MUSLIMS IN MODILAND
The Truth Behind The Stage Show Personal sketches. Disturbing statistics.
On 14 SEPTEMBER, a few days after the Supreme Court order on Zakia Jafri’s plea, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced a sadbhavana fast “to strengthen Gujarat’s environment of peace, unity and harmony”. At the brightly-lit Gujarat University convocation hall in Ahmedabad, Modi praised his government’s efforts at upholding satya, shanti and sadbhavana since 2001, how it has managed to get investment even as vested interests attacked it constantly, and tried to evoke Gujarat’s progress and prosperity with the metaphor of a train — that mothers of youngsters coming to Gujarat sleep peacefully once they hear that the train their child is travelling on has entered the state.
At the fast, dozens of Bohra Muslims — the men in white-and-golden caps and their women in ridas — filled the central row. They spoke of how they had come from Jamnagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot, taking turns to attend the three-day fast. Muslims from Juhapura and Porbandar, led by former BJP MP Baburam Bokhiria, who has been in and out of jail on charges of illegal mining of limestone, were also present. On the stage, Bohra priests, sadhus, heads of the four Swaminarayan sects, priests of churches and gurdwaras presented a picture of communal harmony.
The fast is only the latest in Modi’s public posturing and coating what goes in Gujarat with the patina of good governance. A few days earlier, speaking at a function organised by the Ajmeri Education Trust in Ahmedabad on 4 September, Modi had exhorted Muslims to join the ‘mainstream’ and peppered his speech with ‘education’ and ‘inclusive development’.
His recent speeches have been in sharp contrast to 2007 when he spewed venom at Muslims in poll rallies, taunting them with phrases like “hum paanch hamare pachees”. Some commentators have analysed the shift in his stand as the compulsion of appearing palatable as a pan- India leader. Others see this as more insidious, a change of tactics in his communal politics — that beyond merely labelling any discourse on equal treatment of Muslims as ‘pseudo-secular’, he has now shifted to ‘secular-speak’. He offers ‘development’ to Muslims but with caveats — forget the past, minimise your demands for justice, and drop your religious identity.
Is Modi’s claim hyperbole, or does it translate into fair governance? Is his government even delivering on what he boasts of? Do Muslims really have equal opportunities and infrastructure? Modi has won successive elections in Gujarat since 2002 even while his role in the riots was under probe by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. How do Muslims negotiate their rights as citizens with a government that has refused to even acknowledge the extent of the pogrom?
Rakhial is a lower middle-class neighbourhood located 5 km north of Maninagar, Chief Minister Modi’s constituency in east Ahmedabad. Of the three large housing colonies located here — Sukhram Nagar, Shivanand Nagar and Sundaram Nagar — Muslims live in the third. Built as a mixed colony in the 1970s, it became a ghetto after the 2002 riots.
National Highway 8 cuts through the settlement and Hindus and Muslims on either side of this refer to it as the “border”, a term common in several other Gujarat neighbourhoods where the two communities live cheek by jowl. Besides this road that cuts through the colonies, a sharp contrast of infrastructure separates the Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods; a contrast most telling and disturbing in the condition of government primary schools for which the state provides land, buildings and funds for maintenance and facilities like libraries.
A dilapidated structure with a tin roof broken at several places serves as the municipal primary school for 600 children in Muslim-dominated Sundaram Nagar. One part of this rundown building serves as a Gujarati medium school up to Class VII. At the other end, a tin-covered structure open on all sides is used as a classroom to teach Urdu to over 200 students in Classes I to IV. Less than 2 km away, in the same municipal ward of Rajpur, a three-storey building serves as a Gujarati medium school up to Class VII in Hindu-dominated Shivanand Nagar. Sukhram Nagar has a Hindi medium school up to Class VII that is a three-storey building with stone mosaic work depicting Hindu goddesses.
“Those living here cannot afford to send their children to private schools and the government takes no responsibility to improve the school,” says Sheikh Ahesan, in his mid-20s, who started the Student Welfare and Education Trust in 2007. Ahesan and his friends have provided floor mats to kids in the Sundaram Nagar municipal school. “Anyone could stand a fair chance by studying and looking for work in the private sector. But how will these children reach there when they do not get to go to a half-decent primary school?” asks Sheikh Usmaan, a member of the trust.
