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Bhiwandi mosque opens the door to all in need of oxygen

Makkah Masjid’s oxygen centre has treated 113 patients, 27 of them Hindus.

These Bhiwandi residents could have never imagined entering a mosque, far less being treated in one. Twenty-seven of the 113 patients admitted to the Makkah Masjid oxygen centre in Bhiwandi, since it started functioning 12 days ago, are Hindus. 

Hindus comprise 39 per cent of this powerloom township, where Muslims number 56 per cent. For years, Bhiwandi used to be a byword for communal tension. It saw two major Hindu-Muslim riots in 1970 and 1984. This is where the mohalla committee movement began after the 1984 riots, and became a major factor in ensuring peace. 

These days, Bhiwandi faces a different crisis. The coronavirus has affected 1,332 residents, and there have been 88 deaths. The government’s neglect of this alarming situation prompted the local Jamaat-e-Islami to turn their mosque in Shanti Nagar into an oxygen centre. 

The township’s municipal hospital, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), which was turned into a Covid care hospital, has reportedly been turning away patients due to lack of oxygen and ventilators, while most private hospitals and clinics are shut, depriving the sick of treatment. 

“Our mosque was lying shut due to the lockdown,” says Mohammed Ali Shaikh, a PhD student of Pune University and a volunteer with the Jamaat-e -Islami in Bhiwandi. “We decided now was the best time to revive the original function of a mosque: to serve the community’s social needs. And since we live in a multi-religious society, it was obligatory for us to keep it open for all. It’s unfortunate that Muslims have turned the mosque into a place for namaz only,” he adds ruefully. 

The ground-floor hall of the mosque was cleared and five beds installed there with oxygen cylinders. Local doctors who volunteered to work there were given PPE kits. The Movement for Peace and Justice and the Shanti Nagar Trust are also involved in running the centre, which has so far used 32 oxygen cylinders.

With black marketing in oxygen cylinders rampant in Bhiwandi, the Makkah Masjid welcomes anyone in need of oxygen. Most of those who come are senior citizens from Bhiwandi’s slums, most of them with existing health problems. All that they are requested to pay is Rs 150, the cost of the kit that comes with the cylinder, but some can’t even afford that. 

The Jamaat is also supplying oxygen cylinders free of cost to those who want them at home, on condition that they are returned with refills. Jamaat vounteers guide patients on the phone on how to use these cylinders. “Many misconceptions about Muslims are being broken when we deliver the cylinder to the homes of non-Muslim patients,’’ says Ali. So far 35 patients have availed of this facility, nine of them Hindus. 

What angers Ali most is the complete neglect of Bhiwandi by the government. “Patients have been dying here in ambulances, turned away by hospitals. Two Bhiwandi doctors have died; one is on ventilator support in Mumbai city. But Health Minister Rajesh Tope has not bothered to visit Bhiwandi. The same man visited Malegaon thrice after launching ‘Mission Malegaon’,’’ says Ali. “Guardian minister Eknath Shinde visited Bhiwandi only this week.” 

Ali refused to comment on Bhiwandi’s two MLAs: the Samajwadi Party’s Rais Shaikh and the BJP’s Kapil Patil. “As for the township’s 90 corporators, the less said the better,’’ he said.

For the alarming spread of Covid-19 in the textile township, Ali blamed Bhiwandi’s residents for not taking the necessary precautions during the lockdown. But the government is more culpable for its inaction on the overall health front, says he. “The lack of facilities and even basic hygienic practices in the IGMH are a disgrace. What we need desperately is mohalla level testing centres.’’ 

Things may change for the better soon, though. On Monday, Dr Pankaj Ashiya, who managed to bring Malegaon’s situation under control, was named head of the Bhiwandi Nizampur Municipal Corporation, the first time an IAS officer has been appointed to the post. 


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