Aarey Row: What was our offence? Ask agitators

Updated: Oct 08, 2019, 08:13 IST | Anamika Gharat, Anurag Kamble | Mumbai

Jailed for their peaceful protest, agitators are saddened at being equated with criminals; but the experience has only made some more resolute in their cause

After a night in jail, 24 protesters were released from Thane jail on Monday morning. Pic/Sameer Markande
After a night in jail, 24 protesters were released from Thane jail on Monday morning. Pic/Sameer Markande

They sang songs, shouted slogans and stood protesting non-violently, but ended spending a day in jail like criminals for it. Their fault — trying to defend the flora in Aarey Milk Colony — that was slyly cleared under cover of darkness to make way for the Metro 3 car shed. Grabbed angrily and thrown into lock-ups, many of the protesters were upset with the treatment for trying to save the environment.

Sandip Parab, one of the protestors, was shattered when the police took him to jail along with his friends. He said it was tough for everyone to handle the fact that they were arrested and might have to spend some days in jail. However, they got bail after a day, on Monday.

Parab said, "We were standing in a chowk when we got detained. Then we came to know that we had been arrested. One of the young boys with me had an exam on Monday. None of us could sleep at night because there was no place in the barracks. We kept encouraging the youngsters who had panicked. None of us knew when we would get out. We had to stay with more than 200 criminals. One of the boys with us was on a fast for navratri. He had not eaten for two days."

Families unaware of arrests

Many family members of the protesters had no idea of the arrests. Akash Patankar, 27, said, "My parents knew I was at the protest but they were shocked when they found I was arrested. We were playing and singing songs about the environment created by tribal people. We were also shouting slogans but didn't know that we would get arrested for that. We just wanted to save the trees and animals. We felt so helpless. We are still trying to understand why we were arrested. Just because we were trying to save the environment?"

But a few of the protesters, though saddened by the action, seem to be more resolute about their cause. One of them is Sonali Nimle, 21, an assistant at a dance academy in Jogeshwari. She has relatives staying in Aarey Colony.

'Happy to be part of protest'

"On Friday night, when I was going home after garba, my uncle called me saying the tree-cutting has started. I rushed to the spot. Many Aarey Colony residents were protesting while singing our traditional songs. At 1 am we were forcibly picked up by the cops and taken to Dahisar police station. We didn't know what was happening. In the morning they took us to the Jogeshwari Trauma Centre for medical tests then produced us in court, which remanded us in jail custody. What was our offence? We were taken to jail because we raised our voice against the cutting of trees. Where on earth does this happen?" she questioned.

But Nimle has not been disheartened by the experience. "We are satisfied that not just the city, the whole nation stood by us for this cause. All we were saying was we don't want a car shed which will destroy the whole of Aarey jungle. Our fight has become national now. And I am happy to be part of it."

Generations of another protester, Pratibha Bhoir's, 45, family she says, have been born, have lived in and died in Aarey Colony. "This is our home and when we found that the government was going to destroy it on the pretext of development, we couldn't stop ourselves from joining the protests," she said.

Bhoir also learnt about the trees being felled at night.

She rushed to the spot with other protesters, but saw heavy police bandobast. "Since childhood my parents had told me never to touch trees at night, as they sleep after sunset. But the authorities butchered hundreds of trees at night. We adivasis love nature like it is part of us. So this murder made us sad and angry at the same time," she said.

'Don't be scared'

"In jail, many other inmates asked us why we were there. When I said we were protesting against tree cutting, many of them laughed at us. They couldn't believe we were jailed for that. Interestingly, many inmates and police officers too were keen to know about the issue, as they were unaware of it," she added.

The experience, however, Bhoir feels, has enriched her. As a housewife who had only seen police stations on TV and in movies, she believed people should not get involved with the police and the law. After she was jailed, things have changed. "Now I don't think so. If you are fighting for a cause, don't get scared of the police or the law. This movement has given me confidence and courage," she said.

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