Muslim families living in Rakhiyal narrate countless struggles to get benefits such as educational loans. “For my MBA admission, I went with my uncle to ask Dena Bank for a Rs 1.25 lakh loan. They asked for collateral and discouraged me from applying. Then I got aid from a Muslim trust,” recounts Sheikh Shehzaad. The Central scheme he is referring to is one of the key proposals adopted after the publication of the 2005 Sachar Committee report that mandates banks to give educational loans up to Rs 4 lakh without any collateral to students from poor minority families.
“The bank is asking for income tax returns and PAN card. Where will we get this from?” asks Ghori Firdaus, a homeopathy student, about her experience at the State Bank of India that moved its branch from Sundaram Nagar to the Hindu-dominated Odhav area across the road after 2002. It is to help students like Firdaus, whose father is an autorickshaw driver, that the scheme has flexible rules — the family’s income certificate and an affidavit certifying religion from the Collector’s office are suffice to qualify. “We are able to pool small amounts among ourselves to help these students but some months, especially during admission time, we don’t know what to do because we cannot risk rejection by these banks,” says Shehzaad.
Principal Secretary, Education, Hasmukh Adhiya says he cannot comment on the details of the policy implementation but the department has taken steps where gaps had been brought to its notice. He points out that the government is building a secondary school in Juhapura on the western outskirts of Ahmedabad. “Dr Tripathi made a representation that Juhapura does not have a government school. So we have given permission to start one,” says Adhiya, referring to a request by Prof Vipin Tripathi of IIT-Delhi, who has been working to improve government education facilities in Juhapura since 2008.
A key finding of the Sachar Committee report was that drop-out rates are highest among Muslims. Their mean years of schooling are lower than SCs and STs at a little over three years. In 2008, the Centre started a scholarship scheme for minorities, to be shared in a 75:25 ratio between the Centre and state to encourage students from poor families to complete schooling. Since the scheme started, Gujarat has let the funds lapse by not sending any proposal to the Centre for giving these scholarships.
At first, the state government found faults with the scheme saying this targets religious minorities and is discriminatory on “principles of equity and financial implications”. The Gujarat High Court settled this question when it recognised the Central scheme as constitutionally valid in March 2009. This April, contradicting its own stand in an affidavit filed in response to the PIL in the high court, the government cited a scholarship for minorities that has existed in the state since 1979. It said, since this scheme exists, there is no need for implementing the Central scheme.
The state government added another argument in the affidavit. It said executing the Central scheme for a limited number of students — the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) calculated 52,260 scholarships on the basis of population and income levels among Gujarat’s minorities — will cause “heartburn” among those minority students who do not enjoy the benefits.
But who is stopping the state government from covering the remaining students using additional funds? MMA data shows that in 2010-11, a less developed state like Rajasthan disbursed more than double the year’s target of 60,109 scholarships. Bihar also disbursed more than double its target of 1,45,809 scholarships. Uttar Pradesh disbursed over 130 percent of a target of 3,37,109, and West Bengal — that has one of the highest proportion of Muslims — disbursed 400 percent of its target of 2,22,309. In all these instances, state governments have increased their allocation because of the high quantum of applications; the Centre has matched their funds bearing 75 percent of the total cost.
“The matter is sub judice, I cannot comment,” says Sunaina Tomar, Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment, when asked why Gujarat, a state that this January boasted of money worth a third of India’s GDP coming in as investment, could not do likewise.
THIS FEBRUARY, Abusaleh Shariff of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Delhi, used National Sample Survey Organisation data to calculate that in Gujarat, only a fourth of Muslim children who started school finish matriculation. He calculated that urban Muslims in Gujarat are eight times poorer than uppercaste Hindus. This is almost twice the gap between Hindus and Muslims on an average nationally.
Muslims’ work participation rate in manufacturing and organised sectors in Gujarat is 13 percent compared to the all- India average of 21 percent. “Gujarat has had better infrastructure such as roads and electricity since the 1960s. As a Muslim, I may prefer to live there than in a poorer state. Does that mean there is no economic discrimination? There is deep-rooted poverty among Muslims compared to other groups,” says Shariff, who is one of the key authors of the Sachar Committee report.
