Vishwa Bhanu, a resident of Malad West, Mumbai, who is associated with the movie industry as an actor, wrote on Facebook on 17th October 2019 about the ordeal he suffered on the occasion of Diwali as a consequence of the intolerance of his Muslim neighbours. He said that his wife was not being allowed to light up their house on Diwali and he was forced to remove the lights.
In his complaint to the police, Vishwa Bhanu wrote:
Like every year, my wife Priyanka Sharma has been prevented from lighting candles and making her Rangoli on Diwali. Anti-social elements who live in the society, where Rehan Petiwala, Salim and Mustafa broke the lights. Every year they do this and even mock our God’s and Goddesses. On Bakra Eid, they force us to keep our door open and they slaughter goats in front of our house when they can do this elsewhere also. But I never said anything because it is their festival. Because we are Hindus, we are mocked, pressurised and a situation is being created that we will soon leave the area. For small things, they come to fight with us. I am mostly away for shooting and am concerned about my wife.
After the OpIndia report where Bhanu spoke about the ordeal he faced, he told us that the police was pressurising him to delete his Facebook post and had downplayed the entire incident as one of a minor dispute. Eventually, since Vishwa Bhanu too feared for his security, he wrote on Facebook that the matter had been sorted mutually.
Thereafter, there was a litany of posts and articles that claimed Vishwa Bhanu was lying either for create panic or to get fame. The articles and posts also said that the Mumbai police had investigated and proven Bhanu was lying.
The PTI (Press Trust of India) agency feed was run by mostly every major news publication. From NDTV to Times of India and even Republic.
Interestingly, none of the mainstream media channels spoke to Vishwa Bhanu about what transpired and what his version of events was.
The Quint report
The one Leftist portal that did was The Quint.
The Quint report was headlined “Leftist Atheist Becomes Poster Boy for Hindu Right-Wing on Diwali”. The insinuation was simple from the headline itself. The Quint implied that the incident was not communal and that it is the ‘Right-Wing’ that is turning it so.
The Quint article was written by Meghnad Bose essentially quoted Bhanu as saying:
“I am a communist and have always been opposed to the RSS, BJP and the Hindu right-wing. For example, I am completely against the mob lynchings that are happening in India, in the name of protecting the cow. Just as I am opposed to Hindu fundamentalism, I am similarly opposed to Muslim fundamentalism.”
The article then said that the argument was over the neighbour’s children getting an electric shock from the fairy lights and that Bhanu himself admitted that the children got a shock indeed.
The report then quotes Imran Khan, who is the main accused according to Bhanu and the neighbour who created the ruckus. Imran is quoted as saying that he had only asked Bhanu to lift the lights higher or put a tape on the cut wire, and the argument happened only when Bhanu’s wife, Priyanka refused to do so.
It also quotes the building secretary to insinuate that it was but a minor argument and there is nothing communal about the incident.
‘The Quint has misquoted me’, says Vishwa Bhanu, ‘it is the ‘right’ and Hindu organisations that stood with me despite ideological differences
After The Quint report was published, Vishwa Bhanu got in touch with OpIndia, distressed and angered. He said, he is being held responsible by media portals like The Quint and Lallantop and even the police officer in question and he would like to speak further about the facts of the case.
With respect to The Quint saying that he is a ‘communist’, Vishwa Bhanu said that he is an artist and has a background of being associated with Left theatre such as Jan Natya Manch several years ago. But on the basis of this, it is wrong to call him a “Leftist” or “Vampanthi”.
He said, “How am I a Leftist if I have done theatre with some people from the Left or if I stood up when some Muslim was wronged”. To The Quint saying that this response of his came after the reporter asked him about “Right-Wing Propaganda websites”, Vishwa Bhanu said that nobody from the ‘Right’ has used him. He said that through his work in theatre, he has opposed the “RSS ideology” but that was 20 years ago when he was a part of the theatre. He was not into political activism.
