For last few months, a ‘certain activist Zahir Janmohammed from Ahmedabad has become a darling of the anti-Modi camp from twitter. He has been lamenting about the “discrimination”, “persecution” and what not, of Muslims in Ahmedabad, specially from the locality of Juhapura. As an “Amdavadi” myself, I could not help but flinch a little, whenever I came across his tweets, articles etc. But recently, when a conversation between eminent activist Madhu Kishwar and Zahir took place, I felt uneasy to the point of being angry. Sure, Ahmedabad is not perfect, but then neither is any other place in the world. But the systematic manner in which maligning is taking place about Mr. Modi and my city, I felt this show has gone on long enough.
Through the open letters to Madhuji & his tweets, Zahir is yelling about “Law and order” situation in Gujarat, especially in Ahmedabad. He talks about
(A) Gujarat as an isolated, independent authority, which has no connection to the social trends of the rest of the country
(B) Blames, who else, but the Chief Minister about the deteriorating law and order situation.
Sure, crimes have increased; safety for women is not as it was earlier. But he doesn’t bother to present comparative analysis (or even raw figures) about crime rates in other states. Gujarat is but a part of the union of India. Whatever trends, scenarios, happenings affect the rest of the country, affect Gujarat too. In the last decade, crime has steadily increased throughout the country, and Gujarat cannot remain immune to it either. One interesting thing to note here, is a statement of a robber caught by police couple of year backs, when asked why he came here to rob all the way from a northern state: “yahaan par to sabhi ameer hote hai” (To liberalise the translation: Everyone’s friggin rich here!)
Before Zahir, or his secular friends pick on this, I would also ask him this: Would you say, the presence, vigilance and visibility of the police has increased in years or decreased? In spite of all crimes increasing, the police presence on the streets is more than ever. Being a night wanderer, every time I have gone out post-midnight, I have seen police, patrolling & checking at every crossroads, every major landmarks. Recently, Ahmedabad police has inducted hundreds of new gypsy cars, and with that it has gotten just better. Yes, it isn’t what it was once, but still, girls can be seen venturing fearlessly, even late nights in Ahmedabad. During Navratri, even with millions of women out in the streets, there has seldom been any incident of rape or even harassment.
Other things that Zahir – the champion of Juhapura welfare complains about is lack of basic amenities. Not surprisingly, he can see only the slum part of Juhapura while his eyes just glide above the posh Juhapura that is. Juhapura is made of three different types of localities: (1) the posh Juhapura, home of business class and rich Muslims, where rates of property are even higher than most desired Hindu localities (2) The middle class Juhapura, slightly off road, yet no less luxurious and desired, primarily home of small business owners, service class Muslims and so on (3) the slum. This is the Juhapura that Zahir can see, while the other two are just invisible. While the rest of Juhapura has everything the rest of the city has, including beautiful roads and an efficient garbage collection system, this part of Juhapura is like any other slum area in the country: Illegal buildings, built without titles clearances, NA, permissions, approvals. Also, this is the area where there was not one electricity connection before 2003. No, not because they couldn’t afford, but because they all used to steal electricity. In 2003, a massive operation was undertaken, with thousands of police force deployed in the area, and all illegal connections were severed, and everyone was asked to take a connection and pay bills and overnight, thousands were standing in the queue for new electricity connections.
Zahir believes that illegality of structures do not legitimise the lack of basic amenities in the area. What exactly does he mean by that? To tell you a little story, recently a prominent doctor in Ahmedabad woke up one fine morning to find demolition crew outside his house. Why? They had come because the good doctor had built an extension without permissions. Now you see the contrast. While in other area, illegal structures are torn down, Zahir believes that in Juhapura, not only they should not be demolished; they in fact should be given all amenities as per the law. Government works according to a system. If I built a house without permissions from authorities, it is illegal, and not eligible for any amenities. But Zahir believes that the Government of Gujarat should subvert all rules, regulations, laws and policies, otherwise it is discrimination. In very shrewd manner, he says these people should get special consideration. Why? Because they are minority, that’s why. Because otherwise it’s persecution, that’s why.
Recently, in Rajkot, a Nepali family, who were living in an illegally constructed house in common plot of a residential society, immolated themselves because the house was being demolished. My grandfather, a retired bureaucrat, said “This is sheer blackmail. If everyone starts threatening self-immolation, if they don’t get what they want, however unreasonable, how will government function? ” Moral of the story is: You cannot ask for unreasonable things from government. If you are living in illegal house built on disputed land or built without permissions, you will not be eligible for anything even if you are minority. But even then, there is a process undertaken to legalise such structures, after paying impact fee.