Besides scholarships and school infrastructure, other means of economic mobility such as loans and financial access are outside the grasp of most of Gujarat’s Muslims. Shariff’s analysis showed that in Gujarat, Muslims hold 12 percent of all bank accounts, which is proportionate to their population in the state, but their bank loan amount outstanding is 2.6 percent. This means even when Muslims have accounts, they don’t get loans.
The same lack of access reflects in the data from the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) that looks at implementation of financial inclusion norms. SLBCs monitor priority sector lending, i.e., lending to groups such as farmers and minorities. In 2008, the Centre mandated that minorities should get a 15 percent share of 40 percent that constitutes priority sector lending. In Gujarat, this has hovered around 2-3 percent. In other words, of every Rs 100 of financing, Rs 1 - Rs 1.5 goes to minorities,and of this, a part to Muslims.
“Last month, I met with Muslim entrepreneurs from Dholka. All they wanted to know was about loan subsidy schemes sponsored by the Centre. For an entrepreneur, this should not be the main concern. What can banks do if these people lack vision?” asks JM Patel, assistant general manager, Dena Bank SLBC.
Colonies built to resettle riot victims at Panderwada, Lunavada and Boru village near Kalol resound with stories of struggles to get small loans of Rs 75,000 - Rs 1 lakh to set up corner shops or buy autorickshaws.
The Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation Limited (GMFDL) was set up to finance small entrepreneurs and provide educational loans. It has not given any loans since last April because repayment rates were so low that the Centre stopped sending funds.
Officials admit this is in sharp contrast to states such as Kerala and Karnataka where repayment rates are over 90 percent but take no responsibility for the dismal plight. “The Centre is biased against Gujarat’s Muslims and that is why it has stopped sending funds,” says GMFDL Chair-man Imtiyaz Pathan, a man appointed by the BJP this year after the post lay vacant for the past six years.
THE MODI government shuffles its feet when it comes to doing what it is legally obliged to do — providing education and loans, the two most fluid avenues for change and improvement, to Gujarat’s Muslims. What is the way to the mainstream paradise it promises?
On the other side of the city is Juhapura in west Ahmedabad. The area was developed as a colony to rehabilitate flood victims in 1972. It was a mixed neighbourhood till the 1990s but Hindu Dalits and Bhois moved out after communal violence broke out in 1992. Juhapura is now Gujarat’s largest Muslim ghetto, home to affluent Muslims — businessmen, builders, retired IAS and IPS officers and journalists. Juhapura is proof of how even money is not a conduit to access for Muslims. Any conversation seems to suggest normalcy but probe a bit and there is a deep sense of alienation and disappointment; a resignation that they have to make do without expecting any cooperation from the government.
“There is no municipal water supply, so we had to dig borewells for children to be able to drink water,” says Asifkhan Pathan, who manages Crescent School. The ghetto, which has a population of more than 3 lakh, has only four government- aided schools. woefully short to accomodate over 3,000 incoming students in Class I every year.
“I tried to advertise discounted medical packages on Snapdeal, an advertising website, but a manager turned it down saying he didn’t think any of his users would visit Juhapura,” says Dr Saquib Sheikh, who runs a hospital in the neighbourhood.
Juhapura residents complain that areas dominated by Muslims have been blacklisted by banks for issuing credit cards. In a telling example, a bank officer was denied a credit card by his employer. “I was surprised when my credit card request was turned down because I work in this bank. My colleagues hinted that I should not expect it to have worked when I have a Juhapura pincode in my address,” says the mid-level private bank officer, on the condition of anonymity.
Scientist Dr HN Saiyed has a similar story to tell. In 2004, an SBI employee approached him with an offer of a credit card when he was living in government accommodation in Hindu-dominated Maninagar. But his application was turned down after he moved to Juhapura postretirement a few months later. “On the phone, a bank officer expressed embarrassment about the incident and tried to explain it as a mistake by the junior staff. I withdrew my application. I did not want to try a second time,” says Saiyed who was director, National Institute of Occupation Health, a medical research body, till 2004.
