05-11 Dec, 2012
small world
Not Your Regular Commemoration

MUMBAI ~ While the main sites of 26/11—Taj Hotel, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Nariman House and Trident— have become symbols of the city’s resilience, Leopold Café found itself in the middle of a labour dispute on the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks. On that day, ten former employees were on a fast claiming they were sacked for speaking against the management’s exploitative practices.

According to the protestors— nine waiters and a bill collector—they were paid low salaries (Rs 3,500), the proprietors docked a certain part of the tips collected, they often had unreasonable working hours with low overtime payment, and had to purchase their own uniforms and serving trays. When the idea of forming a union was mooted, two of them were fired. And in the months of April and May, another eight were sacked.

“The owners of the café (Farhang and Farzad Jehani) came up to me one day, just like he did to others, and told me not to come to work from the next day onwards,” says Tukaram Ilale, who has worked at the café for seven years. According to him, the proprietors also forged their signatures to show that they had resigned voluntarily. He adds, “We had to purchase T-shirts we wore as uniforms, and even the serving tray, from the cafe. For working in the morning shift, Rs 60 would be taken from us every day as a cut for the tips earned. For the evening shifts, it was Rs 80. When we made a noise about this, we were sacked.”

The café was one of the first places to be attacked on 26/11, and eight individuals, including two waiters, were killed. When the eatery reopened just four days later, still riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel marks, it became a popular terror tourism spot.

A court case is currently underway between the two parties. While the Jehanis were not willing to comment, their lawyer, Manoj Mirchandani, claims the former waiters are being untruthful. “They resigned on their own accord. They probably could not find better jobs and now they are trying to get back their old ones.”

Take Two
A History of Appeasement
The suspension of policemen in the Thackeray Facebook post case is farcical

Last week, news channels showed footage of a policeman in Palghar promising a crowd of Shiv Sainiks that cases would be registered against the girls who had made the Facebook post after Bal Thackeray’s death. On the ticker, they called it an exposé on how the cops were appeasing Shiv Sainiks.

Two policemen have now been suspended for those arrests. It is fashionable to think that they got what they deserved, but it discounts the fear prevailing at that time. It also sets standards of courage on a few policemen in a mofussil area which no one from the Chief Minister to the Mumbai police commissioner displayed that day—or ever in the history of the state.

What the television footage doesn’t show is the crowd this policeman was addressing. But you can still infer that it is a big one from the ‘Hail Thackeray’ slogans in the background. The situation from the policeman’s point of view of this: he has instructions to prevent violence at any cost, the entire state government has bent over backwards to do so, the city has come to a standstill, there is not even water on sale, and, unfortunately for him, he is facing a crowd of hundreds of potential rioters. He has two choices: give the crowd what they want or hang on to the idea of justice.

An intelligent IPS officer would probably con the crowd. He would inform the family of the girls that they are being taken in for protection. He would have a quiet word with the media explaining the situation. A weak case would be made which wouldn’t be followed up. But he would still do what these policemen did—appease.

What the suspended policemen are guilty of is clumsiness and fear. All those who think such failings are rare should look at what everyone in Mumbai did to their Facebook posts on Thackeray once the news of the girls’ arrest became public. There was a race between armchair activists and journalists to delete their snide and sarcastic comments.

For four decades now, the Maharashtra government has made deals with the Sena because of fear of violence. Between law and order, they had no doubt that order was more important. What the policemen did was just an extension of it.

It’s Raining Cannons

Digging at a Bangalore Metro Rail site last week, workers hit a heavy metal object that wouldn’t be easily pushed aside. Site supervisors instructed the men to use a pickaxe around the object. After about an hour of digging, they found the obstinate thing—a cannon. The cannon presumably belongs to the Tipu Sultan era. The next day they found another cannon. The work site is in the Krishna Rajendra Market area in the heart of Bangalore. It is close to what used to be Tipu’s summer palace, and the adjoining grounds house a minor fort. Archaeological Survey of India officials believe these cannons are from the mid-1700s, when Tipu fought the British at Srirangapatna. “He had fortified his Bangalore garrison with cannons, which were possibly manufactured in the Ulsoor area of Bangalore where artisans with expertise in metal and gun casting lived and worked,’’ one of them says.

No Country for Women

Ireland has come in for global criticism after Savita Halappanavar’s death, but the condition of women in India is surely worse. At the launch of a recent 16-day campaign in Mumbai, called ‘Break the Silence against Violence,’ organised by Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA), women’s activists and doctors gave a measure of how badly we fare in this regard. “About 300 women die in India every day during delivery or from unsafe abortions,” said Dr Duru Shah, a gynaecologist. When it comes to violence against women, the state ignores vulnerable sections like prostitutes. “It is not enough to say we want to end violence for respectable women; it has to be a commitment to end violence against all women,” says Bishakha Datta, co-founder of the NGO Point of View. The fortnight-long campaign will end on 10 December.