When Balasaheb Thackeray safeguarded the future of a displaced community
More than three decades ago, when thousands of Kashmiri Pandits fled the terror nightmare in their homeland in 1990 to seek refuge elsewhere in India, many landed in Mumbai, the City of Dreams, and Pune, the academic capital of Maharashtra.
A majority of the uprooted Kashmiri Pandits, with their parents, wife and children, escaped from certain death with hardly anything more than the clothes they wore, and spent months in agony and uncertainty over how to rebuild their future from scratch in strange surroundings.
Maharashtra was the only state which opened its doors, hearts, wiped their tears and helped the Kashmiri Pandits grow new roots in this state, over a couple of thousand kms away from their birthplace.
“At that time, a group of Kashmiri Pandits met the roaring tiger of Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray. Led by the late Lt Gen (Retd) P.N. Hoon, the delegation discussed the entire issue of Kashmiri Pandits threadbare with the Sena Pramukh,” said Sanjay Nahar, who runs an NGO, Sarhad, in Pune.
Acclaimed author-journalist Rahul Pandita, a teen then, recalls how the Kashmiri Pandits — though penniless — did not seek monetary aid from Balasaheb Thackeray, but wanted something that could help them stand on their feet and make them independent in the long run.
Nahar said the delegation requested Balasaheb Thackeray to use his good offices and offer the Kashmiri Pandits reservations in technical or engineering courses in various academic institutions here.
Interestingly, the meeting was facilitated by a reserved, young journo — Sanjay Raut — now the stormy petrel of the Sena and its chief spokesperson.
Balasaheb Thackeray readily agreed to the proposal — though some opposition parties then had sniggered — and sowed the seeds for affording a stable future to an entire generation of Kashmiri Pandits.
Amit Wanchoo — the grandson of the legendary H.N. Wanchoo who was assassinated by terrorists in December 1992 — said that it was only Balasaheb Thackeray then “who threw a lifeline to Kashmiri Pandits” when they had nobody to call their own.
“Many had no funds or friends, spent months in dirty cattle-sheds or slums, worrying about their future. We always believed that education is important for children, but educating them away from their homeland was a big challenge,” said Wanchoo.
He is among the few who decided to remain in Kashmir despite the near-total exodus by his fraternity.
With Balasaheb Thackeray throwing open all the higher-technical-engineering institutions for Kashmiri Pandits, thousands took advantage to enrol themselves and encounter the future with confidence, and around 7,000-8,000 have benefitted, said Nahar.
More importantly, Pandita said that the gesture came without any ‘strings attached’, and Balasaheb Thackeray never treated them as any kind of ‘a political vote-bank or a bargaining tool’, and it remained a totally unselfish measure.
Sena MP Raut remembers the days when Balasaheb Thackeray was the sole person who spoke for the Kashmiri Pandits when the rest of the country kept quiet in dread of the terrorists.
“When the delegation met Balasaheb Thackeray, he openly advocated giving arms to the Kashmiri Pandits for their self-defence… Instead, they asked for educational quotas, which he readily agreed to and allowed 5 per cent reservation in the state. Nobody knows the pain of the Kashmiri Pandits more than the Shiv Sena,” Raut said.
Pandita and Wanchoo point out how many Kashmiri Pandits occupying top positions in Indian government or in leading companies worldwide had benefited from Maharashtra’s generosity in their darkest hour.
Wanchoo said that inspired by Balasaheb Thackeray, even Maharashtra proved magnanimous towards Kashmiri Pandits and contributed their mite to wipe the tears of their brethren from the snowy Valley.
“I met him in 1994 and he was surprised to learn that some — like me — still opted to live on in Kashmir. There were many young students living in home-stays, rentals or as paying guests in Maharashtra. But when they couldn’t afford to pay their dues, the local owners/families quietly waived them off,” said Wanchoo.
Nahar recalled the times when many Kashmiris — Pandits, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs — who became ‘refugees’ overnight, had problems with even basics like food and clothes and many NGOs came forward in Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik and other cities to care for them.
According to Pandita and Wanchoo, “we are indebted to Balasaheb Thackeray and till now, we consider Maharashtra as our ‘second home’ for all practical purposes”.
Years later, Balasaheb Thackeray’s initiative bloomed across the country with other states and even the Centre coming up with various reservations, quotas, grace marks, certain privileges etc. for the Kashmiri Pandits/Muslims/Sikhs, that ensured the displaced persons secured a firm foothold in life.
Mumbai News: Massive Fire Engulfs Multi-Floor Building In SoBo’s Zaveri Bazar; Several Trapped Persons Rescued Safely (WATCH)
A Level III fire broke out in a multi-floor building located near the iconic Mumbadevi Temple in Zaveri Bazar, Kalbadevi, in the early hours of June 9. The incident was reported by the Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) at 1.38 am. Prompt action was taken by the fire department, resulting in the safe evacuation of approximately 50-60 trapped individuals.
