Mumbai: Kalina cries for its hero Bhupendra Vira
Even as activists rally after the murder of RTI crusader Bhupendra Vira and draft petition to the police, loved ones raise pressure on them to drop the fight
A banner in Kalina by the umbrella organisation of ALMs to show solidarity with deceased RTI activist Bhupendra Vira
Numerous activists have come to show solidarity with the small Kalina community that lost the man fighting for it — RTI activist Bhupinder Vira, who was shot dead in his Kalina home on Sunday. Vira’s funeral on Sunday evening saw a large gathering of activists from all across the city. They plan to meet Additional CP (Western region) Chhering Dorje today with what they call an ‘activists’ petition’.
The one-page petition raises several questions: Is the law not sufficient or is the law not enforced?; how can activists live in a society which is filled more with members of the mafia and ganglords than law-abiding citizens?; should activists stop looking towards the government or police for their protection and form their own security force?”
Sticking their necks out
Clarence Pinto of Voice of Kalina (VOK), an umbrella organisation formed in 2011 to unite Area Locality Management (ALM) arms, said, “There is strength in numbers. Together, we were fighting encroachments, civic problems like bad roads and potholes, and many other issues. We thought together we could fight illegal construction and the land mafia, but we are up against very powerful elements.”
Pinto said the initial shock at Vira’s murder has been replaced by “smouldering anger”. “There is intense pressure on activists to stop challenging what we call the system. We have our own thoughts, we have families, who say, ‘sit quietly and eat your bread ’n’ butter. Why are you breaking your head with all this?’,” he said, adding that this will be a setback, but there are activists who still believe that somebody has to make that sacrifice.
“That somebody could be people like us.”
VOK founder Loy Dias, who came to Kalina in 1971, said, “Demographically, Kalina is divided into different pockets — there’s Kalina Village and Kolaveri Village, where we have East Indians, the true sons of the soil living in small homes. Builders have been eyeing these homes to bring high-rises in their place. We are only fighting against illegalities. We, the activists, do stick our necks out, but I can’t help feeling that if the police and authorities were more vigilant, we would not have to do this at all.”
Dias brings up the petition they are taking to the police this evening. “It’s under the VOK letterhead, but it is a petition from all activists. We were happy to see so many at Vira’s funeral on Sunday, grieving, yet supportive. We will continue to challenge the system,” he said, but did admit that his daughter and her husband have been warning him against it. “But activism is in my blood. I hope this will push more people from here to join in the fight. There are many who think that others should fight for them.”
For Crompton Texeira, an activist and Kalina resident since the 1940s, “problems have been escalating”. “I live only 50 metres away from where Vira lived. We are both from Kalina Village... These incidents can kill the body, but not the soul,” he said, also admitting that his son too has been warning him to stay away from getting involved in this.
A lonely road
For Robin Viegas from the Vidyanagari Parisar ALM, which comes under VOK, “This feeling is different from any setback I have seen in Kalina since I have lived here, for 40 years. Today, we are meeting the police with one aim, to tell them that not all activists are extortionists. Since Sunday, activists have come to the realisation that in this kind of work, death is a very real threat. You could be the next target...”
Viegas said activism is a lonely road. Activists who call this “martyrdom for Kalina” are feeling their mortality more than ever today. They have learnt that when the gun is pointed at your head, it is then that you know you are truly alone.