Ansari Baug: Recalling a 40-year-old carnage | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Ansari Baug: Recalling a 40-year-old carnage

ByJyoti Punwani
May 19, 2024 07:36 AM IST

The mob comprised people from villages surrounding Bhiwandi. 40 persons were arrested; none convicted, despite some of them being identified by Ansari, who sat through the trial alone, undeterred by the presence of supporters of the mob in court

MUMBAI: Forty years is a long time, but not long enough to forget the destruction of your home in front of your eyes. “My hair still stands on end, when I think of what happened,” says 65-year-old Aijaz Ansari.

Ansari Baug: Recalling a 40-year-old carnage
Ansari Baug: Recalling a 40-year-old carnage

On May 19, 1984, Ansari Baug, the farmhouse built by Ibrahim Ansari was set on fire by a mob. 31 Muslims and one Hindu sheltering there were killed between 10 am and 2 pm. The massacre, which made headlines and brought then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Bhiwandi, has been forgotten, except by those who witnessed it. Among those were Ansari’s sons Aijaz and Javed for whom the farmhouse built on 32 acres, which had a private lake, was home. “I had my own special spot under every tree,’’ recalls Javed, who was 18 then.

Ibrahim Ansari, powerloom owner and president of the Bhiwandi Chamber of Commerce, wanted a home away from the crowded township, close to nature; and Ansari Baug was his dream. Fruit and flowering trees, a vegetable patch and even an apiary -- everything on the farm was personally designed by him. For three consecutive years, his roses won the first prize in the annual rose show held by the Bombay Rose Society.

All of this was burnt on May 19, 1984. “They slashed one of our bulls with their axes, they even slashed a tree trunk, so consumed they were with hatred,” says Javed.

The mob comprised people from villages surrounding Bhiwandi. 40 persons were arrested; none convicted, despite some of them being identified by Ansari, who sat through the trial alone, undeterred by the presence of supporters of the mob in court.

Communal tension started in April, 1984 in Mumbai, reaching Bhiwandi on the night of May 17. Ibrahim Ansari was advised to leave for a few days, as his farmhouse was just off the highway, a stand-alone structure that was vulnerable. But, as he would often say, “I felt as if the leaves of every tree were telling me not to leave.’’ Besides, says Javed, they were sure nobody would target them. “My father used to help all the villagers; some worked on our farm.”

On May 18, the hutments opposite Ansari Baug were attacked, and the inmates fled to Ansari’s farmhouse. They were housed in a shed. That night, the Ansaris could see a mob gathering outside, flashing their torches on the farmhouse.

First thing on Saturday, accompanied by a Hindu employee, Ansari drove to the Police Commissioner’s office and handed over a letter asking for protection. The commissioner expressed his inability to provide protection to every family, to which Ansari retorted that there were 30 families sheltering in his farmhouse.

Heading home, Ansari requested a police party on guard at a naka near his house to accompany him, in case the mob returned. They refused to leave their post. When he reached home, recalls Aijaz, they could see a mob coming up behind him.

The carnage continued for three hours. Ansari’s textile processing factory, behind the farmhouse, was set on fire. As the cotton bales inside caught fire, the flames spread to the farmhouse, compelling the men hiding in the shed to run out. Their women and children had been taken inside the house.

From the windows, Javed remembers seeing mobsters chase the men, strike them with axes and pour kerosene on them. Among those attacked was a watchman he used to spend hours with, and the husband and infant of his maid’s sister. The infant, he recalls, was thrown against a rock.

His father managed to keep the mob at bay with his bore gun, but his bullets would have run out, had not DCP Gaekwad of the SRP arrived there. On his way from Thane to Bhiwandi, the officer noticed the flames and rushed there with reinforcements.

The Ansaris took refuge in a relative’s home; for days, they were washing the soot off their bodies, recalls Javed. Nights were spent lying awake, reliving what they’d seen.

His trees gone, his collection of 1000 books burnt, yet Ansari returned to Ansari Baug every day, and used it as an office. It was only six years later that he agreed to sell it, “for peanuts,’’ says Aijaz. But he never left Bhiwandi and went on to become a leading member of the mohalla committee movement.

This wasn’t the first time the Ansaris were singed by communal violence. In the 1947 Partition violence, they had to flee their ancestral home in Kurla. In the 1970 Bhiwandi riots, their German Shepherd was killed.

Yet, says his sons, Ansari didn’t become bitter – except against the government. In Bhiwandi’s Dak Bungalow, he asked the prime minister what use were her speeches on world peace when in her own country, the police refused to prevent a massacre. But about his own loss, says Aijaz, “He would quote the Koran to say that Allah tests us from time to time; that we are entitled to only that much wealth as Allah has decreed for us.’’

“His teachings make me want to forget the dark side and remember only the good,’’ says Aijaz. “With all their weapons, the mob couldn’t hurt our family. DCP Gaekwad came to us like a farishta. Had he been even half an hour late, none of us would be here talking to you.”

Javed however, is not as stoic. “Time would have healed our wounds,’’ he says, “had Bhiwandi been the last riot. Every time there’s a riot, I can relate to it. And today, you don’t need a riot; my daughters encounter hate in their school and college.’’

His anger however, does not extend to Hindus as a community. “So many Hindus told me my father gave them the fare to travel back to their village after all this happened.’’ A Hindu friend who avoided Javed after the incident, apologized for not stopping the carnage years after when they met. Both brothers have since worked and lived among Hindus.

What hurts, though, are the barbs they hear today. In a letter to MPs written after the B N Srikrishna Commission report, Ibrahim Ansari pointed out that he had never thought of leaving India despite having been affected in three riots. “We can trace our family history back to 105 years; our grandfather is buried in Mumbai,’’ says Aijaz. “When the PM calls us ghuspaithiye, it hurts.”

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