Gujarat’s Muslim rehab sites: The cruelty within

By Rajiv Shah
It was early 1970s, when I was sought to be navigated into Marxism-Leninism by my then “political mentor” and a senior student colleague, Sohail Hashmi. A total novice in politics, I was doing bachelors in English at Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, while he was in human geography. Impressed by his argumentative power, I would often look upon Hashmi – formerly very active with CPM, but now more into culture, heritage, and things similar – as one of those who would, very soon, trigger a proletarian revolution in India, like Lenin and his colleagues did in Russia! While I don’t care to remember most of what Hashmi had taught me (perhaps he himself would have unlearned some of it), I still recall a seemingly academic argument he had advanced in order to prove how Hindus and Muslims faced similar exploitation.
This is what he told me, roughly: “Make a graph and draw two separate lines of class exploitation – one for Hindus, another for Muslims. You would find that both Hindu and Muslim working classes suffer similarly. There is no point in saying that the Muslim working classes face a higher degree of exploitation than their Hindu counterparts.” Presumably, he was referring to his immediate rivals in the non-CPM Left, particularly CPI and left-wing sections of the Congress, who would look at minorities as a homogenous group needing a higher degree of help than Hindus.
I don’t know if Hashmi sticks to his view now – it was, possibly, born out of the CPM-sponsored study circles for student activists of the Students Federation of India, then very active in Delhi University. Maybe it is for scholars to ascertain whether what Hashmi had told me holds true and how, but I was reminded of he told me while going through a just-released book, “Creating Spaces: Nurturing Leadership”, authored by Dr Uma Ramaswamy, released on January 28 at an Ahmedabad function presided over by well-known left-wing rural journalist P Sainath.
While the book tells the story of 30-year-old journey of Janvikas, an Ahmedabad-based non-government organization, most of which I have known from close quarters, including its work among the rehabilitation colonies set up following the 2002 Gujarat riots, what struck me most was how the poorer sections who live in in these colonies suffer at the hands of the Muslim elite, and also how Muslim women are at the receiving end within the community.
Calling those who were displaced due to riots (claimed to be 2 lakh in 2002, down to 50,000 now) internally-displaced persons (IDPs), a term coined by United Nations to identify those displaced as a result of violent social strife, the book quotes Hofeza Ujjaini, who is coordinating Janvikas’ work among Gujarat’s 69 rehabilitation sites, to say, “Currently, the most pressing issue of IDPs is housing ownership. Even religious trusts who earlier gave lands for housing are now reluctant to give housing rights. What is now being assured are their residential rights and not ownership rights which has brought much insecurity in the communities.”
A revealing statement, it coincides with an unpublished 2016 paper I had read recently. This paper makes an astounding revelation: Even 14 years after the communal flare-up in Gujarat, about 3,000 families living in these rehabilitation colonies, formed mostly by Muslim NGOs, faced eviction. The paper, titled “Failing Act of Benevolence”, alleges, “These organizations have turned their backs on the people, refusing to entertain them”, adding, they are threatening them of eviction “if they raise their voice.” It adds, at certain places, the committees formed to overlook the welfare of the colonies have “turned hostile to the displaced people and have threatened the residents about losing their homes if they protested unnecessarily.”
The paper reports, “Out of the 83 colonies, only in 17 the houses are in the name of the residents. Availing, passport, pan card and aadhaar card becomes difficult for these residents as they do not have any document that certifies them as residents of these areas.” The paper – authored by Johanna Lokhande in association with Ujjaini –the organizations which have “turned their back” on the residents are some well-known all-India Islamic bodies and Muslim trusts operating from Hyderabad, Mumbai and Vadodara. Some of these are supported by builders.
A 2015 Gujarati language research work titled “Muslim Ghettoisation: Ek Karun Dastan” by Gujarat Vidyapeeth scholar Dr Damini Shah made a somewhat similar observation, saying the ghettoisation of Muslims following the 2002 Gujarat riots has led to a “shocking rise in religious obscurantism in the Muslim colonies, most of which were set up by Islamic NGOs in order to provide security to the riot victims.” Shah found that the dozen resettlement colonies she surveyed had “imposing mosques and madrasas attached to them, with all the necessary facilities”, in sharp contrast to the poor housing facilities in which the resettled Muslims live in sub-human conditions. She quotes maulvis of the mosques as saying that “the Muslims had to suffer in the 2002 riots they failed to properly pray to the Allah.”
The rise of obscurantism, obviously, leads to further oppression of women – another issue highlighted by Ramaswamy in the book. Even as claiming that Janvikas, post-Godhra, has helped women come out of their homes, join protests, and capacitated them, leading to a situation where a “critical mass of women leaders” have emerged, the book quotes one Nazima Pathan as saying, “Women who have come from different villages have lost a lot. Families that once lived in comfort are now confined in tiny settlements with no employment opportunities, resulting in domestic conflicts.”
Another woman, Janisar Shaikh, one of the “leaders”, says, while some women have become more vocal, things “should pick up momentum”, noting, “I see many elderly women who are single and deserted coming for help.” Reporting formation of “triple talaq committees” to fight the evil practice, the book says, Mahila Samajik Nyay Manch (MSNM), which works among the rehabilitation colonies in Aravalli and Sabarkantha districts, is faced with “the most important issue” women face – “domestic violence, and most importantly address the complex issue of ‘triple talaq’ that has been besieging women.” In fact, according to MSNM, says the book, “20 percent of women in these districts are made single because of ‘triple talaq’,” adding, “While violence against women has become an integral dimension of women’s lives across India, Muslim women are doubly burdened by the custom of ‘triple talaq’ that their personal law allows.”
Though I am not aware of any in-depth study about on Muslim women in Gujarat, a 2011 study by London-based group, Minority Rights Group International, London, has found similar “double burden” among Gujarat’s Dalit women. It says, the Dalit woman “is at risk of becoming a victim of violence perpetrated by an outsider, but even more frequently by a member of her own community.”, adding, “She is at risk of becoming a victim of an unnatural death due to family discord. And she is at risk of turning to the criminal justice system for protection but finding little support and even less justice.”
The study, carried out with the help of well-known Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust, records a total of 704 crimes against Dalit women by Dalits, of which 416 were cruelty by In-laws and 31 were Dowry Act crimes. Further, it adds, there were 288 crimes on Dalit women by Dalits who are not family members (grievous and non-grievous). The 288 crimes included 4 murders, 4 attempted murders, 12 rapes, 39 acts of outraging modesty and 16 cases of abetment to suicide.

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