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PHOTOS: Mill workers' protest HALT Mumbai suburbs!

Last updated on: June 28, 2012 20:23 IST

PHOTOS: Mill workers' protest HALTS Mumbai suburbs!

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Prasanna D Zore in Mumbai

Around 5,000 mill workers, on a completely drenched Thursday morning brought Mumbai to a halt for more than three hours as they blocked the main arterial road that connects downtown Mumbai to the suburbs. Prasanna D Zore reports.

Laying siege of the roads near Mahim Causeway that connects various important business districts in the city, these workers were demanding free housing for some 1,41,000 applicants who once worked the textile mills of Mumbai.

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Image: Mill workers protesting at the main arterial road in Bandra, Mumbai
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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They were forced, said these workers, to block the roads when the police did not allow them to enter Rang Sharda, the venue of this lottery draw, which if they win, will give them a dwelling for Rs 7.5 lakh.

These mill workers, who now mostly live in Mumbai's famed chawls, tenements and slums, and whose writ once ran large over the city in their heydays in the early 1980s, had gathered to protest the result of a random lottery system that would offer 7,000 of them a decent abode in the city of their dreams that by some grand vision of Maharashtra's political class is in the process of being Shanghai-ed.

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Image: The scene at Bandra
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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"We wanted to agitate peacefully. We wanted to register our protest that this lottery system was not addressing the larger issue of housing for mill workers," said Uday Bhat, president, Maharashtra Rajya Sarva Shramik Mahasangh, which was one of the six organisers of this protest.

"We want free housing. Why should these workers pay when the state government in connivance with mill owners appropriated the mills for their own benefits?" he said.

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Image: Uday Bhat, president, Maharashtra Rajya Sarva Shramik Mahasangh
Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

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These mill workers, who today apart from Mumbai, Virar, Thane and Ulhasnagar (all close to the city), had come from places as afar as Satara, Sangli, Pune, Kolhapur and Ratnagiri to demand free housing from the state administration, which, these workers alleged, in connivance with the mill owners first got these mills to become defunct and then had them sold off to Mumbai's 'greedy' developers so that by the end of this decade they could transmogrify Mumbai into Shanghai.

In return, these workers said, they were promised decent housing by the state's rulers.

As promised then, the state government's housing development body, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, were to announce the winners of some 7,000 houses on Thursday morning for which 141,000 workers had applied.

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Image: Mill workers protesting in Bandra
Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

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According to this, the state government scheme the winners would pay Rs 7.5 lakh for these dwellings that in open market would cost them upwards of Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million).

It was this unfair treatment that the workers had gathered to protest and overhaul.

Madhuri Warang, 60, whose late husband worked in Simplex Mills in Byculla, had come from distant Virar, and who had also applied in the lottery draw, to participate in this protest.

Every time you talk to her she folds both her hands and says, "We need free housing. I have two daughters and a son. I need to think about their future. I have money but just enough to marry them off. I'm in no position to cough up Rs 7.5 lakh for a house."

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Image: Madhuri Warang
Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff

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Incidentally, she was not aware of the outcome of the lottery draw but said that even if she won the lottery she would continue to agitate for a free house.

Sandeep Mane, a youngster from Satara in his late 20s, was acerbic when asked why he had come all the way from his hometown to be a part of this crowd. His father who worked in Jupiter Mills and was removed in the wave of retrenchments that mill embarked upon in 1998 is now paralysed.

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Image: Protestors under the Bandra skywalk
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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"Politicians have created huge wealth for their kin by scheming with the mill owners. My father failed to do it. I have come here to offer solidarity to all those who had to move out of this city after the mill workers rendered them jobless and homeless," Sandeep said.

Picking up on sentiments like these, Bhat now plans to launch an agitation by bringing together children of mill workers in the next 30 days.

Remind him that agitations like these throw the lives of ordinary Mumbaikars out of gear and Bhat quickly quips, "Aren't these mill workers ordinary citizens too? Their lives have been thrown out of gear for almost three decades. I am sure my fellow ordinary citizens will bear with our agitation."


Image: Mill workers enfore 'rasta roko' in Bandra
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
Tags: Bhat , PHOTOS , HALTS , Sandeep

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