Second-class citizens

By Akash Bisht,

Two high-profile official committees discover how Indian Muslims in Gujarat, exiled and condemned, have been effectively ghettoized

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Four years have passed since the state-sponsored Gujarat carnage shook the entire nation, leaving hundreds dead and lakhs displaced and brutalised, but till this day many of the survivors of the post-Godhra killings have not found their way back home. These exiled ‘second-class citizens’ are living in inhuman conditions in make-shift camps and are deprived of basic amenities, like potable water, sanitary facilities, street lights, schools, banks, public transport and primary healthcare centres. Recent visits by members of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and a Parliamentary committee revealed the pathetic state of more than 5,000 Muslim families living in these sub-human camps in Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha districts of Gujarat. Both the ‘secular’ Left-backed UPA regime and the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, which tacitly and overtly backed the genocide, seem to have left the people to their fate, and rather intentionally.

Living in 10 x 10 rooms with large families to support, basic civic amenities are denied to the people of these colonies. An NCM team, comprising Michael P Pinto, Zoya Hasan, Dileep Padgaonkar and A Banerji, visited the ‘relief camps’ and noted that the roads that lead to these colonies are non-existent. They also came to know how two boys drowned in the water collected at a road near a village during the last monsoon. The team also noticed that the residents had no means of earning livelihood to support their families. Many of these residents were artisans, industrialists and self-employed traders, who now face organised discrimination by their old clients, Hindutva supporters, the local administration and police; they find it extremely difficult to earn even a meagre income to support their large families in a state where their isolation and condemnation is absolute, relentless and precise.

The NCM team witnessed abject poverty in these camps and discovered that but for a few houses, most of them had little except bare minimum bedding and utensils. “Most of the residents of these colonies had no ration cards and the ones that were issued by the government were of the Above Poverty Line (APL) category, instead of the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category,” revealed A Banerji, joint secretary in the NCM. The residents have little source of income and are forced to buy food grains at much higher rates. The BJP government has done nothing to help out these victims, many of whom went through personal tragedies and deaths, and who have been now dumped to fend for themselves.

Ironically, the NCM, in its report, revealed that not a single colony was constructed by the state government, nor was any land allotted to these families, while, earlier last year, the Modi regime returned Rs 19 crore to the centre, stating that all the relief work across the state for riot victims had been done. The NCM team found out that the government did not rehabilitate those who could not return to their homes after the killings. All of them, predictably, are Muslims.

The residents complained of inadequate compensation; a maximum compensation of Rs 10,000 was given to them. Muslim organisations and NGOs took up their cause and bought land for these displaced people at high commercial rates. But due to deliberate lack of support from a biased and compromised state government, these organisations have not been able to provide the basic amenities and livelihood options in these colonies. The report read, “The implications that this has for the security and well being of civil society as a whole are extremely serious.”

The state government came under fire from the Parliamentary committee for its failure to rehabilitate victims of the post-Godhra killings and found that the BJP-led regime was stunningly indifferent to the plight of the people who had been displaced en masse after the blood bath of 2002 in Gujarat. The members of the committee claimed that the riot victims are being ghettoised and forced to live in pitiable surroundings. The committee also requested the centre to intervene to help the victims and criticised the Gujarat government for surrendering Rs 19 crore out of the Rs 150 crore that the Centre had given to the state for rehabilitation of the survivors.

Residents of these colonies also spoke to the respective committees about the atmosphere of insecurity in which they are being forced to live. “The team received several complaints about the hostile attitude of the police towards the residents of these colonies or their representatives who have taken up their problems with relevant authorities…” read the NCM report.

Narrating his story, Sheikh Naushad Rasol, in a public meeting held in New Delhi, said, “My entire family is living in a very small room and there are many other families that don’t have even this. Muslims in Gujarat are in a terrified state and are living with the stigma of being Muslims. We are not given any jobs and eventually it’s our women who are cleaning utensils in houses for a paltry sum of Rs 200 to support their families.”

One of Gujarat’s biggest garbage dumps is just outside Ahmedabad and right next to Citizen Nagar, a colony constructed for the survivors of the Naroda Patiya carnage. This colony is home to several epidemics that haunt the residents. But, most of these displaced families still believe it is much safer to stay in these camps rather than returning to their homes.

“Children are being forced to leave schools and are constantly asked by their classmates and teachers to leave India and go to Pakistan. Abdul, an engineer by profession before the genocide, is now selling toys, as nobody is ready to offer him a job because of his Muslim identity,” informed journalist Dionne Bunsha in a public meeting to relaunch her book on Gujarat: Scarred. Bunsha also mentioned how fundamentalists, like VHP leader Babu Bajrangi, one of the accused in the killings, are openly terrorising the minorities by training people in shooting, judo and martial arts and organising vicious propaganda attacks. He recently led a violent campaign to beat up couples in parks and especially targeted Muslims. Numerous signboards welcoming Hindus to the ‘Hindurashtra’ can be seen all over the place, as if Gujarat is a ‘Hindu republic’ outside secular India. Narrating an incident, Bunsha informed that a Hindu girl married to a Muslim was forced to abort her child and the boy was brutally beaten up by VHP activists.

However, the report brought out by the NCM and the Parliamentary committee only highlights the problem in some parts of Gujarat. “They surveyed only a few areas and could bring forward issues pertaining only to these families while there are many other areas and families in Gujarat that are facing similar issues. The numbers are much higher than the count of 5,000 that is being put forward by these committees. One has to visit entire Gujarat to assess the real situation and see the deadly plight of hundreds of people who have been forced to be condemned in sub-human ghettos,” revealed Father Cedric Prakash, director of an NGO, Prashant, who recently won the ‘Minorities Rights Award’ for his work in favour of human rights in the country.

The state government seems uninterested in lending a helping hand to these riot victims. However, the central government is likely to announce a relief package for the victims of Gujarat violence in line with the compensation awarded to the 1984 riot victims. This move will definitely come as relief for several families, which have received hardly any support from the Gujarat government despite suffering loss of their members and friends and property. But the real question that should still haunt the minds of the minorities in Gujarat is how will the central government put an end to the trauma and stigma faced by Indian Muslims for being patriotic Indian citizens in the saffronised, Hindutva state of Narendra Modi’s BJP-led Gujarat.