Gujarat boasts of more than 90 percent paved roads to remote villages, 98 percent electrification, 86 percent piped water supply and the best of infrastructure in India. But Juhapura has no streetlights, water supply or internal roads. Residents have regularly paid property and water taxes since Juhapura was merged with Ahmedabad municipal limits in July 2006. Those who can afford it have built borewells and paved roads for short stretches.
Residents filed a PIL in the high court, the route that seems to be the most common recourse for groups working for Muslims’ rights. They demanded water and sewage facilities and made several representations to the Urban Development Department. After an interim high court order, the government began providing water to Hindu-dominated Sankalitnagar in 2008. However, Muslim-dominated areas such as Gyaspur, Makarba, Juhapura and Vasna are yet to get these facilities.
“Nothing has changed over the past three years. Now that the Assembly election is approaching, and Modi is focussing on Muslim votes, maybe some things may change,” says lawyer Girish Patel, who is representing Juhapura residents in the high court. “Harassment, discrimination — everything remains the same. The only difference is that Modi has terrified Muslims and they have lost their ability to speak against public wrong.”
The senior lawyer’s analysis is shared by Farooq Mohammed Sheikh, an autorickshaw driver living in Shah Alam, where more than 15,000 riot-affected families stayed in 2002 for over six months. “Modi is responsible for two things — in the Hindus, he has sown the fear that without him to watch their backs, the Muslims would slaughter them, and the Muslims, he has managed to terrorise anyway since 2002,” says Sheikh. “We have become very afraid of the police; who knows under what case they will have us arrested. Such is the fear that our boys do the namaaz on their own.”
Juhapura is the constituency where BJP nominated the most high-profile of its 12 Muslim candidates in last October’s civic polls. AI Saiyed, a retired IPS officer, was in the middle of his speech when a pot was hurled at him from a window in the Royal Akbar housing society. Saiyed was unhurt but he gets a little fazed when talking about the incident. “They are in the grip of the Congress leadership. Their problem is illiteracy; all they want is alif beh the,” he says at the Waqf Board office in Gandhinagar. He was made board chairman after he lost the poll. “They come now and complain that they have no facilities in Juhapura. I tell them this is your nemesis.”
Muslim businessmen owning dealerships and retail stores say they do negotiate concessions out of local BJP functionaries and leaders. They describe instances where they have got help for permissions, licences, in some instances even permission for religious processions. But they add that BJP functionaries do this on the sly, not comfortable being openly associated with Muslims as their political constituency.
Trader Usman Qureshi, who was part of a group of Muslim leaders, businessmen and core members of the chand committee led by Shabir Alam, the Pesh-i-Imam at Ahmedabad’s Juma Masjid, met Modi this April. “Initially the discussion was going OK but when we mentioned school scholarships for minorities, Modi started calling them discriminatory,” Qureshi says at his small automobile parts shop in Mirzapur. “When we requested that Urdu poet Walli’s tombstone, that was destroyed in the riots, be restored, he refused to acknowledge it had ever existed. I came back feeling embarrassed, like I had lost face.”
Others within the community react to experiences like these with little patience. They compare them to power brokers like Bohra Muslim clergy or businessman Talha Sareshwala, who owns a BMW dealership in Ahmedabad and regularly praises Modi government’s largesse to Muslims. They say this inability to negotiate their demands without obliterating their identity as Muslims is what is at the core of their discomfort with the BJP.
“Things were no better under the Congress but with the BJP, we feel uncomfortable in saying that we are Muslims and we are equal citizens,” says social worker Hanif Lakdawala. His NGO Sanchetna has been struggling to get basic amenities for 90,000 Muslims who moved to the Bombay Hotel area after the riots.
A few hours after Modi began his sadbhavana fast invoking his government’s glory of having rebuilt quake-hit Bhuj in half the time estimated by the World Bank and the success of its biennial investment summits, a crowd gathered around a pool of stagnant water in the Bombay Hotel area. They curiously watched as a JCB made slow, unsure attempts at removing waste that has waterlogged lanes and house plots for the past four months.
