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Aarey Milk Colony, spread over 1,259 hectares of land, is an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. In 1949, the land we know as Aarey was given to the Dairy Development Board of Maharashtra to shift the cattle sheds from the city to Aarey. Since then this area has been known as Aarey Milk Colony. Aarey has 27 tribal hamlets; in terms of flora and fauna, it has leopards and numerous species of birds, animals, insects, butterflies, snakes, herbs, shrubs and trees (which number more than 4 Lakh 80 thousand).

In November 2014 , morning walkers, cyclists and other regular visitors to Aarey Milk Colony found notices put up, announcing that 2298 trees in Aarey would be felled for construction of the carshed for Metro3. Citizens came together to protest against this mass felling of trees. Thus was born the Save Aarey Movement.

In December 2014 angry citizens for the first time gathered in Aarey Picnic Point area to protest against this unnecessary destruction of the city's ecology. 1200 + citizens came together again in February 2015, creating a human chain along Marine Drive. Post this event, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced appointment of an Expert Committee to explore other options for location of the Metro3 carshed .

The Expert Committee had 6 members; four Bureaucrats and two environmental experts from IIT and NEERI. Both the environmentalists put a dissenting note in the Committee's report, holding that Aarey is an ecologically sensitive area and rich in biodiversity. The proposed carshed location is the floodplain of the Mithi River, and construction in this area can lead to flooding in Andheri. Hence the carshed location should be shifted out of Aarey, they said .The other options for the carshed location suggested by the expert members were Kanjurmarg and Backbay in Colaba.

The Detailed Project Report prepared in 2011 for the Metro 3 Line also mentions three other options (along with the option of 33 ha land in Aarey) for the Metro 3 Carshed location: the ground in Bandra Kurla Complex, 26 Ha of land in Kalina, the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation ( MMRCL) always claims that the 33 ha land area in Aarey is the only suitable location for the Metro 3 Carshed.

In 2015 the NGO, Vanashakti, along with citizens, filed a petition in National Green Tribunal (NGT) praying that Aarey be declared a forest and an Eco-Sensitive Zone. NGT on 19th August 2015, ordered status quo in Aarey pending final decision on the case. MMRCL, in August 2017 started dumping debris in the Metro 3 Carshed area in Aarey, along with excavation and mud filling activities in the area. This was in contempt of Court orders and was highlighted at the NGT. On 14th May 2018, NGT again ordered against any dumping of debris, land reclamation and Tree Felling in Aarey pending final decision in the case. But MMRCL continues to violate court orders. They have cordoned off more area in Aarey on the opposite side of the carshed area and have started land reclamation. What initially started as destruction of 33 ha of forest land is now leading to destruction of a much bigger area. Citizens lodged complaints in Aarey Police Station against these violations of court orders. MMRCL has also evicted Adivasis from Prajapur Pada in Aarey to SRA Buildings. This is in violation with Tribal Rights. Adivasis have filed a petition in Mumbai High Court.

On 20th September 2018 Judges from NGT's Principal Bench decided that this matter of declaring Aarey a Forests does not come under NGT's jurisdiction and NGT directed the petitioners to withdraw application and approach the right Authorities. This has happened after 3 and 1/2 years long proceedings in National Green Tribunal.

Through an RTI in 2017, Vanashakti found a letter written by the Divisional Manager of Sanjay Gandhi National Park( SGNP). This letter indicates that Aarey Milk Colony was of a much larger area earlier, and that 2076 ha of land from Aarey Milk Colony was Transferred to SGNP in 1969. But the forest department claims that they do not have any land records related to Aarey Milk Colony.

The forest department, in 2015, had submitted a draft proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) to declare Aarey Milk Colony as an Eco Sensitive Zone. MMRCL moved an application with the MOEF and got 165 ha of land (1.65 sq km) from Aarey denotified from the Eco Sensitive Zone. The MOEF denotified an area of 1.65 sq km from the ESZ in December 2016. This decision has been challenged by Vanashakti in NGT through a different petition.

