Muslims in Gujarat: Victims of a conspiring State
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Nafisa Bi lost her eyesight three years back after three of her sons were arrested under the notorious Prevention of Atrocities & Terrorist Act (POTA) after the Sabarmati Express, was burnt by the miscreants in Godhara railway station in February 2002. Today, Nafisa, 60 is completely blinded in her isolated home, which used to have a bakery. There are 11 such families living in Rehmat Nagar area of Godhara who have lost everything after their male members were arrested and kept in prison. Charges have not been framed yet, said Rehana Bi whose husband Shabir Hussein was a conductor in a private bus and was randomly arrested along with other ‘conspirators’ for their alleged role in the incident. The meager earning were not enough to sustain their family of four. Her younger daughter Shamim Bano was not born yet and has not seen her father so far. Rehana does not have any other members to support and is earning her livelihood through domesticated work at the houses of nearby Muslim locality of Boharas. “ I go at 8 in the morning and return at 12 pm. They give me the left over food, which I eat and bring for my children. In cash, I just get Rs 250/-. My husband was getting Rs 1,200/- as monthly salary. How can my family survive in a meager Rs 250/-, she asks. No body comes here to ask us about our problems. A few social work organizations were here for some year but now they too have left leaving us in lurch. We have no clue about when our people will be released from the jail, despite the fact that we are informed that Supreme Court has ordered them bail, she explains.
Gujarat has witnessed systematic isolation of the Muslims in the past 10 years. Their movements are traced and livelihood shattered. It is very difficult for them to get even the work in the Hindu households. Even if the community wants to restart its life forgetting the past, there is no certainty whether the product that they make would sale in the market or not. Efforts were made by many NGOs, which failed because of the un written economic blockade by the powerful group of the Hindutva brigade. In fact, the tribal and Dalits face the same wrath in the village if they ally with any likeminded organizations which talks of their identity and rights.
The pain of Nafisa bi needs to be understood in terms of the ailing Gujarati society and the crisis Muslim women face in Gujarat. With most of the male members gone behind the bar, these women today face the uphill task of reviving their lives in a deeply polarized and hostile atmosphere. Rehmat Nagar area reflects the mood of the state government and their zeal to isolate Muslim further. There is no activity in the area, which is completely cut off from the main high way. No link road and if it rains then perhaps it would become nearly impossible for these women to go to earn. Most of the women are surviving on the alms which their employer give them apart from a salary of Rs 250/- per family per month.
Activists come and promise that our people would be released soon as the Supreme Court has ordered, said Rehana Bi. But Nafisa Bi seems to be resigned to her fate. ‘It is more than three years that I saw my sons. Now even if they come, I would not be able to see them.’ Neighbors inform that Nafisa weeps all the time. Her husband divorced her long back without caring their children. Fortunately, her sons were hardworking and earned their livelihood well to take care of her. Today, she is thoroughly dejected at the plight of her sons who she alleges were beaten up mercilessly in the police lock up. Her son Shabir Anwar Ansari have three sons and one daughter while Alauddin, the other son got married the same year. The locality is about 5 kilometers away from the railway station where the Sabarmati Express’s coach were burnt. ‘ The police came in the evening with their face covered and asked the male members to accompany them to their bosses office’, say Rehana. She further added that there were no women police personnel when they came. They were all men showering the choices abuse on us.
Fakharuddin Yusuf was a Bus driver. He was arrested as soon as he returned from his trip. He was put in Sabarmati jail where he died one year later. He was beaten up mercilessly in the police lock up. Obviously, the Gujarat police whose track record is worst while tackling with the minorities cannot escape the blame. Many young children who were born after their father was arrested often ask their mothers when would their father return.
The police and administration has become so nasty that it does not even allow the
detainees to meet their ailing parents even when they were waiting for a peaceful death. Rehana’s mother in law died weeping and crying to see her son who could not come to see her before her death. Payroll was granted to Rehana’s husband three days later after his mother was cremated. Mother and son did not see each other for three years says Rehana wiping her moisted eyes. When the Gujarat police come here they do not bring any women constables and on our defiance we are beaten up. She was arrested for one day. Rehana is outspoken when I ask about who burnt the train. “ we did not know about the burning of train before the police came and started arresting the people. They informed that all the male members would be required to go to SP sahib but once they were put in the police vehicles they never returned and families only came to know about the whereabouts of their male members about three months later when they started writing to them.
‘ I too was arrested but they released me the very next day but my father was kept up in the lock up for six days’, she says. Her moist eyes narrate the innocence inside her ‘, we do not burn even the dead, why would we burnt people alive?’