“There are no gutters, we get only brackish water. They burn the waste and our house fills up with smoke,” says Afsana Bano, who moved from Naroda Patiya to this colony adjacent to an open landfill after she lost her brother in the 2002 riots.
A FASCIST has many faces. Like Hitler had a dream, a vision, now Modi has a dream. Why is he doing all this 10 years late? None of this will translate into any benefit for Muslims except a few who show sadbhavana with him on his stage,” says Shah Navaz, who has volunteered with the Bombay Hotel community since 2002. Shah Navaz has a reason to be angry. He believes that the Modi regime’s mistreatment of Muslims is not just limited to playing truant on providing basic amenities but is part of an insidious discrimination evident in how this government flouts its constitutional responsibilities.
Shah Navaz, who belongs to the Rangrez community — traditionally nomadic dyers — is one of the several OBC Muslims who had to drop out of college in the middle of the academic session when the Department of Underdeveloped Tribes (DUT) cancelled their certificates entitling them to 27 percent quota for socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC).
“I had completed seven months of my B.Ed training course on an SEBC seat when the DUT sent a letter saying they recognised the Gujarati word ‘Galiyara’ for dyers, but not Rangrez. When I met DUT Director KG Vanzara (brother of encounter specialist DCP DG Vanzara) in Gandhinagar, he taunted me by saying ‘Quran’s first aayat, sur-e-fateha, asks you to come into the light, why don’t you?” recounts Shah Navaz, who is in his early 20s. His admission was cancelled when he was just two months away from getting his degree.
Traditional weavers Julaha Ansaris are fighting the same battle against the Modi regime’s sleight of hand with SEBC caste synonyms. Ansaris say the Modi government deprives them of their entitlements by not recognising synonyms used by various strands of the same OBC community, something that the Mandal Commission report specifically asked state governments to be cognizant of. It recognises Musalman Julaya as an OBC community but refuses to acknowledge the synonym Ansaris that some families have adopted to protect against the derogatory connotation they feel the term ‘Julaha’ has in some settings.
“We submitted proof that we are Ansaris but they didn’t accept our documents,” says Aliya Bano, a tailor, who is wary of making the rounds of the DUT to secure a reserved seat in an engineering college for her 17-year-old son Zaid.
Ironically, in 2005, the same DUT acknowledged that Julaha Ansari is a synonym of Musalman Julaha. Following a representation by the Samastha Julaha Musalman Samaj to the government, a caste scrutiny committee made up of DUT director and head of the Social Justice department got the matter examined by experts in Tribal Research and Training Institute, Gujarat Vidyapeeth. This group’s findings, data from the Anthropological Survey of India and Central List for Gujarat of Mandal Commission Report, all support the Ansaris’ claim that they are the same community as Musalman Julaha, who have OBC status. Despite this evidence gathered by its own departments, Modi’s office has twice — on 30 October 2006 and 2 January 2007 — sent the matter to the OBC Commission. However, the commission has requested that it be excused because deciding if a community name is to be considered a synonym is not in the panel’s ambit but the chief minister’s office.
When asked why the DUTwas wavering on deciding this matter despite all the evidence available with it, Vanzara declined to comment. “The matter is with the chief minister’s office, please don’t ask me any questions,” he said.
Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud says it is this question of social justice that will prove to be the true test of Modi’s newfound sadbhavana. “No one has bought Modi’s sadbhavana idea, not even his usual supporters. If he is talking of sadbhavana, he must talk of social justice. But that is where it may start hurting his hard Hindutva constituency,” argues Suhrud.
It is in this shifting but unreliable discourse where community leaders like Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi’s position becomes significant. When he was quoted this January as saying that minorities don’t face discrimination in getting development opportunities in Gujarat, it was an endorsement that the Hindu Right eagerly lapped up. Vastanvi was ousted as head of the majlis-e-shoora in a move closely intertwined with an internal power struggle at the Dar-ul-Uloom. The Muslim Right thought it fit to remove Vastanvi even though he clarified that he did not intend to give the chief minister a clean chit for his role in the 2002 riots.