Already, a large part of Aarey Forest has been lost to different projects and construction activities. Citizens fear that with the entry of the Metro 3 carshed, better described as a railway service centre, the rest of this forest, spreading over 1259 ha, will be lost to construction activities for ever.

Mumbai City is already sinking because of the destruction of its water bodies, wetlands and mangroves. Loss of Forest area and destruction of the floodplain of the Mithi River in Aarey will lead to further destruction of the city and flooding in more new areas in Mumbai. Lakes , supplying drinking water to Mumbai are also located in Forest Areas. Vihar lake on the border of SGNP and Aarey.

The air quality of Mumbai will be seriously hit if 4000 full grown trees are removed from its last remaining green space,the Aarey forests. .

A Movement that started with the news of felling of 2298 trees has brought out more shocking details. MMRCL floated a tender document for felling of 3384 trees in Aarey Milk Colony in 2017. And number of trees that are in line for sacrifice is still increasing. Tribals have lost their homes and livelihood. Floodplain of Mithi River has been damaged and this city will finally lose 1.65 sq km of forest areas to construction activities if this Carshed is not shifted out of Aarey. Facts finding team of Citizens have also found letters that speak about Government granting 3 FSI on 33 ha (82.5 acres) of Aarey land. A design layout prepared by MMRCL for the Carshed area also has marked an area on 33 ha land for realestate prooject.

Citizens of Mumbai needs to decide what is more important for them. A peaceful and happy life in a place requires, Fresh Air, Good supply of Drinking water , accessible open spaces and flood free roads .

In a Costal city like Mumbai, when the entire world is suffering from the consequences of Global Warming a place like Aarey becomes extremely crucial for survival of the city.

1

Why is it becoming more and more uncomfortable to live within one’s own country, among people that we took for granted shared our view of the world? 2014 marked the year in which family and friends turned into aliens and opponents. Conversations invariably broke down at the point where Narendra Modi was seen as the great white hope for India. No logic worked against a recitation of the wrongs of UPA 2, plus AAP not being mature enough or ready, plus the magic word – ‘Development’ that a likely BJP government was going to deliver. One’s misgivings about Hindutva had to remain as mere mutterings, among the pitying looks of cousins and siblings.

Now 2017 has arrived as the year in which it is impossible to be in a crowded airport or railway station without wondering how many of the people around you will look on with interest at a mob lynching some innocent, and perhaps even justify the act  with arguments if you dare to protest.  After all, on social media, it is educated and articulate people who are trolling any criticism of hyper-nationalism or Gauraksha. The deep discomfort in crowds of any sort makes me wonder if I am having a serious mid-life crisis, or my country has changed into something so unrecognizable that I have begun to believe the worst of my neighbours  and acquaintances.

My being a believer has fed much of my work, producing books on pilgrims and seekers, and finding faith resilient in the poorest toymakers and street vendors. Yet, today, I have also become uncomfortable with the religion I was born into because I feel no identification whatsoever with those who are making loud claims in the name of that religion with no regard for facts, truth, or the feelings of their fellow citizens. And, although this is a mere blip in our ongoing relationship, I have also begun to express increasing discontent and despair to my personal God in the face of what I perceive to be evil getting increasingly rewarded around me.

So many questions confront me on any given day.  Was a bottomless reservoir of hate and bigotry always present amidst our people? How do today’s lynch mob leaders tap into this with a single WhatsApp message and collect an instant crowd? How many who go by the label ‘Hindu’ actually rejoice at the wounding or death of a Muslim fellow citizen in our country? Visceral questions, with no easy answers.

Till a few years back, crowds meant something else for me.  As I  walked with Varkaris to Pandharpur, joined the immense human congregation at the Mahakumbh in 2001, met kaanwariyas at the Haridwar Shravan mela and at Deoghar in Jharkhand, climbed to Tirupati and Vaishno Devi, I saw the transformative power of collective faith. Caste distinctions recede on such pilgrimages, when the fellow believer begins to be called by a generic name – ‘Mauli’ on the way to Pandharpur, or ‘Bam’ on the way to Deoghar. Sharing of resources, helping others when they are weary or tired, breaking into a song of prayer together, all this is behavior that is par for the course on such journeys. All the years when I walked alongside them, I never saw the crowds of the faithful as potential murderers.

