Modi’s communal agenda continus in Gujarat
By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani-Ahmedabad
Expressing concern over this increasing polarization, a recent report by a high level committee from the Indian Prime Minister’s office, to be tabled in the Indian Parliament in October, states that Gujarat still hasn’t recuperated from the riots in which over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. The committee noted that several Gujarati cities and towns are sharply divided into Hindu and Muslim ghettoes. Muslims, a minority in the state, face social and economic boycott from society at large. The committee also observed that dropout rates of Muslim girls have risen. And there’s a dismal representation of Muslims in public-sector jobs.
"There’s a state of fear and insecurity among Muslims," says a member of the committee. "The state government has done little to end the state of alienation."
Parts of Gujarat where Hindus and Muslims reside in equal numbers have been largely untouched by communalism. But for Hindu-majority areas scarred by the rioting, the divide has hardened, according to activists working for communal harmony.
Rahimanagar, a Muslim ghetto just outside the town of Anand, sprang up right after the riots. The ghetto is now home to many Muslims who are afraid to return their villages. One of them, Sattar Ghani Ibrahim, lost his transport business in the riots after all his vehicles were incinerated. Since then, without a job, Mr. Ibrahim finds it hard to feed his family of 15. "Only the H-class [Hindus] land jobs now-a-days," he says bitterly. "It isn't as easy for the M-class [Muslims]."
Back in his home in the small village of Navli, his decrepit house bears the scars of arson. Mr. Ibrahim's father, Haji Ghani Ibrahim, braved coming back after the communal flare-up was quelled, to tend to a grocery business.. The only customers are the few Muslim families who have returned.This state," Haji Ibrahim says, "is ruled by Hindus and for Hindus. Muslims don't exist for them."
Narendra Modi's move to set up a commission to inquire into the shifts in the demographic profile of the state since Independence has been greeted with immense scepticism. The Commission, be headed by retired judge BJ Sethna, will not only look into the reasons behind the "polarisation" and migration of the population, but will also come up "recommendations and policies" for stopping the polarisation of population in the state. It is expected to complete its task by 2011. The sudden announcement of the commission has taken everyone with surprise. "If at all there is an issue involving the settlement of minorities in Gujarat, then this would be the one pertaining to the rehabilitation of the people who were displaced by 2002 riots," said Dr Shakil Ahmed, president of the Islamic Relief Committee. Ahmed also said with a controversial retired judge heading the committee, it would generate all the more discomfort amongst people.
A day after the Gujarat government announced its decision to set up an inquiry commission to study change in demographic patterns in the state since independence and identify the reasons behind the “polarisation” and migration of population, NGOs and human rights activists have reacted strongly to the move. They say the move is intended to further harass the minorities by perverted use of law and blame the minorities for ghettoisation.
In Gujarat, ghettoised dwellings, organised along religious lines, are perhaps the landmark of life in the state. Social scientists and activists, who have studied this subject in detail, feel that Ahmedabad is perhaps the lone example in the country where extreme ghettoisation has taken place.Ghettoisation is a global phenomenon. In Gujarat, it is widely perceived that it is only the Muslims who live in ghettos – and that too out of fear. Though this may be true, there are also cases where most other communities prefer to live in areas largely earmarked as their 'own' by their ilk.However, there seems no unequivocal embargo on entry of a particular community into these 'reservations'.
And that is what delineates and makes the ghettos of Gujarat so unique, and perhaps precarious. So formation of BJ Sethna commission to study the ghetto formation of Gujarat and its trends after Independence has made human rights activists raise serious concerns against targeting any specific community.
Juhapura — the largest muslim ghetto of Asia, with a population of over three lakh Muslims — is loosely but many a times referred to as 'mini Pakistan'. A clearly demarcated road dividing the ghetto from the nearby area is referred to as 'border'.Of Ahmedabad's population of 5.5 million, an increasingly small number of Muslim families or even bachelors as paying guests, are found living outside the ghettos. Even the most affluent are not acceptable exceptions. These ghettos spread all over the city have only one tale to tell — that of extreme state apathy and total neglect in civic amenities and basic hygiene infrastructure.
Though this tale has been told several times –by the media and activists to civic authorities, and corporators to their politician bosses, the state of these ghettos only gets worse with each passing day as population increases social odium and civic crisis goes deeper. It is another story that police excesses are a way of life here.
Intelligence agencies suspected sleeper terror cells were being operated from here and local youth were sent to terror training camps. "It is often believed that the Muslims victimised during 2002 riots are a soft target for terror recruitment, but the desperate reality of their everyday life in the ghettos does not let them move on in life, even if they want to. Education is available, so the community is full of sharp thinking individuals, but remains cornered," says a senior resident of Juhapura, who has witnessed the transition of Ahmedabad from a non-ghettoised city to a highly polarised one.
in a surreptitious and secret move, the Government of Gujarat through its Legal Department has issued a notification (No. GK/8/2009/COI/102009/33/A) appointing a Commission of Inquiry to inquire and report into the “polarization of population on the basis of religion taking place in the State of Gujarat” and “the migration of the people following different religions taking place every 10 years after 15th August 1947”.
According to the Gujarat Government, this Commission is being instituted because of “allegations which have been made in the courts as well as in the media against the State Government” that the population of Gujarat is polarized on the basis of religion.
