The day was 2 years back – 6th September 2012, Wednesday morning. Earlier in August 2012, the Bombay high court had directed the demolition of the slums that stood upon 62 acres of the land owned by the Mafatlal company which was shut down several years ago. These included Vaghoba Nagar, Shanti nagar, Shivaji Nagar, Parsik Nagar, Gholai Nagar and Pounpada – nearly 35,000 slums …
Even the thought of demolishment was scary. It would mean that 35000 hapless slum dwellers would be rendered homeless. I could not just let it happen. At 3 am in the morning, I took the decision to do a rail roko. We went to every hutment in the area to spread the message of the rail roko and urged them to be part of it.
Early in the morning at 7.00 a.m., before the demolition squad could reach the site, all of us with the slum dwellers staged the rail roko at the level crossing gate no. 28 near Kharegaon.
By 9.00 a.m. all of the trains had halted. Not only that all the incoming, long journey trains also halted. The whole system was paralysed. Though we were concerned about the passengers, our cause was bigger than the inconvenience.
At 9.00 a.m. there was a call from Prime Minister’s office to Chief Minister’s office asking for details. Commissioner of Police got a call from C.M. office inquiring on what the matter was. Soon thereafter, we got a message from Government – they promised to intervene and assured us that a stay order would be issued such that no hutments would be demolished.
When the message came, we could not hold our joy – the joy of justice, the joy of having saved lives of thousands of poor people. I climbed onto my car and addressed the joyous mob – every common man has a right to LIVE, and the means to livelihood & sustenance cannot just be destroyed.
I can understand that one or two hours of train disruption would have caused inconvenience to many. I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience. I have been criticised by some, but for me it was a fight for principles, a fight for values. Priority for me was to SAVE LIVES & HOMES of 35,000 people.
Today as I recall one of the most important days of my life, I would like to leave you with a quote I had once read “It takes courage to follow your mind. But it takes everything to follow your heart.”