Bombay riots revisited

Meet the Mumbai heroes who helped families of 225 people missing during 1992-’93 riots find closure

When the police failed to help, NGO workers conducted their own investigations to prove that many people who had mysteriously vanished were actually dead.

The last time Narendra Shinde’s family saw him was on January 3, 1993, when the musician left his home in the central Mumbai neighbourhood of Dharavi for the western suburb of Kandivali. The city had been in the grip of intense riots since December 6, 1992, when the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya sparked violence across India. Even though mob attacks and arson were widespread across Mumbai, Shinde insisted on going out to visit his sister-in-law.

For months after the riots subsided, Shinde’s relatives searched for him in the city’s hospitals and made inquiries at police stations.

Across Mumbai, which was still known as Bombay at the time, families like the Shindes had been left distraught by their inability to find information about how their loved ones had vanished – and unable to claim the compensation of Rs 2 lakh that the state government had announced for the riot victims.

For the Shindes and scores of other families, help presented itself in the form of Pappubhai Qureshi, a social worker who had worked as an assistant director in the film industry before joining a non-governmental organisation called Citizens for Peace. The organisation had been formed by several prominent city residents to help riot victims rebuild their homes.

Around 1995, the Maharashtra government realised that its records showed that 155 people were still missing after the riots, and that their families had been unable to apply for compensation. It decided to ask NGOs like Citizens for Peace as well as the Society for Human and Environmental Development, or SHED, to help families obtain the documents necessary to establish a legitimate claim for compensation. Unlike in the case of the missing fishermen, who could be declared dead if there was no information about them for seven years, there was no such protocol for riot victims.

Action plan

The trustees of Citizens for Peace drew up a plan to help. They decided to divide the city into four areas, asking government officials to give them the official list of missing persons to help them investigate further. The NGO put together a team of 16 people to help with the task.

Qureshi was introduced to all senior police officers in the city at a specially convened meeting by the senior state government official appointed to oversee the task of rehabilitating the riot victims. The police were told to extend all help to the NGO’s initiative to trace the missing people. The government decided that relatives could file for compensation if Qureshi was able to produce a panchnama – a sworn statement from people who had witnessed the death of the person who had gone missing.

Pappubhai Qureshi worked with a group called Citizens for Peace. Photo credit: Meena Menon
Pappubhai Qureshi worked with a group called Citizens for Peace. Photo credit: Meena Menon

The Citizens for Peace team identified the places around Mumbai where violence had occurred and interviewed locals about these incidents. Many of the missing people had last been seen in the city’s north-western suburbs: in Malad East, Kandivali East, Goregaon East and Borivali East. As a resident of Malad, these were areas that Qureshi knew well and where he had a social network. The residents were quite forthcoming in describing what they had seen – giving him details they hadn’t told the police.

That is how he was able to discover the circumstances in which Narendra Shinde was murdered in Kandivli. Shinde, then 26, had been walking through the Ban Dongri area on January 3, 1993 when he saw a mob setting fire to the bodies of some Muslims they had killed. Realising that he had witnessed their crime, the mob killed and burnt him even though he was identified as a Hindu. A passing police patrol ordered the mob to erase all trace of the bodies.

But establishing the circumstances of these deaths was not the end of Qureshi’s task. For the families to be eligible for compensation, the team had to obtain a panchnama that the person had been killed during the riots.

Qureshi still has stacks of old files with handwritten and typewritten sheets – lists of missing people, applications to the authorities and newspaper cuttings from two decades ago. But when recounting his tales about the people who went missing, he does not need to look at the papers: he knows most of the information by heart.

He recalled long hours trying to track down witnesses. Sometimes, Qureshi would go to the coroner’s court, where post-mortems had been conducted on people who died in unnatural circumstances, to examine the records and correlate them with the dates when people he was seeking had gone missing.

As a member of the Bombay Aman Committee social work group, Fazal Ali Shaad was on duty at the JJ hospital morgue and helped survivors and their families during the 1992-93 riots. Photo credit: Meena Menon
As a member of the Bombay Aman Committee social work group, Fazal Ali Shaad was on duty at the JJ hospital morgue and helped survivors and their families during the 1992-93 riots. Photo credit: Meena Menon

Among the other missing people whose stories Qureshi established was Abdul Sattar Nadaf, a stove repairer, for whom going to Ban Dongri was a daily routine. Despite his wife’s pleading not to leave their home nearby on January 3, 1993, he went out for work and was surrounded by a mob. The owner of a shop intervened and Nadaf escaped. An old Hindu couple hid him in their house. But their grandson ran out and told the mob about the man hiding there. Nadaf was killed.

Though there were three eyewitnesses to the murder, the police refused to lodge a first information report. But after Qureshi had a panchnama prepared, they had to register a case. The government acknowledged that Nadaf had been killed in the riots and awarded his wife Ayesha the Rs 2 lakh compensation. As it turns out, Nadaf’s was among the bodies Narendra Shinde had witnessed the mob burning.

Qureshi wasn’t the only person helping families find resolution. Performing a similar task was Fazal Ali Shaad, who runs a book shop on Mohammed Ali Road in southern Mumbai. As a member of a social-work group called Bombay Aman Committee , he stationed himself at the coroner’s court in South Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993 to help families find the bodies of the dead and, later, to get compensation. He became such a fixture at the court that the coroner whom he didn’t know before invited him to his son’s wedding.

Mariam Rashid, then 28, was also plunged into helping riot survivors as a social worker with SHED. In Dharavi, where trouble started on December 6, 1992, after the Babri Masjid was demolished, she was busy identifying the affected people, preparing lists of burnt houses and caring for survivors. After the violence subsided, she too began to help families find out how their relatives had disappeared.

Like Qureshi, Rashid still has many of the old green files with fading typewritten sheets listing the families of people whose disappearance she and Qureshi had tried to investigate. In 1994, she wrote to all the people on her lists for an update on their situation. Eleven years later, in 2015, she received a letter from a man in Uttar Pradesh thanking her for her message. The man’s family had left Mumbai because of the riots and hadn’t returned.

By the time they wrapped up their task in about a year, Qureshi and Rashid said they had actually managed to establish that, contrary to the government list of 155 missing people, 225 people had gone missing in the Bombay riots. They were able to ensure that most of their families were compensated.

Mariam Rashid of SHED helped trace people who went missing during the Bombay riots of 1992-93. Photo credit: Meena Menon
Mariam Rashid of SHED helped trace people who went missing during the Bombay riots of 1992-93. Photo credit: Meena Menon
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.

Play

As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.

Play

So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.

Play

As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”

Play

By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.