Zahir questions the Gujarat model, and says it’s not inclusive, and Muslims are being left out. First of all, what is Gujarat Model? And what are government’s responsibilities? Government isn’t a placement agency neither it is a restaurant. It has given peace (no riots for 11 years), security (No chanda or extortion) to do business or work peacefully, and infrastructure to support your business. Dear Zahir, he’s given you plate full of food. Now stop cribbing that he didn’t feed you personally. Government’s role is not that of a nanny. It only is a logistical support mechanism. But if you’re judging the current government by the standards of congress’ Mai-Baap government, then I suppose there is nothing I can say. To quote Madhu Kishwar here, government is taking steps to encourage education and employment to impoverished classes, including Muslims, like waiving off rule of having to pass 7th standard to appear for SSC, providing skill education through ITIs. And surely, a lot of Muslims have come out of wretched poverty and slowly mixing in the mainstream. But you won’t see that, would you? Nothing happens overnight, especially not social changes on such large level. It will take time and effort from both sides to make a difference, but while Zahir doesn’t even recognise the difference on the ground, I doubt if he’ll see the process at all.
If by “missing out on development” Zahir means that there is a discrimination against Muslims, then let me narrate a story: Recently, I accompanied a Muslim friend, working in events to some work he had at a prominent travels company. We parked outside the complex on CG Road, and he pointed to a BMW and said “this is the car of the fellow we’re going to meet”. Curiously, the car had a sticker which read “Hindu sab se aage” (Hindu First). So, I asked in a delicate manner if he’s a BJP/VHP guy. Of course he is, my friend replied. “In fact he’s close to Modi himself” (this Muslim friend of mine who is from Juhapura as well, is a fan of Modi, by the way). He continued “We are very good friends. When my parents were going to Mecca for Umra, he only got me tickets…even refused to take money at first, ‘Dharam na kaam ma kya paisa levana, he said'(I shouldn’t be taking money for pilgrimage, he said).” Of course this can be ruled out as a singular incident, but reality is, more than a few people I know are good friends with, working with or doing business with Muslims with perfect harmony. 2002 has become a distant memory. Sure, the justice has to prevail, but what your myopic vision would not allow you to see Zahir, is that justice is being delivered at fastest pace in the history of independent India. Yet, if the judicial system itself is slow, that shouldn’t become a criticism to Modi. While cases of 57 major riots are still under process or not begun at all, Gujarat riots case have started delivering sentences within a decade.
Zahir also talks about “fear” in shrewd, hushed manner, as to point at something, yet not mean anything by itself. There’s another interesting incident to recall here, from Zahir’s beloved Juhapura. In 2011, on the day of Holi – that is sometime in March, Ahmedabad city police received a tip off about an illegal slaughterhouse in a part of Juhapura. Police reaches there with a gypsy and a bus, with total number of around 20. Before police realised anything, mob attacked them from all sides, and the gypsy was torched by the mob. The police ran for their safety, with many injured. Does this look like behaviour of the afraid and persecuted?
The self-appointed saviour of Muslims, Zahir also talks about housing discrimination to Muslims. Here too, in spite of talking about it from social perspective, in a very smart, NDTV like manner, he hints at Modi. For him, everything that is wrong is because of Modi. Even Iran’s earthquake was Modi’s conspiracy and it was him that brought drought to Maharashtra. Housing discrimination is a social issue, and government has no jurisdiction here. What can government possibly do? If individual ‘A’ doesn’t want to rent or sell or property to ‘B’, then it is his wish, his will, his right. Government cannot possibly go and ask him to sell it to ‘B’, as this is not 70s and Sanjay Gandhi is not in power. If government did make someone sell or rent against his wish, by whatever means, then it will set a dangerous precedent and these are slippery slopes. These changes have to happen on social sphere and to blame government for ‘A’s unwillingness to rent or sell property to ‘B’ is not only unfair, but also moronic.
Let me also narrate a small story here. I had shifted to Mumbai for work four years ago, and my office was in Lower Parel. Now, with a stroke of good stroke, I found an old friend who was also moving to Mumbai. Together, we rented a flat in Byculla, and though it was a Muslim locality, the pleasure was that almost everyone in our building, and the next, were Gujaratis. But hardly a month went by and my friend decided to move, for a simple reason that he couldn’t stand the smell of non-vegetarian food being cooked next door. The reason for telling this story is simple. There are some differences, and there are some issues. All of them will need to be worked by communities, and with equal efforts on both sides, and in time, situation will improve. Blaming Modi for everything might make you dear to secular lobby, but will not help the people who’re seeking to move beyond ghettoization.
Lastly, Zahir, Madhuji apologised when you had a problem with the parable of filth seeking fly, saying she didn’t mean anything by it. And you also gave explanation that you do love many things about Ahmedabad and Gujarat, again, shrewdly bypassing her meaning: You don’t want to see anything good that Narendra Modi’s government has done. You pick on things like slum not having amenities, while conveniently ignore the fact that all slums are like that. No, the slum part of Juhapura is not unique, and yes, a lot of things need to be done, but do appreciate something good that is happening on the ground. Being an Amdavadi, I would ask you to stop portraying my city, a part of my city like Warsaw ghetto or Gaza strip as if there’s a great conspiracy is going on, to keep them like this forever.
P.S. Please forgive my bad articulation and aggression. I am not an intellectual or academic. Nonetheless, these things needed to be told, lest your stigma to Mr. Narendra Modi defame my dear city.