In the city of Mumbai, where Muslims number about 3 million, in a total metropolitan population of 13.6 million, the difficulties that Muslims face in carrying on their religious duties, is something the world is yet to know about. Though there is a general sense of calm within the community, the day to day discrimination that Muslims face borders sometimes on absurdity. This Eid, I heard three stories, which give a picture of vagaries of performing Qurbani, in the city, though not always directly relating to administration or non-Muslim citizenry. The city is just not geared to take any note of Muslims residing in the city.
Muzzammil, a call center employee, raised in a ritualist Muslim family, though married to a converted Catholic girl, thought to have his first crack at a separate Qurbani, while settled a new rented home of his own, in Versova village. Around Versova, there are some unofficial spots where sheep and goats are sold. It is presumed that even though that impromptu sheep market is to facilitate Muslims to buy their Qurbani sheep and goats locally, without having to travel long distance to Deonar Slaughter House complex where bulk of Qurbani lot is brought and offered for sale, the Versova roadside sheep cluster owes, according to public perception, more to the business acumen of local police, who are ever ready to claim their cut while providing even the slightest services to the people of Mumbai.
Muzzammil found to his distress that the prices are so high that it was less the price of sheep/ goat and more possibly for the extortion money that was to be compulsorily, possibly in advance, when miserable looking sheep and goats are herded to the area a week before the Eid al Adha feast day. Muddassir and his friend, Suhel, who is working with a Baskin Robbins franchise, thought of traveling all the way to Deonar to buy their goats. There they found a virtual sea of sheep and goats, but instead of competitive prices that should be the hallmark of any such mandi, they were quoted Rs. 20,000 to 40,000 each. Both young boys got the shock of their young lives to hear of such high skyrocketed prices. They spent four hours trying to buy two goats of good height and bulk, as per Sharia requirement of offering the best for Qurbani.
After much haggling with professional market traders, for whom the once a year buyer was dead meat, they finally got one each for Rs.12000. Now the problem of transporting the goats to Versova was a big headache. Muzzammil, who had spent a year in New Delhi, and was amazed at the communal divide in the capital where Muslims were treated either with awe or with palpable hatred, depending in the locality you are moving about. Having been born in the cosmopolitan Mumbai and had thrived in disco circles, he could not help comparisons between the two cities. He now felt that in his home city, the way non-Muslims are responding to Qurbani and Qurbani-related issues depicts a deliberate deterioration of communal harmony that had prevailed at grassroots level, even after Bombay Riots and bombings, both sordid events relegated to mean politics of the electoral distortions.
The only means Muzzammil could find to transport his Qurbani goat, was the ubiquitous three-wheeler auto-rickshaw. (The other alternative was to ride the animal all the way back home). Nobody was prepared to give a ride to a man and his goat. One did agree to take Muddassir and his goat, as he was travelling in that direction. The only condition was that Muddassir should wash the auto-rickshaw when they reached his destination. Poor Muzzammil had to agree to such onerous terms, all for the sake of Almighty Allah, who had enjoined him to sacrifice an animal to prove his devotion to his Creator. When the party reached the building where Muzzammil’s elder brother lives, Muzzammil took the auto to a distant corner in the compound, fetched water and washed the auto-rickshaw with buckets of water. The auto-man still complained about the stink of the goat. Muzzammil had to reward him extra, above whatever he had agreed to pay.
In the building, where Muzzammil had planned to sacrifice the goat, the majority of flat owners are Muslims; so apparently there was no hassle about Qurbani, if it was to be allowed or not. Those Muslims, who are not staying in ‘Muslim majority buildings’, just cannot get their society’s permission to sacrifice the goats. However, Muzzammil had to content with another big problem. It so happened that there are more than 20 goats and sheep to be sacrified and only one butcher was available. Lots were drawn, about who will get the first chance to get his goat sacrificed. The whole list was already finalised. Consequently, when his turn came, it was one o’clock in the afternoon. Both Muzzammil and his goat wilted in the scorching heat of November Mumbai.
