Mumbai inhabitants fear world’s tallest statue– a memorial to 17th century Hindu warrior king Shivaji

MAMOSA Report: The decision to build the world’s tallest statue just off Mumbai’s coast has divided India’s financial capital and largest ethnically diverse city of 21 million.

The traditional Koli community, who depend on fishing for their livelihoods, fear they will be worst hit by the construction, warning that it threatens their centuries-old existence, according to media reports.

India will spend $530 million on the controversial memorial to 17th century Hindu warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, wrote AFP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone in December.

At 190 meters it will be twice the height of America’s Statue of Liberty and almost 40 meters taller than the world’s current tallest memorial — a statue of Buddha in China.

“Critics question why Mumbai needs such a lavish statute when the city already has several smaller Shivaji memorials. The city’s airport, main train station and museum are named after the Hindu hero while there is also a Shivaji Park.”

The Koli fishing community, Mumbai’s original inhabitants and whose goddess “Mumbadevi” lends her name to the city, told AFP the decision to build it on a rocky outcrop a couple of kilometers off the coast will sound the death knell for their traditional way of life.

“The breeding ground for fish will be completely destroyed,” Krishna Tandel said, unfurling a net at Machhimar Nagar bay, which is tucked behind the high-rises of Mumbai’s southern financial district.

The project has divided India’s commercial capital and highlights a political obsession with statues in the country as parties seek to appeal to regional identities with ever greater effigies of historical figures, the report noted.

Supporters told media outlets the memorial is a fitting tribute to someone many locals consider a hero of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital.

Shivaji fought the Muslim Mughal empire, is revered by the Maratha caste and trumpeted by Hindu nationalist politicians.

Opponents insist it is a gross waste of money which would be better spent on improving health, education and infrastructure in the teeming metropolis of more than 20 million people.

A petition on the change.org website opposing the bronze statue, which will depict Shivaji brandishing a sword while charging on a horse, has received almost 43,000 signatures.

Residents say disruption caused by construction will decimate their fishing stocks — including Pomfret, Bombay mackerel, seer fish, prawns, and crabs — while heavy traffic ferrying tourists from three terminals will block access to the sea and disrupt wave patterns.

Environmentalists agree that the project, which is due to be completed by 2021, will cause immense harm to a vibrant marine ecosystem.

“There’s a huge diversity of fish, fauna and invertebrates there. Fish catches, sewage, and tidal currents will change,” wildlife biologist Anand Pendharkar said.

“It’s going to affect the food base of the city, it’s going to affect the economy. There is going to be a huge amount of damage.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Maharashtra government, in coalition with Shiv Sena, which means “Shivaji’s Army”, dismiss environmental concerns and say the project will draw 10,000 visitors every day.

Shaina NC, a spokeswoman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, claims it will be an “iconic” memorial akin to the Statue of Liberty that will make its money back through tourism. Shiv Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut says the sea is the best site because Shivaji created India’s first navy.

The BJP’s Shaina says 400 Koli families will be “rehabilitated at the earliest” but that’s little consolation to the residents of Machhimar Nagar who just want their culture to continue.

“Even if the government provides us with other jobs, it won’t give us the recognition we deserve,” said Krishna Tandel, a Koli fisherman.
“It’s our way of life and it should go on.”

“It’s our way of life and it should go on.”

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