Vishwa Bhanu said that it is people from the so-called ‘Right’ who reached out to him and ensured help. He asserted that when individuals from Hindu organisations went to meet him after the incident, he told them categorically that he did not share their ideology and yet, they were willing to help him. He said despite having a difference of views, it is the Hindu organisations that helped him and said that all born-Hindus are brothers for them and if he needs anything, they will be there to help him out.
He said one Mr Balakrishnan, an old man who must be in his 60s came all the way from Chembur to meet him. In fact, when he was trying to find Bhanu’s house, nobody from the locality was telling him where he lived and yet, when Bhanu offered to go assist him, Mr Balakrishnan told him to not leave his house and that he will find him. Bhanu also said that he got immense strength from Jaago Hindu members visiting his house and offering assistance to him.
Mr and Mrs Bhanu’s anger with The Quint reporter and how their version was twisted
Vishwa Bhanu told OpIndia that he liked Meghnad when he went to meet them. He thought he was a young, fair journalist since he kept nodding along and agreeing that Bhanu and his wife’s plight was tragic. He even agreed that what happened with the family was wrong, but he never thought that he would misrepresent the entire incident in this fashion. Bhanu said that several people spoke to him and he narrated his ordeal, but it is out of his control when someone misrepresents it when they publish the story.
Vishwa Bhanu’s wife, Priyanka also spoke to OpIndia. She said that after speaking to the family, the reporter went out and started speaking to Imran Khan, the same neighbour who is mentioned in their complaint and had stopped them from celebrating Diwali. According to Priyanka, Imran was lying as he did earlier claiming that the children got a shock and that Priyanka had argued with him when he had asked them to either put the lights up higher or put a tape on the cut wire. At this point in time, Priyanka went out and intervened. Imran was lying about the lights being put on the floor. Bhanu, narrating the incident that transpired in front of the Quint reporter asks, “why would we put fairy lights on the ground?”.
When Priyanka spoke to OpIndia, she said that it was only after Imran started talking about the complaint, did the reporter ask her for a copy of the complaint they had filed with the police. Furious at the line of questioning, Priyanka refused to give Meghnad a copy and told him that the complaint copy had already been reported and he can take it from there. Priyanka said that she got angry because he didn’t ask for the complaint earlier but only after Imran Khan mentioned the details in a twisted manner.
The Quint in the report writes that Vishwa Bhanu had agreed that Imran Khan’s child indeed did get a shock from the lights.
The Quint writes:
Bhanu agreed that the child got a shock from the wire. He did, however, object to some alleged statements made after the argument erupted.
Bhanu disputed this and called it a misrepresentation of what he said. He said he didn’t agree per se but said in a matter of fact manner that he may have got a shock but it obviously wasn’t severe and the kids were playing in that very spot later also. He narrated that while his wife was putting up the lights, kids were playing in the area and claimed that one of them got a slight shock. The mother and some other women came to the house and started asking them to pull the lights down. While they went inside the house, Imran and other Muslim men started touching the lights over and over again and mocking that they were getting an electric shock from the lights.
While this was happening, they broke the lights and according to Priyanka, a man named Salim told them that they should ‘find some other option’ and not celebrate Diwali like this. Bhanu, angered says that how is not “Hindu-Muslim”? When Muslims celebrate Bakr-Eid, do Hindus go tell Muslims to ‘find other ways’ of celebrating their festival? Why should Hindus find ‘other ways’ and not celebrate as they wish? She says that they have an issue if they make rangolis or put up lights, but how else will Hindus celebrate Diwali? Priyanka claims that Imran and others were lying because, at that time, the plug of the lights had been pulled out. She asks how Imran and other could even get an electric shock if the lights were not plugged in at that moment.
Their grouse with the Mumbai police
Vishwa Bhanu says that it was the Mumbai police that had told him to delete his earlier Facebook post and then write that the matter had been settled mutually. According to Bhanu, the Mumbai police officials told him that he should do this so law and order can be maintained. He was told, according to Bhanu, that if he doesn’t take his post down, it could cause a law and order problem and because of his post in Mumbai, a state like Karnataka can also burn if there is a backlash against Muslims of the state. “Agar aap aise karenge to kitne Muslims ko maar diya jaaye jahan Hindu bahusankhya main hain”, Bhanu claims the police told him in order to get him to delete his post and say that the matter had been sorted.