And yet, from recent events, it is obvious that some of the killers of Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan may also have been pilgrims at some point. As I think of the kaanwariyas carrying water and walking hundreds of kilometres, I can’t help but wonder at whether the ordinarily devout, the Durga Puja attendees and katha organizers have become members of predatory mobs?

Any attempt to answer this question must undoubtedly make us reflect on why we have failed to strengthen the secular fabric of India.  Prof. Ashis Nandy, who wrote An Anti-Secularist Manifesto in 1995, and who writes in his seminal essay The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance, “I call myself an anti-secularist because I feel that the ideology and politics of secularism have more or less exhausted their possibilities”, has unpacked the concept of secularism painstakingly in the Indian context. Pointing out that religions in our part of the world have become split into religion-as-faith versus religion-as-ideology, he describes the latter as a “subnational, national, or cross national identifier of populations contesting for or protecting non-religious, usually political or socio-economic, interests.” For me, the religion as faith that I encountered as a pilgrim was distinct from the religion as Hindutva ideology that I abhor. The fudging of both by the SC verdict in the Manohar Joshi vs. N.B. Patil case in 1995 made it appear as if Hindutva was the sum of many cultural practices and beliefs, posing no threat to non-Hindus. But as we have seen so clearly in recent years, de facto Hindutva means aggressive posturing on the ground to pursue a nationalist agenda and protect distinct political and socio-economic interests.

If secularists have been unable to make such distinctions clear in the minds of citizens and voters, it is futile to once again hold Amit Shah and Narendra Modi responsible. Instead, it is clearly a result of secularists’ refusal to engage with questions of faith and identity in any meaningful way.  To many, religion and the way it is expressed around us seems too messy or backward to bother with. When I wrote in my books about the visible expressions of faith I had experienced first-hand, I often had friends wonder why I found the melas and the kaanwariyas so fascinating. Modernity, a desire for development, and a secular outlook means for many in my social milieu a complete disregard for the inconvenient, bedraggled, jugadu hordes of poor pilgrims struggling to reach temples and deities and holding up traffic in the NCR.

Kanwariyas
Kanwariyas

For such people longing for a ‘developed’ India that will leave all such messy struggles behind, a vote for Modi in 2014 actually meant a vote for an increased role for the private sector without the ball and chain of environmental safeguards dragging down corporate India. The rights of tribals and displaced communities, the increased disparities of income and the contrasts in urban India between utter comfort and utter despair didn’t cause upper middle class urban Indians to lose much sleep. As a society we have lived for far too long with the twin evils of entitlement and deprivation, and nothing in our environment encourages us to think beyond the interests of our family, caste, or class. Protecting secular discourse was not a priority for too many, unless it represented an attack on their own personal freedom.

Today when I share with my journalist friend Rahul Pandey a frustration with the lack of any political opposition to the tactics of the BJP, he says, “Na Ram hai, na Bam, sab chhalava hai.” (There is neither Ram, nor the Left, it is all wholesale fraud and deception.) He refuses to accept that the BJP is winning elections only on the basis of their WhatsApp armies.  “Why would WhatsApp work without any real work being put in?” he asks me. “The VHP have gone door to door, in village after village in UP, and tied dharm-raksha-sutra (Save your faith bands) around the wrists of lakhs of people in their homes. Which party can claim such cover? The Sanghis have conducted Swachhata Abhiyan (Cleanliness campaigns) in village after village. Their workers and volunteers remain visible to the public at all times. This is what makes their WhatsApp mobilization work.”

The Sangh and its affiliates have also perfected the art of silent communication at religious events with a cultural significance.  My activist friend Arvind Murti says, of a recent event around the Thrissur temple “I was there recently on an occasion where at least fifty thousand people were present, and a host of cultural activities were being put on. Not a single political leader from either the LDF or the UDF was present. The only visible leaders were from the Sangh umbrella organizations. It made me acutely conscious of how secular parties are missing important opportunities for communication by disregarding such occasions and festivals.” I knew exactly what he was talking about because I have been at the chariot festival of Chennai’s Kapaleeswar temple, when thousands of people converge in Mylapore in a completely apolitical celebration. However, the volunteers of VHP are still milling about among the people, distributing water and butter milk sachets. Somewhere, in interpreting  secularism as a lifestyle that shuns the mention of God or religion, secular parties and leaders have distanced themselves from  cultural practices that deliver their countrymen to the Sangh without protest or effort.