“The old ways of communalism are not working and Modi has shifted to a new secular-speak,” says sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan. “He is saying, ‘I am offering you an option — join the mainstream. Take development. Minimise your demands for justice.’ Secular-speak is always in the language of economic rationality. Investment can be calculated, so it is rational. Anything outside this is subjective, ethnic and irrationaI. In secular-speak ‘and’ is no longer available: ethnic and citizen, Muslim and Indian, seeking justice and mobility. Vastanvi’s problem was he tried to say ‘and’.”
AS MODI was fasting for sadbhavana, riot victims demanding justice were prevented from entering the venue and detained. Their protest is a surface symptom of their long-standing anger and eternal wait for justice. Forget the past, seems to be the Modi government’s suggestion. But will the future be secure in any way?
In 2002, more than 4,500 FIRswere filed in police stations across 16 out of Gujarat’s 26 districts. In 12 districts, the FIRs recorded serious offences such as rioting, arson and rape. Within two years, Gujarat Police closed over 2,000 cases filing ‘A’ summary reports — which says the offence has been committed but the accused is either unidentified or is absconding.
In August 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that there should be an in-depth investigation into these cases. Range IGs were asked to look into FIRs and supporting material and decide if reinvestigation was necessary. Additional DGs were to ensure veracity of the reports and the DGPwas to be in-charge reporting on the status of the cases to the apex court every quarter.
According to the police riots cell data, of the 2,017 cases reconsidered, 1,958 were reopened. Of these, the police made 1,299 arrests in 117 cases till June this year, which makes up a little over 5 percent of the cases. However, data from September 2009 shows the number of cases in which arrests have been made is the same: 117. The police has not made a single arrest in the remaining cases in the past two years.
Razakbhai Ismailbhai Ghauchi, 65, is a farmer from Halodar village in Sabarkantha district. He lives 20 km away from Limbadiya Chowkri, the site of a massacre in which 75 people were killed in 2002. He recalls how he watched from his fields as a mob set his house on fire. Coming out of hiding three weeks later, he tried to file an FIR against 14 persons — including the son of a former Congress MLA living in his neighbourhood — he had identified in the light of the flames that burned his house.
Ghauchi tried to file an FIR accusing these 14 persons with the Malpur Police Station, Modasa Circle Police Station, offices of the DSP and Collector, Himmatnagar, and the National Human Rights Commission, but in vain. He tried again when an inspector from Modasa visited his village in 2003. The police eventually registered an FIR but in his brother Rasul’s name and blamed a mob instead. A few months later, the case was closed. In 2004, when NGO Nyayagruha began work in the region, he got the case reopened.
In 2007, a team from a riot cell in Gandhinagar came and went and closed the case a second time without interviewing him. “When I tried making my way to Rasul’s house, the local police inspector asked me to get the two panchas, the main witnesses. By the time I returned with them, the team had left,” says Ghauchi.
However, the riot cell report has a different story to tell: “A team of senior officers came from Gandhinagar and made a video recording of the reinvestigation in Halodar. Applicant Razakbhai and other witnesses were interviewed. They did not give any information about the accused. The probe was closed on 10 April 2007.”
Nyayagruha coordinator Sheikh Usman, who is following up on 32 reinvestigations in Sabarkantha district, is not amused. “It is the police’s responsibility to ensure that the panchas are there, not the complainant’s. How can they close the case without interviewing the complainant who they knew was present?” he asks.
This June, Usmanbhai managed to get a copy of the CD through an appeal to the State Information Commission after Malpur Police Station and the DSP office had both turned down his RTI request. This CD shows police officers perfunctorily interviewing 11 witnesses in less than five minutes before closing the case a second time. An August 2008 video recording of another reinvestigation shows Noor Mohammed, a trader from Tintoi village in Modasa taluka, being interviewed by the police in front of the seven people he had accused of looting his shop in 2002.
For the riot victims, there is palpable anger and disappointment at not being able to find either justice or closure. Ask about Modi’s fast and many Muslims react with a sceptical smile. “He is doing this for ‘raj kaaran’,” is a common refrain. “He thinks he has got 10 more years of relief, so he is celebrating. After the riots, all the relief money came from the Centre, the state didn’t spend a single paisa.” And anger that continues to simmer. “Modi should be punished first. It’s our prerogative to decide whether to forgive him or not.”From Tehelka
Anumeha Yadav is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.