A total of nearly 100 families are charged under POTA in Godhara. The eleven families whose male wards have been arrested immediately after the train was burnt hail from this locality of Rehmat Nagar which is located on right hand side of the Godhara-Badodara high way. There is no connectivity road to this locality and one has to take off from the vehicle to reach here. The narrow muddy lane is the only way for you to reach the place. None of the man in the area has any work. In fact, they do not get any work outside. Tragedy is that Nafisa and like her many women’s pains and agonies are compounded with the fact that with in their own community they have lot of resistance. When there is no work, man have no work to do and mere domesticated work in nearby locality of the Bohras cannot make them survive. It is ironical that many of the women are being pushed in the flash trade since there is virtually a crisis of survival. Immediately after the riots, many NGOs started working among the victims but two-three years after the incident when they are faced with a hostile state administration which is hell bent on keeping the Muslims in particular and minorities in general out of the mainstream, organizations winded up their charity work. Of course, some of them are still working creating awareness in an otherwise thoroughly communalized atmosphere of Gujarat.
The Modi government kept quiet and even the press has not been able to follow up all the cases. How long the select few would come every day to expose a government, which has been corrupted at every level. The water in Rehmat Nagar area is totally contaminated, as there are factories in the area, which release chemical waste every day and therefore have turned the ground water totally undrinkable. The families go to fetch water from high way, nearly half a kilometer away from the area. Most of the families, which lived here before February 27th, 2002, have now left for other areas leaving 11 of the families here in complete isolation.
Rehana’s mother in law died. When she was on bed, her husband applied for a payroll but was denied. He came to see his mother three days after her death. That is the tragedy of the entire incident. Says Rehana,’ Narendra Modi is not a married man. Had he been married and had some children, he would have been sensitive to the issues of family, pain of a mother or anguish of a wife or cry of the children who miss their father. How would he explain to a mother who died crying without seeing her son?
In the global war on terror, it is very clear that it is the educated elite, which is now becoming a tool in the hands of the deeply religious fanatics. Poor were actually never were part of it. They might be looked down upon as ‘fundamentalists’ but never as ‘terrorists’. In this age when war are psychological as well as more so on modern techniques, a look at the profile of 11 POTA victims would tell how government was hell bent on making the innocent as terrorists.
Shabbir Hussain was bus conductor with a happily married life with children has been arrested. Shabbir Anwar Ansari and Alauddin Ansari were brothers with their families. Both were with their mother and running a bakery shop. Sadiq Khan Sultan Khan was a painter. Shamsher Khan is brother of Sadiq Khan. Yusuf Khan used to make bamboo Pinjara while Feroj Khan was working with Yasin Habib in a hotel. Feroj Khan was working in a steal company and Jabir Binyamin was working with a dairy. Fakhruddin Yusuf was working as a driver and was not even in the town. He returned in the evening only. The work profile of all these people may not suggest whether they had time to conspire against people. He has six daughters and 2 sons. Now all of them have left this place, as there was no security of life and livelihood for them. Jabir’s wife Jainab informs how her two children miss their father. Daughter Saima Bano 4 and son Shehjad 5 have not got their fathers live as he is in jail. In fact Saima was born after her father was in jail.
Jabir’s brother Ramjani was a rikshawpullar with a school. He was arrested from school where he was taking school children. Ramjani has six children with the eldest daughter Naseem Bano aged 12 and the youngest son Sarfaraj aged 5. Another brother Habib is also arrested. He has two children Shamir and Ferhan. The families are virtually living in despair and starvation. All the women are working as domestic servants in the relatively middle class Muslim households and get a maximum of Rs 250/- added with left over food. Irony is that the children are looked after at home by the neighbors or elders like Nafisa bi and other elderly women who cannot work. Some of the children go to a nearby school but majority of them dropped out.
Now Gujarat will face elections and the government of Narendra Modi has started divising methods, which can create communal wage. Dalits are being charged in false cases. Inter caste and inter religious marriages are being blown out of proportion. The state administration is thoroughly Hinduised. Even inside the booking windows of the railway stations one can find the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which is against our secular ethics. Cases are not registered for Muslims. Take the case of Jatun Bibi whose house was burnt by the rioters in village Mirapuri which is about 13 kilometer from Godhara. They have a total of 12 acres of land in the family of six yet even 5 years after the riots Jatun can not go back to her village. She now stays in the slums of Rehmat Nagar on a rented house along with her husband. Jatun Bibi filed a case against Sarpanch and won at the session court. The case was challenged in the high court where she lost. She does not even know about the case and files. It was never challenged later. Her husband says that they will never go back to the village as the village Sarpanch and his goons would kill them. Today, Jatun Bibi lives on rent in a small one-room house at Rehmat Nagar. She pays Rs 200/- per month as rent. Her husband is a labour. She used to own a Kirana shop in the village. Both husband and wife worked on the shop and had a big house for them along with others in the family. The three relatives (brothers and sisters) lived together but now they are not ready to return. Her husband expresses his fears that if they return to village, the Sarpanch would kill them. Police does not help in these matters. In fact, a BJP MLA has been supporting the sarpanch.
