Gujarat Muslims denied voting rights

Sunetra Choudhury
Tuesday, November 27, 2007 (Dhanduka)

Chief Minister Narendra Modi may have offered Taslima
Nasreen shelter but many Muslim families living in
Gujarat feel anything but welcome.

They lost their homes for wanting to vote. For the
last two months, these people have had nowhere to
live. Home for them used to be Adwal village in
Dhanduka tehsil, where they've lived since 1984.

But when they wanted to get themselves registered as
voters in September, they were thrown out,

''They said you'd then build mosques, a graveyard and
your houses. We are not interested in that,'' said
Sadiq, Evicted Resident.

Every time electoral officials came to verify the
names of these 19 families, Adwal residents denied
they ever lived here. Members of the denotified Dafer
tribe, they used to be nomadic but they've long given
up their wandering lifestyle and now crave security.

''Our children have never gone to school. We want
these identity cards so they can go to school and
other things like drivers licenses,'' said Gulab,
Evicted Resident.

For almost 3 decades, these people were able to work
out a symbiotic relationship with the Adwal residents,
of tending to their farms in return for a place to
live. But now democracy has created a rift.

''How can we give them when they only live for few
months. First 10 will live here, then they
will bring more people here,'' said Brij Raj Sinh,
Deputy Sarpanch, Dandhuka.

These people have been living in such poor conditions
and that's why they want voter cards, so that they can
fight to rise above these conditions.

'The exclusion of Gujarat's Muslim community is
systemic, state-led'

Harsh Mander, a former IAS officer who resigned in the
wake of the Gujarat 2002 riots, was one of the first
people from outside Gujarat to report on the
bloodshed. Now, as someone actively engaged in
providing succour to the victims of the riots, he
speaks to ANIL VARGHESE on how the genocide has
assumed an economic form. 

Posted on 29 November 2007

You have been involved in providing relief to the
victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat. What is the
situation in the relief camps?

In Gujarat, five years after the riots, there are no
relief camps. They have been disbanded. 2 lakh people
have been displaced; some, because they are homeless,
and others, because they are too frightened to return.
The government refused to set up relief camps.
Initially, the Muslim community mustered personnel and
resources and set up relief camps. The government
decided to go for elections 6 months after the riots
and unfortunately disbanded the camps. The situation
on the ground did not change much. Fear and hate was
still in the air. The victims were not welcome back in
their villages. They had to renegotiate their return.
The people in the villages preferred not to have them
back but if they did return, conditions were laid
down.  The conditions included not pursuing legal
justice and that the sound of adhan should not be
heard. Some people, about half of the displaced, have
accepted these conditions and returned to their
villages. Even now they are living in conditions of
extreme fear and hatred. It has almost become a way of
life. People refuse to employ you and trade with you.
Of the other half displaced, some have left the state
altogether. There are others who have moved into
ghettoes. There were still some who had nowhere to go.
They were picked up from the streets and kept in
relief colonies. There are 81 such colonies. The state
government was in complete denial, leaving the
colonies with no resources and facilities. We took up
the matter in the Supreme Court. Also as a special
commissioner of the Supreme Court in the 'Right to
Food' case, I managed to get the state government to
admit to the need for relief for these victims of the
riots. Now these colonies have the basic markers of

To what extent has the Muslim community been
economically ostracised?

In rural Gujarat, the boycott is more visible. In
urban areas, it is also there but with the anonymity
in the urban context, identities are concealed and and
a systematic boycott is not easy to operationalise.
The spirit of boycott is still there but the practice
is stronger in the villages affected by the violence.
This continues even 5 years after the riots.

Did the conditions, which prevailed in rural Gujarat
prior to 2002 as opposed to the rural areas of the
neighbouring Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
in areas of education, agriculture and employment,
throw up explanations for the riots?

The conditions, which led to the riots, resulted from
a intensive work by the Sangh Parivar over of a period
of 15-16 years under BJP rule in the state. Hindus and
Muslims have lived together for centuries in India. A
carnage of this magnitude was planned systematically
with the support of the BJP and that of the non State
actors like the Sangh protected by the State. And the
preparations and the manufacture of a polarised
community led to the carnage.