For Prof. Ashis Nandy, secularism and tolerance can only be recovered by re-connecting with the ideals of faith, not by denying them. He points to Gandhi as the believer whose compassion and tolerance stemmed from his religion, not in spite of it. For millions of poor Hindus, who have felt excluded from the prosperity of their secular, modern fellow citizens, the Sangh gives honorifics and titles that bring a role of prominence as an anti-Romeo squad member or a Gau Rakshak. Such actions may actually be bringing these people a legitimacy whose importance we are unable to comprehend from a position of eternal privilege.  If secularism’s goose is not to be well and truly cooked in India we have to prepare to move once more among our people and ask them the questions that matter. For this, it seems, we can depend on no political leader or party.

So if we are to reclaim the ground we have ceded to those who always talk of ‘hurt sentiments’ and explain each violent mob attack as an expression of the people’s emotions, we need to attack the idea of Hindus as victims. We need to bring such questions as the ones below in the public domain, whether through Whatsapp, social media or conversation. The idea of the majority community being victims in their own homeland is the biggest falsehood of the Sangh, being used to perpetuate fear and hatred in equal measure. ‘Have you ever been stopped from worshipping your favourite deity, or doing pooja in your homes?’ is something we can ask fellow Hindus. ‘If not, why do you feel insecure in your own home and country?’

‘Who are the people telling you your homes are in danger, your women are in danger? Don’t you believe your God is powerful enough to protect you and your family? Why then pick up arms and who do you want to attack?’

‘When you rush to attack and kill, whether for money/recognition/reward, don’t forget that you will have to account for it before your God. Yeh kaun sa Bhagwan hai  jo kisi insaan ko maarne ke liye majboor kar raha hai?

No great knowledge of religion or scriptures is needed to counter the majoritarian poison of the Sangh. All it needs is nudging the people to tap into their own faith of God being their protector, not the other way around. After all, in the crowds of pilgrims I used to travel with, each was seeking his or her own liberation, however hard and arduous the journey was.

Unfortunately, around a bend in the path and in our nation’s history, many of these seekers met not the God who would provide ‘mukti’, but the politician who demanded eternal slavery of mind and soul.

So are we, privileged and educated Hindus, up to having these conversations among ourselves?

Originally published here.

1

Dhammachakra Pravartan Din at Deekshabhoomi

"I have no Motherland' Ambedkar once said to Gandhi, in frustration following the treatment dalits received in 20th Century. However, even if today an educated chunk belonging to Scheduled caste group get similar feeling of whether this is really "My Motherland", then the status quo of the Indian society and the treatment its people receive has to be intriguing.

Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

In 1935 at Nasik district, Maharashtra, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar had declared his firm resolve to change his religion. He famously said, "The object of our movement is to achieve social freedom. It is equally true that this freedom cannot be secured without conversion". On October 14, 1956, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and lakhs of his followers converted to Buddhism at a place in Nagpur which is now called Deeksha Bhoomi.  The day of Vijayadashmi Dussehra, for on this day in 1956, millions of Dalits “broke the shackles of Hindu religion and converted to Buddhism,” according to him.

Just as every year, lakhs of people from Scheduled caste and many progressive groups across India gather in Nagpur to remember this day, to celebrate the Dhammachakra Pravartan Din. Whole city of Nagpur is seen with people from across the country visiting to pay homage to their leader and witness this event of their Liberty. Every nook and corner across Nagpur is seen with people greeting each other. Various Books written by Ambedkar and other progressive writers are sold on a ground near Deekshabhoomi. People rejoice to the rebellious songs singing the story of their liberation and rebel.  Music, Speeches, Books, Reverence, Self-respect, Organisation, Citizenship rights, people resolve to abide by Ambedkar's message of "Educate, Organize and Agitate" and lot more can be observed as key-features of this gathering to any witness present there. Book selling crosses record numbers in mere 2 days.  The ambience is much similar, even grand compared to what we witness on 6th December in Dadar in Mumbai when people come to pay homage to Ambedkar on his Death Anniversary.

