SEVERAL fishermen and women sit quietly by the jetty in Machchmar village in Mumbai, their eyes fixed on the Arabian Sea. Khakiclad men walk through the village’s narrow lanes, poking under fishing nets, asking questions laced with suspicion. Machchmar has been under the scanner ever since the Navy and Coast Guards revealed that the ten terrorists who held Mumbai hostage docked here before entering the city. The village is just a stone’s throw from the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Trident Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Rail Terminus and Leopold’s Cafe. Machchmar is home to the Koli fishing community, the earliest inhabitants of Mumbai, a city that owes its very name to the Koli goddess Mumba. Machchmar has grown around the mouth of the west coast in Colaba and supplies about 70 per cent of the fish sold in Mumbai.
Baburaj, a fisherman, trembles with rage at his community being mistrusted. “We’re not accomplices to killers,” he protests. His son Kishore is indignant, “We had, in fact, warned the government in August that there would be people illegally entering Mumbai via the sea but no one took us seriously.”
Four months ago, the fishermen’s association here was informed by their counterpart in Gujarat that “some illegal persons” had left the Gujarat coast and would try to enter Mumbai through its west coast. Damodar Thandel, the President of Maharashtra Fishermen’s Union, says, “Four months ago, I learnt that some illegal people suspected to be from Pakistan had left Gujarat’s shores with large amounts of RDX. We heard that they were posing as fishermen and would be sailing to Mumbai in boats manned by people with fishing licenses for Maharashtra.” He says he received this information from Devabhai Bhagat, leader of the Gujarat Fishermen’s Association, who, in turn, was tipped off by the Gujarat police.
Thandel showed TEHELKA copies of the petitions he sent in August, warning HR Pawar, Commissioner of Fisheries, and Madhukar Kohe, Deputy Commis – sioner of Police (Port Zone) of the threat. He also showed us copies of letters written in vain to the fisheries secretary and several other authorities. On August 21, Thandel even met RR Patil, then deputy chief minister, and warned him about the threat. All authorities approached turned a deaf ear to Thandel’s words of caution that, if heeded, might have saved nearly 200 lives.