In 2002, the genocide with all the bloodshed drew
widespread condemnation. Has it now taken on an
economic guise?

In some ways it has been observed that 5 years since
the carnage, now, it is as or even more genocidal
because there are no weapons, mobs or bloodshed but
people continue to live in fear. That is the reality
in Gujarat in areas that were affected by the
violence. There is very little remorse and reparation.
I shall, however, underline the fact that this is not
the complete story. There have been extraordinary
individual acts of compassion from the Hindu
community. This is also the reality of Gujarat. There
are individuals who have shown enormous courage in
coming to the rescue of their Muslim neigbours both
during the riots and after.

How would you describe the present state of schools,
workplaces and agriculture in rural Gujarat? 

There exists boycott of Muslim agricultural labourers
to the extent that they would employ non Muslim
labourers as far as they are available. They deal with
non Muslim shops, again as far as they are available.
Schools are not segregated yet but a significant
number of children from Muslim families have dropped
out. Parents are frightened to send their children to
school after the carnage.  There is also the economic
compulsion. I see the situation in Gujarat after the
carnage as a process by which second-class citizenship
of the Muslims has been achieved. That is what is

Modi has been projecting Gujarat as a ' vibrant'
economy. The government also released the Ernst and
Young Report recently with much fanfare. Is this a
ploy to cover up the fracture that runs through the
state? With the majority community benefiting
exclusively, is Modi paying back his supporters for
their part in marginalising the Muslim community? 

There is a huge amount of debate about the extent of
the economic prosperity as to whether the development
has been taking the normal course or this particular
government actually contributed to it in the last 5
years. This is certainly a part of India that seems to
be prospering. Leading industries have lined up there
to legitimise the Modi Government including the Tatas,
Birlas and Ambanis. But many experts dispute the
claims of economic prosperity –how deep it is, how
widespread it is. But for me, that is not the crucial
question. The crucial question really is this. Do a
democratically elected economy and a vibrant economy
really legitimise this fascistic politics and mass
murder? Of course the development here is not
inclusive nor is it anywhere else in the country but
the difference is that the exclusion of the Muslim
community is much more systemic, state-led here.

Is there a space for the corporate leaders to be a
little more responsible especially those operating
from outside Gujarat?

Mr ( Vijaypat) Singhania, now the chairperson of IIM
Ahmedabad, remarked in his last convocation address on
these lines; that we should get our priorities right,
not lose ourselves in the minor issue of the genocide
but focus on the economic growth. I found this
statement extremely dangerous. We have other people
like Anu Aga, Chairperson of Thermax, speaking out on
the situation in Gujarat, explicitly stating that we
cannot speak of   economic growth in the context of
economic injustice, fear and hate. I don’t think the
corporate leaders have stood up and countered
adequately the injustice prevalent in Gujarat.

And the bureaucracy in Gujarat. How communalised is it
and how have the civil servants from other states been
taken on board?

With the bureaucracy there has been widespread
complicity, not just in the carnage but also in the
issues surrounding the rehabilitation and
investigation. None of this would have been possible
if the bureaucracy had put its foot down on the
matter.  But there are many extraordinary examples of
courage as well from young police officers during the
carnage and the investigations that followed. By and
large the institution has been extremely complicit. I
have this question. Do the bureaucrats and policemen
crawl because they are frightened or because they
share in the project of hate? To me, the way the
communal politics has been played out is the most
dangerous aspect. 

RB Sreekumar, the intelligence chief of the Gujarat
police during the riots, remarked in a recent
interview with Tehelka that the IAS and IPS officers
joined in the bandwagon of hate because they were
promised better positions and transfers in exchange.

The fact that the bureaucracy was complicit in
carrying out the carnage is beyond dispute. There
could be three reasons for their complicity. One, they
were so frightened they couldn’t take a stand; second,
they were bribed by seniors and third, they believed
in it. My observation is that sometimes it is bits of
all three but usually it is the third. If this is
actually true, this is truly frightening.


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