dalits posing in front of Deeksha Bhoomi on Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din
Deeksha bhoomi continues to call lakhs every year, six decades after Ambedkar's demise
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works

I had no expectation personally that this event could get any air-time in the mainstream media, and I was quite not outraged though not OK with the "black-out" of this event in the media. The outrage arose when since morning I have been watching a Mohan Bhagwat speech atttended by a very tiny crowd being aired on all channels held at Reshim Baugh which is hardly few kilometers away from Deekshabhoomi. I mean, the attitude of "ignorance towards a group existence"  of the media is quite evident when their cameras and vans easily navigate through hundreds of people celebrating all around the city but cover a speech of RSS chief.

Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi
Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi

If media is the fourth pillar of Democracy, the role of Media towards the society and its citizenry has to be extremely responsible. Such ignorance of an outright apparent grand event and cover another speech is a matter of great introspection for us as a society. Such acts clearly gives a group a feeling of being unimportant in the national arena. While the media keeps harping about Secularism, such navigation of their cameras clearly reveal their biased approach of ignorance and selective importance towards the citizens of a same country. Media attitude in this case is "Philosophy of Silence and Killing by ignorance". Such occasions clearly expose the double-standards media practices about Secularism. Secularism discourse in India has been narrowed down to mere Hindu-Muslims binary. When Secularism in its broader sense has to be in treating each citizen of the State without any prejudice arising out of caste, creed, religion etc. Such occasions definitely create a feeling of alienation among the minorities (Scheduled castes in this context). I do not know whether the camera ignorance/affinity of media in this case is just about the indifference or subtle upper-caste prejudice/arrogance. I am not a journalism expert, but I'm sure journalism cannot be just about the TRPs or the choices of the editors, what to air and what not.

- An outraged Citizen of India (Pratik Tembhurne)

Real News of India interviews Swami Omji among a group of BJP supporters. Swami Om Ji is contesting as a Hindu Mahasabha candidate with symbol flute.

What begins as a random interview of party volunteers takes on an ominous turn as the supporter claims to be a candidate of another party contesting to undermine Arvind Kejriwal's votes and managing another party "global acting president" of Ojaswi party of Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. He confesses on camera to publishing a crore booklets calling Arvind Kejriwal a traitor and distributing them ahead of Lok Sabha Elections. He says he handed the first booklet to Kejriwal before assaulting him (so much for BJP's accusations of AAP planting attackers).

Then he claims that they shot Gandhi - that Godse was a member of Hindu Mahasabha - and threatens to shoot Arvind Kejriwal dead if he does not understand his "explaining". This video needs to go to the Election Commission as well as the police.

The more the reporter gets the fanatic talking, the more the BJP caps around him realize what he's confessing and slink off camera (none disagree with him) and the video ends with locals confronting him about his claims of murder of Gandhi and threat to Kejriwal.

Anyone still wondering why BJP is losing this election? See this video to the end. The staunchest supporter would be revolted if he had an ounce of honesty left.

A lot of what he says is verifiable. The attack on Kejriwal, phone records could prove or disprove his claims of getting call from Modi, his records of being a candidate, membership of multiple parties is not legal in India, organized slander of a candidate, threat to Kejriwal is on record, defamation that puts Kejriwal's life at risk, and more.

This is probably the same Swami Om Ji who had demanded that the details of the Delhi Gang Rape be made public. (Apologies if incorrect, I cannot find a link for this, so going by memory - will verify and update)

Brilliant, brilliant work by Real News of India.

There are many people on Twitter saying "he looks demented" etc. At the same time, he is confessing to serious crimes in a manner that is verifiable. He is a candidate contesting polls as another party while openly participating on the streets in support of BJP. That makes him important to investigate at the very least. Being demented does not mean he is not dangerous.

5

Press release by Ravinder Singh of the "Sabka Bharat Party" raises some pretty strong points. I am willing to publish any rebuttals made as well.