Jatun Bibi lost her mother in the childhood. She has four sisters and one brother. The one brother, according to her, has turned out to be an anti social element who would not share his parental property with the sisters. Tragically, Jatun Bibi has no sources to challenge the high court order. One does not know what her lawyers are doing at the moment. The condition of rule of law in Gujarat is that Muslims do not come out in open; you have to prove to them that you really care for their issues. Such things may shock people outside Gujarat but this unjust peace in Gujarat must be opposed. Peace building groups are roaming around but how can there be peace in Gujarat if the second majority of Gujarat lives in abject poverty, isolation and complete fear. Can such peace be supported which prohibit people to speak against injustice?
It is not that only Muslims are being targeted in Gujarat. The Dalits and tribals are used against the Muslims and are intimidated if they do not cooperate. Recently, a tribal leader of a social movement who was fighting for the forest rights of the tribals was barred from entering into four districts by the administration. The wife of a well respected Muslim doctor in Godhara was disturbed so much in the aftermath of Godhara that she shifted from Gujarat along with her children as safety of the children was paramount to her.
Gujarat is on the verge of history today. Gujarati’s enjoyed the fruits of globalisation. People greeted them everywhere from Africa to America and England where they went for their business and succeeded. Today, the same Gujarati’s particularly the Non-resident Indian variety are conspicuously silent on the functioning of the governance, which want to weed the fellow Gujarati Muslims out from the state. Often, Gujarati’s use Mahatma Gandhi and his message of social reconciliation for their own benefits abroad particularly in Africa, it is time, they realize that Bapu’s dream of reconciliation hold true for their own state also. In the so-called war against terror we should not forget that it also call for a just government. It also calls for justice against those who are terrorists but not Muslims. They too are terrorists who kill innocent people, rape their women and publicly support killing and humiliation of human being who happens to be Muslims. War against terror should not only be against the terrorists who happen to be Muslims but all those also who kill Muslim selectively. If this so-called war has to be won against the evil designs of all those then those in power or those who wish to come to power must show their resolve in providing governance and protecting all those who are citizens of state. One hope our governments in the Center and states listen to those cries of the victims of the mass killing in Mumbai after the demolition of Babari Masjid or those killed in Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Kanpur and elsewhere. Not only war against terror, we will need to define genocide in present day term and its linkages to fundamentalist ideologies supported by the state. All those ideological dictators need to be brought to book for abetting the riots, supporting the killing or threatening them with dire consequences. Unfortunately, deeply prejudiced mindset cannot change. Gujarat needs a strong civil society as well as a strong rainbow coalition of the Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians and OBCs to tackle fascist onslaught on people’s right and livelihood. The real target of the saffron forces in Gujarat is actually not Muslims but Dalits and Adivasis as we only talks of Gujarat issue in terms of Muslims but not in terms of socio political issues, which have threatened the very basis of this government. Adivasis are threatened from their livelihood as Modi goes abroad inviting big industrialists to suck the blood of poor Adivasis and Dalits. All Dalits and Adivasis who are trying to assert are boycotted and pitched against Muslims and Christians. Public land in Gujarat is being given to private companies and nothing has been done to eliminate poverty. The only thing Gujarat has these days is rabid Hinduisation or I would simply say, brahminsation process. It is sickening to see such ritualistic symbols present in everyday life from posters in railway stations to Panchayat Bhavans, you will find not one or two Gods but large number of Godmen. Nowhere, in India such naked neglect of the secular laws of the country. Why should railways allow a picture of Hanuman in its reservation counters or why should the schools and Panchayat buildings have Asha Ram Bapu or Murari Bapu. If you love so much your Gods please do allow the other gods also. And definitely, then will have to put a Mao and a Marx also to satisfy the nonbelievers. This hypocrisy must be challenged. Gujarat is communalized very systematically and the disease is spreading like a virus.
The answer lies in strong ties of real Gujaratis who do not have golden plates in their homes or who do not have NRIs in their family. Yes, Gujarat could be saved by a strong people’s movement involving every segment of the marginalized sections of our society including Muslims and all those victims of Narendra Modi’s rabid anti Dalit, anti tribal and anti farmer policies. It is also time to take these religious lunatics head on otherwise they will deny every one a right to live with dignity and freedom to express.