An Article in the Examiner of April 12 – April 18, 2014
Chalo Azad Maidan By:
FR AUSTIN NORRIS
Champions were born on March 15, 2014, from amongst the people of Malwani – young and old, and all those who decided not to tolerate injustice and inaction any more. They attended the Rally organised by the parishioners of St Anthony Church, Malwani, under SOUL (Save Our Land – Malwani). The main thrust of the Rally was to demand the permanent withdrawal of unjust Land Acquisition notices served on St Anthony’s Church and School (Malwani), Our Lady of Assumption Church and School (Kandivli) and several important community concerns viz: cemeteries on the Western Express Highway, the Dumping issue at Uttan, the ill-conceived SEZ and Tourist Development of Manori-Gorai-Uttan belt, the naming of Gaothans as slums, the desecration of Holy Crosses and notice of demolition served on them time and again, as well as atrocities against Christians all over Maharashtra.
By our estimates, over 10,000 people participated in this historic agitation. Many priests and nuns accompanied their people. There were representatives from over 60 parishes from all over Mumbai/Gorai/UttanThane/Navi Mumbai and Kalyan, and over 30 other activist groups across communities. It was truly a solid statement of Christian solidarity against an unsympathetic Government and Municipal authority.
At the heart of the problem is the issue of unjust land acquisition from just the Church, and not from the other side of the road or river (at Malwani and Kandivali, respectively). At Malwani, the Church has very responsibly handed over to the BMC over 10,000 sq feet of Church land for public development, where the acquisition has been from both sides of the road line. But now, near the Church and School, the BMC is demanding over 25,000 sq feet land from just the Church/School side, instead of equal land acquisition from the opposite side as well. Adding insult to injury is the fact that opposite to the Church/School, residential buildings were sanctioned, just 14 years ago, which until then were open spaces. It may also be noted that St. Anthony’s Church is 400-year-old Grade ll A Heritage Structure, and as such, the precincts of the structure are also heritage. This and other issues concerning the Christian Community were elaborately explained at the rally.
Amongst the Champions who addressed the Rally were Justice H. Suresh; Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, Human Rights campaigner from Ahmedabad; Fr. Allwyn D’silva, Chairman – Archdiocesan Office of Environment; Fr. Lancy Pinto, Chairman – Justice and Peace Commission; Smt Dominica Dabre, activist from Vasai; Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, Principal – St. Xavier’s College; Nicholas Almeida, Trustee – Watchdog Foundation; Mr. Joseph Gonsalves, President – Dharavi Beth Bachao Samiti; Mr. Vivian D’souza, President – Mumbai East Indian Association; Mr. Alexander D’souza of IEICC; Mr. Alphi D’souza, Secretary of Mobai Gaothan Panchayat; Mr. Greg Pereira and Ms Bernadine D’costa of SOUL Team; Ms Jaya Anthony, Chairperson – BCS Unit of Malwani; Fr. Austin Norris Parish Priest and Dolphy D’souza, Spokesperson – SOUL.
Before the Rally began, the members of SOUL met with the BMC, Municipal Commissioner (delegation of Fr. Austin Norris, Stanley Fernandez, Greg Pereira and Dolphy D’souza) and submitted to him a Memorandum of our concerns and demands. Archbishop Oswald Cardinal Gracias’ warm letter of encouragement and support to the campaign and other concerns was read by his secretary, Fr. KT Emmanuel, to the gathering. His Eminence and the Bishops were aware of the Rally, and their encouragement and support was a morale-booster.
A Memorandum of our concern and demands was also presented at the Rally to Shri Munaf Hakim, Chairman – Maharashtra State Minorities Commission who also addressed the gathering, and promised that he was sympathetic to these community issues. The Rally was conducted in a very smooth and dignified manner with competent comparing, sloganeering, singing and ushering by the youth of St. Anthony’s parish, and a disciplined gathering of people who came in solidarity for a cause. Follow-up action will need to be pursued. Suffice it to say that the Catholics and Christians of Mumbai are an enlightened lot, and will not be fooled by the empty promises of politicians who have taken the community for far too long.