Mohalla Peace Committee

I met Tulsi frequently and developed empathy for her.  Had she been a little better dressed, she could have easily passed as a relative of mine. While interviewing Tulsi I asked her, “Tulsi, you never meddled in anyone’s affairs.  You are a poor Adivasi.   You have no enemies.  Then why was your son Hira killed right in front of your eyes?”  Who do you think Tulsi blamed?  The Muslims?  The Police?  Political leaders?  Some other authority?  Society?  No, she blamed none of the above.

 Tulsi plunged in to deep thought. She looked around.  She had a lump in her throat.  She hit her forehead and gave the typical reply of a Hindu woman.  “Sir, it was my karma.”  She kept staring at the ground.  I did not fully comprehend her answer just then.  I understood the phrase “Karma” when I studied Hindu religion.  Hindu religion believes in rebirth.  The fate of a person depends upon his good or bad deeds in the past births or lives.  This is known as the doctrine of ‘Karma-fal’ or fruits of past deeds.  The happiness or sorrow of the present life depends upon the deeds of the previous births.  Tulsi did not blame the Police for the killing of her son.  She did not blame the government.  She did not blame the Muslims.  She did not blame the Hindus.  She did not blame the politicians.  She blamed her “Karma”.  According to her she must have committed some sin in her previous incarnation, resulting in the killing of her son in front of her eyes.  What a great philosophy!

I met Chandbi several times.  I could empathise with her after these frequent meetings.  She had managed to put the grief of losing her husband behind her and had gone back to her village.  Unable to find sustenance there, she returned to Bhivandi and started vending vegetables from door to door.

Had she been wearing a Mangalsutra round her neck and applied a dot of the red kumkum on her forehead, she would have looked exactly like my elder sister.

I asked her the same question I had put to Tulsi. I said, “Chandbi you are so poor.  You own neither a house nor a farm.  You have never meddled in other’s affairs.  You are not involved in any movement.  You have no enmity with anybody.  Why then were your and your sister’s husbands killed and torched in front of your eyes?”  Chandbi gave it a deep thought.  She shifted her legs and adjusted the sari over her head.  She sat up straight.  She was silent for a while.  She then raised her hands, palms up, towards the sky.  She looked up at the sky and said, “What can I say sir?  This was the will of Allah!”.

I did not fully grasp the meaning of her words till I studied Islam.  Islam does not believe in rebirth.  Hence there was no question of Chandbi or her husband committing any sin in the previous birth.  Islam believes that there is only one God who is the creator and preserver of the universe.  He is the most merciful.  Nobody else is as merciful as Allah.  None as powerful.  Not a single leaf flutters without his authority.  Every thing that happens on the Earth is due to his wish.  Chandbi thought that her husband was killed because Allah desired so.  Why had the All Mighty Creator & Preserver of the universe gotten displeased with poor Chandbi’s husband?  Chandbi’s husband wasn’t a criminal and nor was he up to any hanky panky.  He surely was not a traitor to his religion.  May be he did not follow all the tenets of Islam.

However I have seen a number of Muslims not abiding by the tenets of Islam. In fact some even violate the tenets of Islam.  Yet they seem to be living comfortably, enjoying their life.  Why does the Almighty spare them?  I have never been able to solve this puzzle.  I have asked many scholars of Islam, but none has been able to satisfy me.

Tulsi blames her Karma.  Chandbi says it was Allah’s will.  As Superintendent of Police I have no control over the causative factors and am helpless.  Does it mean that we should meekly accept and give in to the phenomenon of communal riots? 

We can do something to prevent communal riots.  What I did in Bhivandi is now known as “Bhivandi Experiment”.

The traditional peace committee in Bhivandi was disbanded and instead 70 Mohalla Committees were established. Mohalla Committee means a group of people chosen by the police for the protection and all round development of the people of the Mohalla or ward or village.  Every area where Hindu-Muslim conflict had taken place now had a Mohalla Committee.

