; this is a horrible way that we are being treated.”

The community fears that some may sign the developers’ deals since horizontal development is limited and vertical is the way ahead. Herbert Barretto, President of the Maharastrian East Indian Christian Federation (MEICF) said, “This is a game being played because of elections. Yes our people are very afraid after the Khar incident, which gaothan will be next – no one knows. If our gaothans are destroyed, our culture will also be destroyed. Outsiders are coming and dishousing us, we feel targeted. We are the adivasis of Mumbai; we need to get our due.”

Alphonso Tao, General Secretary of MEICF added, “Cluster development is the best way for gaothans to be redeveloped with respect. Yes, our families are expanding and there is a fight on in many families which builders exploit to get signs, but if we develop the cluster way it will save our culture and give us the respect that is lacking. Slums and gaothans are different and SRA cannot be used to demean our homes.”