1.  It is Corrupt Election Commission didn't Record Expenses Narendra Modi Election Campaign for Poll Related Expenditure which cost up to Rs.50 crores to Rs.100 crore per rally mobilizing up to a million crowd including cost of live broadcast.

2.  Election Commission didn't STOP Poll Surveys as Just Modi was projected as Prime Minister candidate - WITHOUT ANY POLITICAL MANIFESTO - Election Commission Ought to have Procured 'Election Manifestos At Least Six Months in Advance' so that Electors are fully introduced to Policies of Parties Before Casting Their Votes.

3.  There is No Media Coverage of Arvind Kejriwal Rally on any TV channel when Election Commission should be ensuring 'Equal Opportunity to All Candidates.'

4.  But it is 'Gross Misconduct of EC to restrict a Party President with over 10 million followers to just three Cars on National Highways and that too without security cover.' Obviously distinction had to be made between National President's rally & campaign and Candidates in their own Constituencies.

5.  Evidence of its Misconduct is Confirmed when Prakash Javdekar provoked BJP Cadre by Blaming Arvind Kejriwal for Lame Duck Sardar Sarovar Project.

6. It is obviously 'DEMOCRATIC SCANDAL WHEN PARTIES CAMPAIGN WITHOUT ELECTION MANIFESTO WHEN ELECTION COMMISSION SHOULD INSIST ON COMPLETE POLITICAL IDEAS OF IDEOLOGY OF REGISTERED PARTIES AT THE TIME OF REGISTRATION.'

7. Election Commission was Expected to Constitute in Advance a Supreme Court Judges Led Pannels to Monitor Lies of Parties & Ensure HONEST CONDUCT OF POLITICAL PARTIES.

It was Murder of Democracy in Gandhi's own state as Narendra Modi lies were getting Exposed one by one his rally was shown black flags and attacked by goons and detained by police. This is based on TV coverage of many channels.

Obviously BJP didn't want PRESS & MEDIA to cover the REAL DIRTY & FILTHY side of Gujarat kept hidden from public view.

Gujarat hospitals were in filthy conditions, General Hospital which is admit Emergency & Accident cases was without Orthopedic Surgeon, there no medicines, water supply in the hospital was stinking, toilets in bad conditions etc.

Arvind Kejriwal also exposed Health Centers Without Roof Not Working since built over 10 years ago and no Toilet in Schools when Schools ought to have Separate Toilets for Girls and Boys.

A Large Pond even after record rainfall season has little water may dry up in 15 days Three Months Before Monsoon.

Arvind Kejriwal was exposing lies of progress in Gujarat.

Prakash Javdekar provoked BJP workers against Arvind Kejriwal and BLAMED AAP for Stopping Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Obviosly Gujarat Was Not Serious in Building Sarsar Sarovar Dam - There was Rampant Loot in Hugely Overdesigned Narmada Canal Projects and additional Sufalam Sujalam Projects - Loot of over Rs.50,000 crores - 2013-14 Budget on Irrigation & Water Projects is Rs.12,000 crores.

Praash Javdekar didn't explain Hydro Power was Sabotaged Hydro Power all over India including Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Prakash Javdekar also didn't explain how Adani Power Projects in much more ECO SENSITVE Zones came up without any clearances in 3-4 years.

Ravinder Singh,
Convener, Mentor & CEO
SABKA BHARAT PARTY
Ph: 9650421857, 9718280435
Progressindia008@yahoo.com ,
sabkabharatparty@gmail.com

Reference article mentioned in post

AAP against Narmada dam: Javadekar

TOI March06, 2014
Page Dance of Democracy

Gandhinagar: Prakash Javadekar, a national spokesperson of the BJP, has said that Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party is against the Narmada project and has no right to speak on the problems of Gujarat's people.

"Anti-dam activist Medha Patkar is an official Lok Sabha candidate of the AAP," Javadekar said. "Patkar has filled a petition against the Narmada dam in the Supreme Court. If the AAP is really serious about the problems of Gujarat's people why is it not asking Patkar to withdraw her petition?'' TNN