Bhanu says that it is the Mumbai police who told him to make the statement that the matter had been sorted amicably, but it is now “wrong for them to use it to claim that I was lying or I was wrong”. They cannot construe his silence as a sign of him being wrong.
It might be recalled that on the day of Diwali, Bhanu had claimed that even while he was at the police station, he was being asked by the police, the building secretary and the Muslims to let it go. He had, in fact, claimed that he was being threatened by the Muslim youth in the police station as well.
Bhanu claims that after the entire fiasco, a day after Diwali the Mumbai police had visited again and told them to put the lights back up for Diwali. Allegedly, the police told him that since he had tagged the Prime Minister, the case will be monitored and they will be questioned about whether he could celebrate Diwali or not.
Bhanu has also said that Jagdev kept saying that it was Bhanu’s fault and kept ‘scolding Bhanu’ every time he protested that version. This was, according to Bhanu, told him to him by Jagdev Kalapad, the senior inspector of Malvali police station, the same inspector that The Quint reports as saying that it was a minor argument and there was no Hindu-Muslim angle to the incident. He has also been quoted as saying that there are other Hindu families in the area and they celebrated Diwali without incident.
The building secretary and other Hindu families
Vishwa Bhanu said that some other Hindu families live there on rent and that is the reason why they are scared to talk about this incident or how Hindu families are treated in the colony.
The Quint also quotes the building secretary, Gundu Radekar as saying that it was a minor argument and in the heat of the moment things might have been said. Vishwa Bhanu, however, had a different take. He said that many times earlier, Radekar who is an aged man had said that he is toothless in the society and nobody listens to him. He had also been angry over the conduct of certain Muslims of the locality. Bhanu had expected Radekar to stand by him but was disappointed at his response.
When he purchased the house, he says that the situation was different. There were many Hindu families. But now, they have mostly left due to this environment and only a few are left. He said that they keep the building secretary unchanged because they want to show that they have a “Hindu building secretary”. He said that the building secretary, as well as certain other Hindu families, are not speaking up because of the environment of fear.
The angst of being left alone
Vishwa Bhanu expressed angst of being left alone and almost victimised for speaking out. He said several of his friends are Muslims, but none of them has approached him to find out what happened or how he was. He said that his theatre friends and his Muslim friends are sharing articles with him that claim Bhanu is lying and questioning him about why he lied and did what he did. He is almost being told that it is a Muslim dominated industry and he will not get work in the industry after this. Though Bhanu thinks that the industry won’t care about it.
He said that to forget what happened, he went to the gym and even there, people were passing comments and questioning him. He said people kept telling him that he had become famous and questioning him about why he lied.
Bhanu also expressed angst about the secretary and the other Hindu families keeping quiet about what happened.
He said is amused to see the reports by NDTV and other news portals since many from NDTV know him well and know that he would not lie about something like this considering he has fought for Muslim rights in the past too. He said many people from NDTV and the communist parties, like Brinda Karat, Yechury etc used to watch his plays but none of them has bothered to stand up for him.
Who used him? The Left? Or the Right?
With portals like The Quint insinuating that he became the “poster boy” for the “right”, it was important to understand whether Bhanu felt “used” by the “right”. To this, Bhanu said that the “right” has not used him and the humanity shown by the right is something that the left should learn from.
He says whatever ‘wing’, whether the theatre wing or the Left-wing or political wing should have at least shown humanity and found out what happened, but none of them bothered. He said he has done many plays where he stood up for Muslims, but he is now realising that there is genuinely a problem in India.
He says that if they are hell-bent of calling him a “Leftist”, then they should hear that he has not left “Leftists” who didn’t even bother showing up for him. He says that at least the “Right” reached out to him and offered unconditional support, in person, through media or even by connecting on Facebook. If he is a Leftist, then where are the Leftists?
“Agar main Leftist hoon, to main aaj se chhod deta hoon Leftism”, he said.