The next problem was to distribute the sacrifice mutton. The total weight of goat, the finished product came to about 40 kilos. He was enjoined to make three parts of the lot, one for himself, one for the relatives and friends, and the third for the poor people, not necessarily from the Muslim community. In fact, wherever, it is known that Eid sacrifices are being performed, hordes of poor people gather to collect freely distributed meat, which they would hardly even dream of buying and cooking, given their economic background. It is well known that people from Dalits, OBC and others waited whole year for this occasion to relish the rich quality of the sacrifice meat. (There are exceptions to the rule. A high caste Hindu, known for his devotional jaunts and strict veg routine at home, eagerly sought the sacrifice mutton, to the surprise of the Muslim neighbour. After some years, it was reported through maids’ grapevine that in fact, he offered that mutton to his dog.)
Transport being the big problem, even though he made small packages for the relatives and friends, many of whom, though could afford and were enjoined to offer Eid Qurbani, had no energy to go through the rigmarole of the sacrifice logistics, the spread of his relatives and friends all over the city, made it next to impossible that he could reach everyone of them, to complete his religious mission. To find a ready solution, he chose a Versova orphanage, where he gave bulk of the sacrifice. Still so much remained that the fridge freezer conked out. Next day, he took every single piece of mutton and dragged himself to the distant Bandra suburb, where his granny had more established contacts to distribute the sacrifice mutton.
Ashfaq Munshi Saheb is a big family man. He stays in a beautiful old bungalow, bang on the Perry Road, Bandra. He got about a dozen of goats a night before Eid and sheltered them all in his compound at the back of his residence. In the morning he found, one goat dead. Now, more than the sacrifice, his problem was how to dispose of the dead goat. Since the goat was already marked for sacrifice, it cannot possibly be treated as garbage. They decided to bury it in Bandra’s Naupada Qabristan. When they got the dead sacrifice to Qabristan, the in-charge refused to bury it in the graveyard. After hours of haggling and arguing, the in-charge pointed to a heap of rubble in the adjoining Railway yard, long deserted and rotting with rusted steel remnants of old steam engines and relics of old discarded train bogies. They dug a deep hole in the rubble and buried the dead goat, with proper rituals reading fateha on the improvised grave. It is difficult for Ashfaq Saheb to make out if his sacrifice was in order or not. He has yet to get a fatwa. But for the time being his problem is dead and buried under heaps of rubble.
Not was the same case with four heads of cattle, thrown on a garbage dump, in Dharavi, Mumbai, reportedly India’s largest slum area. Big cattle are allowed to be slaughtered only in Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s Deonar Slaughter House. The four severed heads belonged to four animals legally slaughtered at Deonar. An official receipt against Municipal fee details is handed over to help people to transport sacrifice slaughter across the city, from Deonar to the residence of those making the sacrifice. At short distance around the entire city, roam rowdy gangs of extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rabble rousers. The Municipal receipt is proof enough that no illegality is involved in the Qurbani. That receipt saved the Dean of the orphanage that got the four cattle sacrificed.
While the Dean was out, some boys decided to throw the four heads into the neighbourhood dump, without realising the havoc they could cause. Somebody informed VHP gang and they gathered a big crowd of protestors, demanding the perpetrator of ‘crime’ to be arrested and punished. Luckily, the police immediately came on the scene, investigated the matter, checked the Municipal receipts and handed back the severed heads back to the Dean for more appropriate disposal. A communal riot was barely averted.
On the other hand, Muzzammil, brother of Muddassir, had his own tale of woes. He had a string of bad luck with his sacrificial sheep. The ones he got home were found to have crooked horns and milk teeth. That is unacceptable as a sacrifice. The animal should be without any defect or blemish. Back he ferried them, to get a replacement pair. The next morning he found, one of the two fuming at the mouth. Immediately, he transported the goat back to the dealer and got his money back. The sheer logistics of transporting animals from one point to another in a city is not everybody’s cup of tea. There are no organised social service groups that take the pain out of the practice. It is reported that Kuwait authorities have a very streamlined system, where a person selects his goat, sheep, bull or camel and pays the amount including the service charges. The animal is collected from him and he is given a numbered token. At the other end of the assembly line slaughter house, he gets his sacrifice, all nicely processed and packed in parts, ready for distribution. In India, one wonders if any voluntary Muslim organisation will be able to earn people’s trust and make life easier for a Muslim who wants to offer a Qurbani on Eid ul Adha. It is another matter that any such organised system of Qurbani will robe the charm of adventure that goes with Qurbani ritual every year.