The following points were considered while establishing the Mohalla Committee:

  1. A separate committee was established for approximately 10,000 population.  There was one Mohalla Committee for every village.  If its population exceeded 5,000 then more than one Mohalla Committees were created.
  2. Every Mohalla committee was named after the mohalla e.g. Morgaon Mohalla committee at Morgaon; Shivaji Nagar Mohalla Committee at Shivaji Nagar.
  3. Minimum 50 Hindu and 50 Muslims were taken in to each committee. The reason for selecting such a large number was that very few persons have the commitment, maturity and versatility necessary to solve problems.  Though they may lack formal education it is only the members with the above qualities who really work in the Mohalla committee with enthusiasm.
  4. In villages with Hindu - Muslim or High Class - dalit conflicts, 50 persons from each of these sections were selected.
  5. All sections of society were represented in the committee. Farmers, farm laborers, power-loom workers, artisans, auto-rickshaw drivers, truck drivers, shop keepers, teachers, pleaders, doctors, professors, local corporators were all represented.
  6. Priority was given to minimum five women from each community/ caste.
  7. All media representatives were included.
  8. Any member of any political party could be appointed as a member.
  9. Only antisocial elements and die-hard communalists were excluded.
  10. Non members too were allowed to attend the meetings.
  11. In urban area a sub-inspector of police was appointed as chairman of the committee.  Head constables were appointed to assist him as deputy chairman. In rural areas a Head Constable was appointed as Chairman of the Committee and Constable was appointed to assist him as deputy Chairman.
  12. At least one meeting of the committee was held per forthnight.  During times of social unrest or tension the meeting was held every week.
  13. All were made to understand that they were not to criticize other religions or communities. 
  14. The date and time of the meeting was announced in advance.  As far as possible the meeting was held in the evening after finishing the day’s work at the farm. 
  15. Non-member villagers were welcome to attend the meeting.   
  16. Meetings were not held at the police stations. They were held at local schools, temples, inns or any other government establishment.  Meetings were never held at any privately owned place. 
  17. Meetings were presided over only by police officers.  Members were not appointed as Chairmen.  Such appointed may not be acceptable to all others.  Besides, there was the risk of misuse of the office for selfish gain.
  18. A night patrolling squad was formed for each Mohalla Committee area which kept vigil under the guidance of the Police Patil and Kotwal.
  19. The Mohalla Committee Chairman Head constable or constable would keep a tab on the working of these night patrol squads.
  20. All non-cognizable cases, applications, civil disputes were brought before the Mohalla committees for resolution of the dispute through mutually acceptable compromise.  Even some cognizable offences like atrocities on daughter-in-laws were handled by the Mohalla committees.  
  21. Members signed the attendance register. The names, age, occupation, phone numbers of the members were entered in the register. For members who would not attend the meeting, police officers visited their homes to get their signatures. This strengthened emotional bond between the police and the members.  This exercise also made the member a sympathizer of the police forever.
  22. The attendance of the members is very large in the initial phase.  It however tapers off with passage of time.  This is the usual experience; there is no reason to get disheartened by this low attendance. If the meetings are regular in spite of low attendance, it does make a difference during disturbed conditions.
  23. The establishment of Mohalla committees in all villages helped in reducing insecurity arising from the robberies, dacoities and feuds.
  24. I also started holding combined meetings of 3 to 4 Mohalla Committees.
  25. Cultural and sports activities were organised by the Mohalla Committees.  Religious and national festivals were also celebrated together.
  26. Issues and complaints about other government and non-government departments were discussed and referred to concerned authorities for action.
  27. The frequent meetings of the police & the people in Mohalla committees created public trust in the police.  They started informing the police about the criminals and came forward boldly to help the police.
  28. Mohalla Committee meetings started in 1988. The results became evident gradually. Due to the political and caste rivalries in the petty disputes in the villages led to tensions & confrontations. This rift retarded the development of the village.  After settling these disputes in the Mohalla Committee, the villagers concentrated on their development.

Mohalla Committee creates a forum for establishment of peace & harmony in communally sensitive towns and villages. The collective strength of the people gets channelised for constructive work.