Pact for peace

Print edition : April 03, 2015

Pradeep Surve displaying the communal harmony document. Photo: Rhishi Surve

Residents of Burondi in front of a mosque in the village. Photo: Vivek Bendre

A TINY seaside village that hugs the slopes of the Western Ghats in Ratnagiri’s Konkan region has set an example for communal harmony. Hindu and Muslim residents of Burondi have signed a pact stating that if ever there arose a communal strife in the village they would sit around a table and sort it out.

But Burondi’s residents are amused at the fuss their idea is causing. “All we did was find a solution that suited our village,” said Pradeep Rane, the sarpanch. Mahmud Akhtar Mirkar, vice-president of one of the communal harmony coordination committees, said, “There have been a couple of minor incidents, and given the way the world is nowadays we all thought it better to formalise things.”

The first instance of communal disturbance in the village was in 1987 when a baraat (bridegroom’s wedding procession) stopped in one of Burondi’s four mosques for a celebratory dance. While Muslims saw it as a provocative act, Hindus said the spot was convenient because the road widens in front of the mosque. The mini riot that followed was quelled soon.

A similar incident flared up in 2012 when a Govinda procession stopped in front of the mosque for dancing. The next time, some young Muslim men tried to stop the festivities and a scuffle ensued. A few Muslim men were arrested and Burondi was declared a sensitive area. “It reflected badly on us and so we decided to do something about it,” said Rane. A series of meetings between the residents of the village and the then Deputy Superintendent of Police, Bhagwan Patil, resulted in the setting up of district-level and village-level coordination committees.

Meetings of the committees resulted in a two-page agreement. Subsequently, the residents went one step further and notarised it. “We wanted it to be foolproof and binding,” said 80-year-old Mahmud Adam Divekar, explaining why they gave the agreement a legal stamp of authority.

The document, now six pages long, is essentially a code of conduct for Burondi’s 6,000 residents. It states that “Hindu processions, be it a marriage procession or a religious one, will pass through the masjid area with drums playing. However, if there is namaaz going on, the procession will stop a distance away and proceed only when the namaaz is over.” Likewise, the Govinda procession will pass the mosque area in its usual manner and revellers will have to pay brief respects outside the mosque in deference to their Muslim co-residents. During the annual Urs in the village, Hindus will help Muslims carry out the customary hospitality to visitors. And during the Ganpati festival, Muslims will make offerings of flowers to the deity.

The agreement makes it mandatory for committee office-bearers of both communities to participate in all the festivals . And when there are public programmes in the village, representatives from both communities should be present and senior Hindus and Muslims should be felicitated.

One of the initiators of the pact is Pradeep Surve, a Shiv Sena member, who is also the president of the multi-village level coordination committee for communal harmony. Given the Sena’s blatant anti-Muslim stance, Surve’s move is refreshing. He said: “It was in everyone’s interest that we do this and here in the Konkan, we believe in Ram-Rahim being one, so that was not a stumbling block for us.”

The village has 60 per cent Hindus, and the rest are Muslims. Homes are in profession-specific localities and not ghettoised. So, all those engaged in fishing, whether Hindu or Muslim, live together in clusters on the water’s edge, while those engaged in agriculture and trading are scattered further up the hill slopes.

Interestingly, Konkani Muslims, or Kokani Muslims as they say in Marathi, still retain their Hindu Maharashtrian surnames. They also have retained Marathi as their mother tongue.

The higher literacy rate in the village than the rest of Maharashtra is perhaps one of the reasons why the agreement became possible. According to Census 2011, Burondi has 85.25 per cent literacy compared with 82.34 per cent in Maharashtra. Burondi’s male literacy level stands at 93.80 per cent and female literacy at 77.41 per cent. Unlike many parts of the Konkan where a money order economy functions, Burondi has an economy that is sustained on fishing, horticulture and agriculture.

Lyla Bavadam in Burondi

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