Mumbai, Feb 25: Stung by the Government’s plan of setting up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in their homeland, the unrelenting Uttan-Goraikars continued to battle against it by organizing a series of massive protests. It started with the Rasta Roko on Gorai Road, then the mammoth rally on Uttan beach which Medha Patkar addressed recently and on later they forced Esselworld to pull down its shutters by blocking the creek with their boats and organizing a dharna in front of their gates.
Over ten thousand locals from the ten affected villages poured into the streets in a massive show of strength and marched to Esselworld shouting slogans and holding placards protesting the setting up of a SEZ in their homeland. By doing so they took the battle into the enemy’s camp and have shown in no uncertain terms that they will not accept this plan that poses a threat to their livelihood, environment and culture.
The locals won the battle even before their padyatra began from Gorai Church at 10.00 am. Ranade DCP who led the police - that was present in a big force and well-equipped with water jets, barricades and stenguns announced the closure of Esselworld for the day and prevented picnickers from getting there. Meanwhile fishermen's boats had quietly moved into the Gorai Creek to block Essel ferries from plying in the creek. However the dharna was peaceful and after four hours of songs, slogans and speeches the assembly felt satisfied that they had won the battle and dented the confidence of the developers who had planned to usurp their land.
Men and women in their traditional attire perched atop bullock carts and horse carriages made the dharna a colourful sight. A bullock cart was used as an impromptu podium by activists for conveying their message to the captive audience. Even the parish priests of churches in the region came out strongly against acquisition of lands to set up an entertainment SEZ in the region. They said that it was a battle between greed and creed. The Esselworld owners should meditate at the Pagoda they have built so that they could rid themselves of ‘desire’ which was the root of evil. They proposed that SEZs should be started in Vidharba where farmers were committing suicide. They despaired that people had to recourse to such agitations because of lack of ‘lokrajya’ in the country. It was unfortunate that elected representatives had forsaken the people.
While unbridled development was taking place in the form of building a Pagoda and residential quarters within the Esselworld complex, which falls in No Development Zone, the locals staying nearby were denied permissions to even repair their houses. The speakers gave a call to boycott Zee channels and Esselworld. The dharna was evidence of the fact that ‘people’s power’ was greater than ‘money power’. One of the speakers also said that the police that were present in such large numbers should be set after Goyal, who was out to grab their lands, instead of standing on guard against a largely peaceful assemblage. They said that the people of Uttan-Gorai had taught a lesson to the whole world on how to fight for justice in a peaceful manner.
Besides the NAPM, Dharavi Bet Bachao Samiti who had organized the dharna were supported by the BCS and CSF. Simultaneously members of the Bombay Catholic Sabha organized a demonstration with placards and banners both at Marve Beach and Gorai Creek to show solidarity with the people of Dharavi Island in their battle against SEZ.