After his son went missing last year, Shaukat Shaikh continues to fight a lonely battle for justice. G Vishnu reports
Activism often comes at personal cost. Shaukat Shaikh (45), who has been fighting Mumbai’s corruption-ridden slum redevelopment, paid the price for his activism with his only son. On 1 August 2012, Shaikh’s 15-year-old son, Sajid, went missing. Ten months later, the boy is yet to be traced as Shaikh continues to fight a lonely battle against an influential builder and the local administration.
Shaikh claims his son has been kidnapped at the behest of Shivalik Ventures, a powerful realty group in Mumbai that has been looking to redevelop 28 acres of the 127-acre Golibar slum in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. The redevelopment plan aims to relocate 5,573 families even as it excludes nearly 1,600 others.
Shaikh, a peon with the Indian Railways, is a part of the massive movement that Mumbai’s slum-dwellers are carrying out against the Slum Redevelopment Authority’s (SRA) rule that excludes from relocation all those residents who bought houses or came to live in the slum after 1995.
His RTIs blew holes in the allotments made by Shivalik Ventures. Shaikh’s RTIrevealed that over 30 allotments were bogus in nature — often given to the cronies of Shivalik Ventures. The Vigilance Commission in Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) also found merit in the RTI and asked MHADA to reconsider these allotments.
Shaikh isn’t new to threats. On 28 April 2011, following his RTI, Shaikh filed a complaint at the local police station alleging that Chandrakant Baliram Guruv, a local goon — one of the accused in Sajid’s kidnapping — had threatened to kill him if he did not stop his campaign against Shivalik Ventures.
An activist who swears allegiance to Medha Patkar, Shaikh has started seeing the criminal justice system as a cruel joke.
To begin with, the local Nirmal Nagar police station did not register an FIR in his son’s case until November 2012 — three months after Sajid was allegedly kidnapped. Despite continuous protests they categorised Sajid’s disappearance as a missing person’s case. However, the police relented when over 13 human rights groups stood by Shaikh.
Meanwhile, instead of tracing the missing boy the local police kept goading Shaikh to accept an alternative plot. As per SRA rules, Shaukat is not eligible for a house, as he has been living at Golibar since 2003 and not 1995. “I am all for redevelopment of slums. But do not displace people like us who have lived here for nearly 10 years. I am against the SRA rules that will dispossess us without compensation,” Shaikh says.
He has spent over 1.5 lakh — savings of a lifetime — trying to find his son. “The police aren’t doing anything. They are not carrying out their investigation. The court is procrastinating. My son has been missing for a year now and the accused in the case are roaming free,” says Gulzar (41), Shaikh’s wife.
Inspector Balwant Deshmukh and the Investigating Officer in the case GT Padwal of Nirmal Nagar police station in South Mumbai’s Bandra East area offered Shaukat help in getting an alternative residential plot under the SRA rules.
“They were not willing to hear me. They would goad me to end matters and offer help in getting a plot under SRA rules,” alleges Shaukat. “I would simply ask them to do their job of investigating the case of my missing child. What is their business in determining what I do with my house?” he asks. Inspector Balwant refuted all the allegations and assured that the investigation was thorough and that even an Special Investigation Team had been set up for the same.
“The five accused in the case (Ismail Roshan Khan, Ghulam Sheikh, Javed Qureshi, Jaffer Qadamiya Qureshi and Chandrakant) got bail in a day’s time, because the police did not have a reasonable objection to their release,” says Wesley Menezes, Shaikh’s lawyer.
Refuting Shaikh’s allegations, Kiran Jadhav, one of the directors of Shivalik Ventures told TEHELKA, “If need be, I am ready to issue rewards to find Shaikh’s son. Please note that we are here only to ensure that Mumbai is completely slum free.”
As for Shaukat and Gulzar, they continue their search, hoping that Sajid would be home for his 16th birthday.
(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10