Further the Government maintains that “such allegations and unscientific conclusions create heart burning (sic!) and distance among the citizens”.
In the very institution of the Commission, “the Government of Gujarat is of the opinion that the allegations so made are not based on scientific study”.
The very nature and tone of this so-called Commission of Inquiry is bound to target the minorities of the State and add to the already existing fear among these groups. Further, it is bound to polarize even more and make the minorities sitting ducks (because of minority mapping) for the hate propaganda and violence by right wing Hindu groups who have the patronage of the State Government as is evident when the Christians were attacked in 1998-99 and the Muslims in 2001. Minorities in the State continue to be victims of overt and subtle intimidations, harassment and attacks.
earlier in 1999, the Gujarat Government had initiated a survey of Muslims and Christians of the State. This was challenged in the Gujarat High Court and in a landmark Order (SCA/1000/1999 dated 16/02/1999), Justice M.R. Calla of the Gujarat High Court, maintained that “once this country has adopted the Constitution, we have to abide by the same, which is the fountain source of law……if any survey or census is to be made or any information is sought to be gathered with regard to the criminal activities or for other allied purposes, may be as a part of routine exercise, cannot be based on a communal footing”.
Realising that its move was unconstitutional, the then Gujarat Government, affirmed in court that it had withdrawn the survey.
It is a well known fact that most minorities in Gujarat live in a highly polarized situations. One does not need a ‘scientific study’ and much less a Commission of Inquiry (with all its biases) to prove or disprove this. What the Gujarat Government should ensure is that every single citizen of the State is treated with respect and dignity and with the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. A significant step would be to ensure the implementation in the State of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report.
Senior advocate in the Gujarat High Court and human rights activist, Girish Patel, said, “The move is nothing but the state government’s continuing communal agenda by perverted use of law. My hunch is that the commission will come out with a report blaming the minorities for the ghettoisation.”
Patel said one of the reasons for the ghettoisation is the fear factor owing to repeated communal of the minorities, why is it not providing basic civic amenities in Juhapura, the biggest Muslim ghetto in Gujarat with no road, drainage or drinking water supply?” Sinha questioned.
He also questioned the appointment of Justice (retd) B J Sethna as chairman of the commission. “The choice of judge is very inappropriate because he was involved in several controversies till his resignation,” Sinha said.
In the Best Bakery mass murder case of 2002, the Supreme Court reversed Justice Sethna’s (Gujarat High Court) judgment— in which he had upheld the verdict of the Vadodara Fast-track Court, acquitting all the accused— and ordered a fresh trial.
Gagan Sethi of the Jan Vikas Trust said ghettoisation in Gujarat has been taking place even on caste lines. “There are housing societies and multi-storied complexes where people of only one caste are allowed to buy houses. Why is the state government not doing anything to stop this? If the Modi government is really interested in mixed population localities,Fr Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit activist and the director of an NGO, Prashant, opined: “The very nature and tone of this so-called inquiry commission is bound to target the minorities of the state and add to the already existing fear among these groups. The move is bound to polarise even more and make the minorities sitting ducks (because of minority mapping) for the hate propaganda and violence by right wing Hindu groups who have the patronage of the state government, as is evident when the Christians were attacked in 1998-99 and the Muslims in 2001. He added, “Minorities in the state continue to be victims of overt and subtle intimidations, harassment and attacks.”
Earlier in 1999, said Fr Prakash, the Gujarat government had initiated a survey of Muslims and Christians of the state, but it was challenged in the Gujarat High Court and the latter declared it “unconstitutional”. The state government was then forced to withdraw the survey.
“It is well known that most minority groups in Gujarat live in highly polarised situations,” said Fr Prakash.
So, what the government should ensure, according to him, is that every citizen be treated with respect and dignity and with freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
Gandhian activist Chinubhai Vaidya feels the move is “politically motivated” to tell the world that displacement took place even during the Congress regime. “But I don’t think it will serve any purpose beyond this,” said Vaidya.
Activist Hanif Lakdawala said, "The reality is that segregation has happened in both the communities. People from both the communities have moved away. We have been witnessing this during the past two decades."
On the other hand, Father Cedric Prakash of an NGO, Prashant, said in a communiqué that the commission was meant to target minorities. "The very nature and tone of this so-called Commission of Inquiry is bound to target the minorities of the state and add to the already existing fear among these groups. Further, it is bound to speed up polarisation and make the minorities sitting ducks (because of minority mapping) for the hate propaganda and violence by right-wing Hindu groups, who have the patronage of the state government. Minorities in the state continue to be victims of overt and subtle intimidations, harassment and attacks."
The state government appointed the commission of inquiry to inquire and report into the "polarisation of population on the basis of religion taking place in the state of Gujarat" and "the migration of people following different religions". According to the state government, this commission is being instituted because of allegations which have been made in the courts as well as in the media against the state, that the population of Gujarat is polarised on the basis of religion.
Activist Teesta Setalvad said that demographic profiling, an exercise that the commission will do, is not going to yield any result. She has said, "At worst it could be to make the pockets profiled by the government a target of subtle state terror.
Already, the Gujarat government has attempted to silence the voice among the minority elite by seeking a compromise on the issues of rights and justice. In the past too, Gujarat governments have been known to use religious profiling, including the selective census of Muslims and Christians, as a precursor to violent attacks launched against them."
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