The fire has severely affected the ground, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth floors of the building. Over 12 fire tenders were involved in the firefighting operations.
Officials said that the fire was extinguished by 7.55 am. However, it is yet to be ascertained as to what caused the blaze.
One person sustained injuries said the officials. Parag Chakankar (40) had suffered minor burn in right hand and it was treated and discharged by medical team on site.
Details of the Incident
Upon arrival at the building located in Kalbadevi’s China Bazaar, the MFB declared the blaze a Level III fire around 3.25 am highlighting the severity of the situation. The fire was initially contained within the lower floors of the building but quickly spread to the upper six floors.
The intense heat and flames caused a part of the ceiling on the first and second floors, as well as a portion of the staircase, to collapse. No injuries have been reported thus far.
Rescue Efforts and Precautionary Measures
The Mumbai Fire Brigade swiftly initiated rescue operations, utilizing the adjacent building’s staircase to safely evacuate approximately 50-60 trapped individuals. Firefighters exhibited exemplary courage and professionalism while carrying out the rescue mission.
Mumbai News: Cyclone Biparjoy Intensifies, City to Experience Heavy Rains Over Weekend
Mumbaikars are set to experience intense rain over the weekend. Heavy to very heavy rainfall is expected in the Mumbai and Konkan regions on Saturday and Sunday, according to a five-day forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which said on Wednesday that a low-pressure area over the Arabian Sea is likely to intensify into a depression by Friday evening. Isolated parts of Mumbai, Thane and Palghar will experience light to moderate rainfall from June 7, according to the IMD.
City in for heavy rain
“The deep depression intensified into the cyclonic storm Biparjoy over east-central Arabian Sea at 5.30 pm and is likely to move nearly northwards and intensify into a severe cyclonic storm during the next 24 hours,” said an IMD official. The cyclone is also likely to lead to rough weather in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala, IMD said and issued a five-day warning for the region from June 7. It warned fishermen in the region not to venture into the sea.
The wind speed in the Arabian Sea is likely to range from 80 kmph to 155 kmph over the next five days, according to the weather agency. Meteorologists, however, underlined that though the tentative track of the system is likely to be in the northward direction storms at times defy the predicted track and intensity.
Monsoon to progress slowly
Conditions have become favourable for the onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala, because of Biparjoy, the first storm brewing in the Arabian Sea this year, according to experts. However, meteorologists predicted a “mild” onset over Kerala and “weak” progress beyond the southern peninsula. After the onset over Kerala, the monsoon is expected to remain “weak” until the storm degenerates around June 12, according to Mahesh Palawat, vice president (climate and meteorology) Skymet Weather.
“The powerful weather system in the Arabian Sea may spoil the advancement of the monsoon deep inland. Under their influence, the monsoon stream may reach coastal parts but will struggle to penetrate beyond the Western Ghats,” Skymet Weather had said on Tuesday.
Forecasting agencies said the storm has seen “rapid intensification”, escalating from just a cyclonic circulation to a severe cyclonic storm in just 48 hours, defying earlier predictions. Atmospheric conditions and cloud mass indicate that the system is likely to sustain the strength of a very severe cyclone till June 12, they said.
Climate change intensifying storms
Cyclonic storms in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea have been intensifying rapidly and retaining their intensity for a longer duration because of climate change, according to scientists.
“The oceans have become warmer already on account of climate change. A recent study shows that the Arabian Sea has warmed up by almost 1.2 degree Celsius since March. Thus, conditions are favourable for the rapid intensification of the system (Cyclone Biparjoy). So it has the potential to sustain the strength for a long period,” said Raghu Murtugudde, professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland and IIT Bombay.
Navi Mumbai News: NMMC Seizes 450 Kg Of Banned Plastic, Collects ₹ 2.5 Lakh In Fines
In order to make Navi Mumbai plastic-free, apart from creating public awareness among the citizens that single-use plastic should not be used, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) is taking action if single-use plastic use is found. The municipal commissioner Rajesh Narvekar is keeping a close eye on stopping the use of single plastic which is an important factor in city cleanliness and it is being reviewed regularly in department head meetings.
Nearly 500kg of banned plastic seized
In the month of May 2023, a penalty amount of 2.50 lakh was recovered from 50 people and shopkeepers. The civic body also seized 450 kg of banned plastic from respective wards.
Keeping in mind the damage caused by plastic to the environment, the citizens should stop the use of single plastic completely and also show awareness about the environment by using cloth bags instead of plastic bags, Municipal Commissioner Shri. Rajesh Narvekar.
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