Beach Clean-up Champion Afroz Shah Was Detained. His Crime? He Was Helping Migrants


Beach Clean-up Champion Afroz Shah Was Detained. His Crime? He Was Helping Migrants

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

There are millions of people in the crowded city of Mumbai, but very few, if any, like Afroz Shah. The lawyer and environmental activist has won awards from the United Nations as well as publications like CNN and GQ for his tireless work in cleaning up Mumbai’s Versova Beach. Shah followed up his campaign to clean Versova Beach with another seeking to decongest and depollute Mithi Creek. And in the last few weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic takes over life in Mumbai and the lockdown puts migrant workers in distress, Shah has been arranging food for the poor and helping transport migrants who are walking on highways around the city. However, an encounter with police last night has caused him to suspend his efforts.

In his tweet, Shah claimed that the police officers from Tilak Nagar police station detained him and the migrants he was ferrying in his vehicle, and ordered him to stop transporting them despite all of them having travel passes. He also alleges that he was harassed by the police for hours.

In a report published by The Quint, Shah spoke about how his latest mission to aid the migrants is difficult, but that he was willing to take on the challenge. “My mother gets worried. Is going out at this time in the midst of the coronavirus easy? I have been going out for the last 60 days. My mother says, ‘Afroz, you will kill yourself.’ I said I am a citizen of this country. I have stood for Mother Nature all my life and now I will stand with them (migrants). They need our help. There’s no food, no water, walking thousands of kilometres.”

There has been no statement from the police about Shah’s allegations so far. However, on social media, many have come out in his support, citing the good work he has been doing for years.

There were more than a few people on Twitter who asked Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to take a look at the situation.

Others were understandably disappointed that a citizen like Shah who engages in working for the greater good would be hampered by the authorities in his work.

The news has continued to snowball, with more people coming out to support Shah. However, the experience seems to have taken the drive out of the activist at the moment. After suspending his relief operations, he had to turn to Twitter to ask for help for those whom he had been providing meals during the lockdown.

Shah has selflessly served the city on multiple occasions. Here’s hoping that this is only a minor hiccup in his long-lasting service. India needs more Afroz Shahs, now more than ever.