By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Mussoorie is facing a threat to its very existence, says the local Hotels and Restaurants Association. This was quoted in this paper dated 25th August, 2023. It is at least the third time within our memory that the people of Mussoorie felt that their little town was in danger of being snuffed out.
As far back as the 1980s, a group of voracious industrialists decided that Mussoorie had been built on limestone which was so pure that it was wasted to merely support a hill station. They recommended that the citizens of Mussoorie should be relocated to another destination. The people of Mussoorie were dismayed but they were not quite sure what they could do to prevent this takeover by very powerful business interests. It was then that three old ladies decided that enough was enough and so they formed The Save Mussoorie Society. They also decided that the SMS would not have any politicians in its ranks. The ordinary citizens of Mussoorie agreed with these three women and began to stage nonviolent demonstrations to make their point. The limestone quarriers retaliated by flexing their powerful muscles. They sent up their dump trucks late at night hoping that the three old ladies and their devoted followers would be asleep. But old ladies can be particularly stubborn when defending their homes. When the dump trucks reached near the bandstand below the Mussoorie Library, they found one of the old ladies sitting on a chair in the middle of the road. She refused to budge. The dismayed quarriers phoned their political sponsors in Lucknow, because Mussoorie was part of Uttar Pradesh at that time. The highpowered politicians phoned the police who then came running down to arrest this stubborn old woman. When they found who she was, they hurried back to their thana and told their bosses that if they dared to touch the old lady they would have a riot on their hands.
Social activist, the late Avdhash Kaushal took up the matter in the Supreme Court and the quarries were balked. We got this story from the three leading members of the Save Mussoorie Society. Our late mother, Mrs Maisie Gantzer was the Honorary Secretary of the Society and it was she who sat in the chair and stopped the quarriers.
The second major civic agitation occurred at the climax of the movement for the state of Uttarakhand. This resulted in the death of 7 people on the 2nd of September 1994. The government has certified the presence of Senior Advocate Manoj Saili at that agitation. Manoj tells us that lawyer Rajendra Panwar was injured and was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. He was the son of Hukam Singh Panwar, Chairman of the City Board. Though we, eventually, became a highlander state on 9th November 2000, it is ironic that our own mantris have surrendered their wills to the lowlanders of the High Command.
Finally, though the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Mussoorie has had the courage to ask the Chief Minister to declare Mussoorie a disaster hit town, no other trade organisation has had the gumption to endorse this.
We learn, however, that the members of other such organisations are as aggrieved as the hoteliers. So, why are they silent? Is there something they want to conceal? More than 2,000 years ago, it was the custom in a West Asian country to stone women, taken in adultery. There is a belief held by many people in the world that once a crowd of men had assembled around a sinful woman, and were picking up stones to kill her. Then a thirty year old prophet arrived, picked up a stick and said: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He then proceeded to write on the sand the sins of all those who had picked up stones. One by one, the would-be killers walked away.
We do not agree with any decision to declare Mussoorie a disaster hit area, unless the interests of daily wage earners are protected. We do wonder, however, why organisations of more well-healed business professionals have not supported the Hotel & Restaurant Association. Is it because, like the stone pelters they have something to hide? Or do they believe that the state of civic services in Mussoorie is exactly what they deserve?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.) (The opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect only the authors’ views!).